Technology conference speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds, experience levels, and interests. At CFP Land, we highlight different speakers every week in our Speaker’s Story blog posts.
While Bailey has been practicing public speaking her whole life, she was drawn to speak at tech conferences after seeing so many design and development teams struggle to put their message online. One thing I love about speaking is getting to attend conferences and hear other talks - especially from subject-matter experts who are truly passionate about their craft. Bailey is one of those passionate people, and I’m excited to bring you her story here today.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into public speaking?
I’m director of content strategy at usability consulting firm truematter out of Columbia, South Carolina. I’m a user experience content strategist which means I plan, organize, and write the words people use to interact with websites, applications, and software products. I’ve been involved in public speaking throughout my life, especially when I was younger.
Recently, I felt a call to pick it up again for many reasons but one in particular: design and development teams must change their approach to words online. Many, many organizations (including those that should know better) still write their online content the same way they would for traditional media. That approach drags down their product’s user experience, makes it harder for customers to engage with them online, and has a large negative impact on the success of their digital products. I set out to speak out about this widespread problem and how we should fix it.
What do you like about speaking at conferences?
I’m still pretty new on the conference scene but even so, I’ve already made a lot of connections with both people in my field and those outside of it. I think it’s a lot easier to meet people when you’re the one giving the presentation because 1) people already know a topic they can discuss with you which cuts out a lot of networking small talk and 2) people come up to you instead of you having to approach them every time – a real plus for an introvert like me.
Also, I’ve found so far speaking is a great way to visit new places – I often take a couple of days before or after to explore the area outside of the conference hotel.
Do you remember your first conference talk? How did it go?
It went well! I think I was surprised when I found out that people do actually care a great deal about their digital content and want to know how to make it better and more usable. The audience had a ton of questions, which was great. The whole thing is kind of addicting. You experience it once and think, “I want to do that again.”
How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?
I’ve spoken at about ten events so far with another four or five already scheduled for later this year.
I’ve applied to a lot more than that for sure. I probably send out three applications a month and that number has been growing lately. But the more I apply and the more I speak, the more conferences are approaching me instead of the other way around and that’s a really nice feeling.
Bailey Lewis at OKC Design Tech
Do you have a pre-talk routine?
I always try to see the space before I speak in it. That could mean swinging by the room before my presentation or trying to find a video of a presentation someone else gave in that room online. Seeing the space before my presentation lets me decide where to stand and helps me understand how the audience will be looking at my slides (one big screen? multiple screens around the room? etc).
Other than that, I take a deep breath and remind myself: The audience came to see me present on this topic. They want it to go well as much as I do. And that’s a lot more helpful than imagining them in their underwear.
What advice do you have for new speakers?
If you’re brand new, it might be hard to find speaking gigs that will cover your travel and accommodations. The conference might even ask you to pay to attend even though you’re speaking (not my favorite practice but there you have it).
Take a few of these gigs if you need to so you can get started and get your name out there, but as soon as someone offers to cover your travel/accommodations, demand it every time you speak afterward. Even better if you can throw a speaker stipend into the mix. That will probably mean saying no to conferences you’d really like to speak at, which can be painful. But once you reach certain level in your speaking career, you shouldn’t be digging in your own pockets when you’re the one providing the presentation content that will sell conference tickets and make the event successful.
By the way, I love that CFP Land lists which “perks” each conference offers (travel/hotel/stipend), if any. It means I don’t have to get all the way to have my paper accepted just to realize that I’m expected to fork over a couple of grand for the privilege of presenting.
Are there any other speakers you look up to? Anyone who’s inspired you?
I’m not sure about specific conference speakers (although there are presentations I’ve really enjoyed), but my father is a trial attorney and, among other speaking-related lessons, he taught me the art of giving a presentation without swaying or fidgeting. He would record me giving a presentation and then have me watch it back – it was extremely effective for getting rid of the fidgets.
Where can readers find more about you?
Find me at truematter.com/baileylewis. You can see my speaking schedule, bio, and articles I’ve written about usability and content strategy.
If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected] to tell your story. 💌