If you’re considering submitting a conference talk, but you’re not sure if it’s really worth it, read on. In this section, I’ve collected the most common reasons people cite for wanting to speak at conferences.
1. Developer Advocates: Professional Technical Speakers
I didn’t realize this was a job until I started speaking at conferences and met a few people who did this. “Developer Advocates” (sometimes called DevRels or Developer Evangelists) are paid to get their company’s name out into the public. It’s a lot like marketing, but with a decidedly technical bent.
Most Developer Advocates still write code, help support the products they work on, and are involved in coming up with and testing new features. Because their job is to be in the public eye, many of them are very prolific speakers.
During my first year [in Developer Relations] at Okta…I spoke 37 times, at 20 conferences, in 10 different countries. Matt Raible
While an element of their job may require speaking, many also do it for other reasons you’ll read about below.
2. Promote a Business or Project
Speaking at conferences is a good way to boost my career prospects as a technology consultant. Jason Swett
Small business owners and consultants are always looking for an edge, and for many getting recognition by speaking at conferences is a great opportunity. Not only do they get to make a name for themselves, they may meet people in the audience who actually want to hire them.
Some of the connections I’ve made at conferences and meetups have definitely helped me land further speaking gigs and new clients. Keanan Koppenhaver
Some developers also use speaking as an excuse to plug open source products they want to support.
I try to contribute to some [open source] libraries also, but promoting them on stage feels like the best thing that I’m capable of doing. If something makes my life better, and some people invest their efforts and share it for free — I want to help them to gain exposure. Oleksandr Tryshchenko
3. Help Others
What I like about public speaking is that it puts me in a new place to help other people. I am thrilled that I’m providing content that people want to hear, and content that they can take something from to apply to their lives. Rhia Dixon
One of the most common answers I hear from people about why they got into public speaking is their desire to help others. Speaking is rarely a financially lucrative gig, so it’s a good thing that people find fulfillment just by spreading their knowledge.
I try as much as possible to help other people get into tech, or get better at tech. Knowing I helped at least one person by being on stage and sharing my knowledge makes me feel a bit better about that. Alex Lakatos
Even if a topic has been spoken about before, there are always new people coming into the industry who need to learn about it. Many speakers realize that their unique spin on something might shed new light on it.
“It’s really cool that the way I present something or specifically explain something can help make whatever I’m talking about click with someone in a way that it hasn’t before.” Kara Luton
While there are plenty of other ways to help others out, it is nice to be able to do it en masse.
“I enjoy being able to share my advice with a lot of people at once. It is like mentoring or giving advice on steroids.” Molly Struve
4. Meet People
“It’s great to be able to speak about the thing you’re interested in in front of a lot of people, because it means for the rest of the conference the other people who share your passion will come up and talk to you.” Nicola Rushton
I never really started meeting people at conferences until I started speaking at them. Like many software engineers, I get intimidated by large groups of new people, but after speaking, attendees would come up to me and introduce themselves. It took a ton of the pressure off of meeting new people.
“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” Bailey Lewis
Local meetups are great for seeing friends and meeting people too, but at a conference, you can meet people from around the world. There’s nothing like it.
“Speaking at conferences is a really fun way to meet other developers and get outside perspectives on things — not just outside your particular industry, but outside your own country!” George Mandis
If you do start speaking at conferences, don’t miss out on the chance to meet new people. Even if it’s just a few of the other speakers, take advantage of the connections you can make at conferences.
“Too many speakers finish their talk and then rush off to catch a plane, or hole themselves up in a hotel room to get back on top of email. If you do this, you’re missing out on one of the most valuable aspects of an event: the networking.” Mark Walker
“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.” Gant Laborde
Some of the most active tech conference speakers have built up quite a following. I’m not one of them, but I have had a couple talks where people came up to me later in the conference and said they enjoyed my presentation. I’ve even gotten a few Twitter followers as a result.
“Some people have a bunch of Twitter followers and YouTube views, and this seems to make them happy. Building your public brand by speaking at conferences can be a way to work towards this.” Nick Heiner
That said, if fame and recognition is your #1 goal, be careful. Some conferences prefer not to invite the most egotistical speakers.
“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.” Bailey Lewis
If you’re new to speaking at conferences, you might not realize this, but many speakers’ airfare and hotel stays are paid for by the event. I’ve worked with organizers to delay my return date by a day or two (with me picking up the extra hotel nights) so I could visit the city on my own time. This opportunity for free or low-cost travel is a great perk.
Unfortunately, not every conference can afford to pay for every speaker to travel, so you’ll have to be picky if this is something you want. All the conferences listed on CFP Land include details about the perks included for speakers, so be sure to check out our list of CFPs.
7. Personal Growth
“The more I present the more confident I become in my abilities to do so. This has helped with my social anxiety and with my ability to interact with clients or potential clients.” Mike Miles
Many software engineers and technology professionals don’t have to interact with customers or lead meetings on a daily basis. This lack of practice speaking in public makes it scary, but many people use conference speaking as a way to overcome this fear.
“Speaking at conferences has definitely helped to improve my presentation skills. I am more confident in speaking in front of groups of people who I don’t know whereas before I would get nervous and my anxiety levels would go through the roof.” Rizwan Javaid
Other people I have talked to cite specific professional opportunities they’ve encountered because of their public speaking efforts. I’ve known several speakers who turned conference talks into books, online courses, or training workshops.
“I was given the opportunity to create a course for Lynda.com because I met Lynda.com staff author Ray Villalobos after we both spoke at a conference. It turned out that we were both speaking at another conference a few months later, so he made a point to check out my talk at that conference. He enjoyed it so he recommended me as a course author. Prior to that I had not even considered authoring a course, and after he sold me on the idea, it because a reality that never would have been had I not met Ray.” John Riviello
For example, the Google Developer Expert program lists “Being an influential and recognized speaker,” as one of its criteria.
“Recently I joined the Google Developer Expert program, which is something that would have very likely not happened without my conference speaking.” George Mandis
8. Finding a Job
In addition to improving your presentation skills and gaining accolades in your field, speaking may even help land you a job. A couple speakers I know have met people at their future employer at conferences as a result of their talks.
“During job interviews, I’ve had interviewers tell me how much they loved my talks!” Anjuan Simmons
Making your resume stand out of the hundreds of others like it is tough; having some unique experience like speaking at a conference can really help set you apart.
9. The Rush
“Public speaking is very energizing, probably similar to drugs, but with no bad side-effects!” _Nicolas Fränkel
Every time I complete a conference talk, I have a natural high that lasts for a good 2-3 hours. Maybe it’s just the tail end of my nervousness, but speaking can be invigorating.
Not everyone reacts the same way though. I’ve met speakers who feel the need to run back to their hotel room and sleep after a talk. If you’re more introverted or anxious, the experience of speaking at a conference might just have the opposite effect.
10. Advocate a Cause
“I’ve always been fascinated by the ability of human speech to change the world, and I hope that my public speaking is a small brick in the enormous wall of humanity’s ongoing attempt to make ourselves better.” Anjuan Simmons
While tech conferences may remain mostly a-political, there are plenty of places where technology and social good intersect. Some speakers specialize in this arena.
For example, Eva PenzyMoog travels around the United States to give her talk about how technology enables certain kinds of domestic abuse:
“These are real people who are being controlled, beaten, and murdered - and we in tech have a role to play in preventing it from happening.” Eva PenzyMoog
If you want to make a positive impact on the world, speaking at conferences just might be your outlet.
11. Learn New Things
”[Speaking is] an excuse to learn and play with new technology…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.” Matthew Trask
A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to learn Docker. I didn’t have much of a case for using it at work, but it seemed like promising technology that would be interesting to learn.
I dove in head first - I started a couple side projects that used it, wrote a short book about it, and started pitching talks about it to conferences. This year, I designed a four-hour workshop as well. I’ve found lots of other speakers also use their talks as an opportunity to learn something new.
“When I submit a talk proposal it’s usually on a topic that I am not an expert on, but one that I am interested in learning more about. I then have a motivator to deep dive into the topic to learn about it.” Mike Miles
Many conference talks include live coding or demonstrations, which are also a good excuse to play with new technology.
“Building demos can really help you with learning the ins and outs on a topic and you never know what you may uncover.” Tae’lur Alexis
There’s even research that indicates that teaching a subject is one of the best ways to learn it. If you have to break things down to a point where someone at any experience level can digest it, you’re going to have to understand the concept pretty well.
“While writing talks are a huge time commitment, there is nothing quite like explaining a concept to others to help crystalize it in your mind.” Laurie Barth
Hopefully the reasons above have convinced you that speaking at conferences is a worthwhile endeavor. Next, we’ll dive into how conferences choose speakers and learn about the “Call for Proposals” process.