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.
I was fortunate enough to meet Matt in real life at Midwest PHP, 2019 as he was giving one of the keynotes there. I think our first conversation was awkward nods in the hotel gym way too early before the conference, but once that was over, we got to talk throughout the conference.
In addition to speaking, Matt is an active open source maintainer, and has been giving back to the PHP community in various ways for the past several years. He also speaks on behalf of OSMI - a great organization that helps raise awareness of mental health issues in the tech community - so I’m excited to present his journey into speaking and tips for those who are new to it.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into public speaking?
During the day I’m a senior software engineer at a company called MoreCommerce where we do small and medium-sized business e-commerce and market place offerings. Outside of that, I help maintain various API related OSS projects like Fractal, openapi.tools, standards.rest and a few others. I spend most of my free time doing photography or cycling.
As for speaking, I got my start at my old PHP user group in Atlanta. I started with a lightning talk and moved up to a full-length talk before breaking into a conference. Im usually pretty shy and quiet, so it was weird at first but it been a lot of fun.
What do you like about speaking at conferences?
One of my favorite things about speaking is it’s an excuse to learn and play with new technology. I wouldn’t have become passionate about the OpenAPI spec if a conference hadn’t given me a chance to speak on it for example. And because my day job tends to focus more on boring tech that works, giving conference talks lets me experiment with stuff I know we wouldn’t touch at work.
Do you remember your first conference talk? How did it go?
It feels so long ago, but my first talk was at a now-defunct conference called “Great Wide Open”. I submitted a talk essentially about why community is awesome and how it can help someone learn. Since it was my first talk I was incredibly nervous but somehow I pulled it off. I got good feedback for it, and felt like I could have massaged it a bit into a more full talk.
How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?
This year I will have spoken at 5, including 2 (maybe 3) keynotes. That’s the most I’ve ever done. Last year I spoke at one conference.
Do you have a pre-talk routine?
I usually put on some music, like Run The Jewels and just zone out. I tend not to sit in a talk before my slot so I can keep my thoughts going. Everyone is different, what works for me doesn’t mean it’ll work for someone else. I know some speakers will hide in their hotel room up until their talk, others just talk and socialize like its nothing. I’m also bad in that I will still be doing slides up until my talk. I should fix that.
What advice do you have for new speakers?
For your first talk, pick a topic you are passionate about but also already knowledgable about. Don’t experiment on new topics until you start getting accepted to speak. No need to add pressure on top of everything else.
When you submit your CFP, check your spelling and grammar. It’s amazing how many people overlook it.
Another thing is don’t immediately submit your abstract. Write it, and then talk a walk, get away from it, and come back after an hour and see how you feel about it. You may see things you can do better.
Finally, submit multiple submissions, it gives you better odds. When we organized Southeast PHP, people with multiple submissions had a better shot getting into our post-apocalyptic Thunderdome over someone who only gave us one thing to choose.
Are there any other speakers you look up to? Anyone who’s inspired you?
I’m pretty short so I look up to pretty much everyone.
- Jenna Quindica
- Josh Holmes
- Kat Zień
- Phil Sturgeon
- Ben Edmunds
- Cal Evans
- Ed Finkler
- Alena Holigan
- Sammy Kaye Powers
- Ian Coldwater
- Olivia Liddell
- Nic Steenhout
And so many more I can’t remember because I cycled 24 miles tonight so I’m tired.
API Pain Points by Phil Sturgeon
Where can readers find more about you?
If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected]pland.com to tell your story. 💌