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.
Like many technology professionals, Gant Laborde didn’t instantly take to speaking. It took time, hard work, and lots of practice for Gant to get comfortable in front of a crowd, but fortunately he stuck with it. He’s now spoken at over 50 conferences, and made himself an integral part of the tech conference community. Keep reading to learn more about how Gant got started, what he recommends for new speakers, and some of the influencers that inspired him to continue his journey.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into public speaking?
When I was in college, I was paralyzed by the fear of public speaking. Just the thought of talking in front of a small class would cause cold-sweats. Fortunately, I was studying for a career in Comp Sci. which usually doesn’t require much public speaking.
Once my career began, I was reaffirmed, no one wants to hear a developer speak. That was fine for a few years, and then new nagging energy began. People can’t listen if you don’t speak. Quietly interjecting important points without ever taking the lead of a conversation is less effective than not speaking at all. It was time to start breaking out of my shell.
Though I was uncomfortable, I started speaking up more and more. I attended conferences, and I marveled at speakers. I was amazed, but sure I would never be on the other side of the 4th wall.
Fortunately, I joined Toastmasters, met cooler people, and with a lot of time and energy, now people can’t shut me up. It’s always a pleasure to help my fellow speakers and aspiring speakers. The journey wasn’t comfortable, but it’s doable. Now you can see I’ve been speaking actively for years.
I’m very fortunate that I work for the great people at Infinite Red who have supported me from lightning talk to keynote speaker.
What do you like about speaking at conferences?
The best thing about speaking at conferences is the networking and connection. I’ve made friends around the world. This has, directly AND indirectly, benefited my career and employer. It’s not required in my job description, but it’s valuable to everyone involved.
There’s something impressive about going to a city for the first time, and have people walk up and introduce themselves to me, mentioning past talks or blog posts. I’m still an introvert, but it doesn’t matter who you are, something like that feels great. The community and positivity of it all is superb!
Do you remember your first conference talk? How did it go?
After a lot of Toastmasters, and speaking at a local meetup, my first “conference” talk was a lightning slot at RubyConf 2013.
How’d it go? Well, my heart was beating through my chest. But I gave a 30-minute presentation in 5 minutes after getting over my fear of public speaking, so there was no way to fail :)
Gant Laborde at RubyConf, 2013
How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?
50+ and no stopping in sight!
Do you have a pre-talk routine?
Some general rules for sure:
- No dairy
- Power Pose
- Think more about your audience than yourself
- Realize the audience wants you to succeed, and they can’t see that you’re nervous unless you tell them.
- They will feel what you feel. So 😃 (smile)
What advice do you have for new speakers?
You’re not done and you’re not stuck. For a lot of people, level 1 was just speaking. Then it’s to speak well. Then it’s to fill a room, then get invited to speak, then keynote. The best speakers are people who have been leveling up for 20+ years, and they support and promote speakers who are just getting started. It’s not a zero-sum game, ask for help, get feedback, and improve. Then repeat. The best speakers aren’t born speakers.
Are there any other speakers you look up to? Anyone who’s inspired you?
I LOVE TED TALKS! Here’s 5 that have made me recontextualize life.
Also, if you haven’t seen Charlie Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator, prepare to have your mind blown.
Where can readers find more about you?
All my upcoming talks are available on my site.
Follow me on Twitter where semi-smart memes happen.
And here’s my Medium, where I can’t seem to shut up.
Most importantly, say “hi” if I’m ever at a conference and you’re there.
If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected] to tell your story. 💌