Tech Talks: Insider Tips for Making Your Mark at Conferences
Proven Strategies from 19+ Appearances: Networking with CEOs, World-Class Experts, and Renowned Authors
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I first thought about speaking at tech conferences as a way to get a free ticket – let's face it, they're not cheap. But what started as a practical move turned out to be a journey of incredible learning and networking. Over time, as I spoke at more than 19 events, I realized these conferences were more than just stages to share ideas; they were opportunities to connect with CEOs, top experts, authors, and so many inspiring people.
Advantages of becoming a conference speaker
TOP ONE: opportunity to meet new people from your field; share what you're working on and get inspiration for new projects. Listen to other speakers who are way better than you in engineering. I’ve met notable figures in engineering through conferences and had a chance to ask them questions about how they work or run their companies. I know I wouldn’t have a chance of meeting them anywhere else.
Getting valuable credentials; speaking at conferences provides you an opportunity to present your expertise, skills, and background, potentially strengthening your current job position and boosting credibility with both existing and potential clients. Your presentation typically undergoes a selection process conducted by an experienced panel of professionals on the program committee, so you get the chance to see if there's any audience for your knowledge. From my experience, when applying for jobs, interviewers really appreciate some background connected with public speaking. And finally, once you become more recognizable, further speaking opportunities are unlocked and organizers start to reach out to you themselves.
Collaborating; participating in a conference is a good way to meet and run your ideas through experts. Or expand your professional network if you're into LinkedIn lingo. You can (and I recommend doing so) engage with other speakers, event coordinators, and sponsors. This may lead to potential collaborations and career opportunities. Sharing your contact information for future communication is a must. After some of the conferences I got offers to run thematic courses in some companies, so once the market sees you as an expert in the field, you can really expand your brand.
Reinforcing your skills; when preparing your presentation, you have the chance to structure your know-how in an organized and effective way. Additionally, while presenting your talk, you practice the delivery of your hard-earned knowledge and you get a chance to be challenged by participants’ questions related to your topic. Preparing presentations helped me look critically at my work and improve how I do things.
Expanding your online presence; you can distribute your presentation slides to the audience through social media, post your talk video on platforms like YouTube, or interact with individuals involved in the event through LinkedIn and other platforms. I also noticed that even though I never promoted a product, a book, or anything in particular, there were always some new followers or contacts on all my platforms.
How to find conferences to participate in?
To find the top events to speak at, I do a brief scheduled conference research every two weeks. I search for IT conferences that match my area of expertise and check if they're accepting talk proposals.
For international conferences, having a speaker profile on a platform like https://sessionize.com/ is the best way to discover new, interesting events.
I also recommend checking out the following websites:
I am based in Poland, Europe, so I also look at local events and my go-to place is Crossweb. Every country will likely have an event aggregator like that.
At this point I also get directly invited by past event’ organizers I spoke at or by conference managers who saw me on other event's websites.
Once I find a conference I like, I either apply right away (if I have a suitable talk ready or in the pipeline) or I set a deadline for myself in Notion (note-taking/project management app) to create a proposal.
To keep track of all this, I've made a special section in notes for conference applications. It helps me see which events I've applied to, whether the organizers accepted my proposal (or not), and the topic of the talk I submitted. When you take part in conferences regularly, it's easy to get lost in all application forms and emails, so this system keeps everything organized and makes sure I don't forget or miss out on opportunities.
What you can prepare prior to applying?
To make applying for conferences easier and faster, I organize important information in one place. This way, I can quickly access it whenever I need it. For each conference application, you usually need to provide:
Basic data; your email, phone number, Twitter and LinkedIn handles, a profile picture, your current job title, and a short bio. I have all this information saved in a dedicated section in Notion, and just copy paste it when I apply for a conference.
The bio; you provide should include details about your current job, any extra projects you're involved in, and fields of expertise you feel confident about and can present at the conferences. As an example, here's my latest bio for reference:
Software Engineer Manager at Netacea, an AI cybersecurity SaaS startup based in the UK. Creator of sentimatic.io - a product for analyzing emotions and content of customer conversations based on AI technology. I run a blog on horosin.com, where I write about topics related to programming, AI products, and startups. I am professionally and personally interested in biotechnology, medicine, space technologies, filmmaking, and literature. I enjoy sharing knowledge in the field of programming and AI-based solutions while gaining inspiration from discussions with new people I meet.
Overview of the talk you want to present; I keep track of all my talks and ideas in Notion, so if I'm short of inspiration, I simply update it and add necessary changes, instead of starting from scratch every time.
Past conference experience; I keep a record of my public appearances on my blog at https://horosin.com/conference, and I always link it as a part of my application. It's important to have a portfolio that shows your experience, as it makes you a more reliable candidate. Here's a note I attach:
I have spoken at several conferences so far. I like talking about programming, startups, innovative products and advancements in the AI field. Here is a link to all my conference experiences gathered:
I have also been on the program board of a 2021 4developers Live conference. I was responsible for the selection of talks for the Python track.
How to prepare and present a talk?
Successful conference participation depends mostly on what and how you present. Take the time to establish your personal strengths, define what you’re good at, and narrow down your field of expertise. Find something in your work that is valuable to share with your audience and make sure the content is genuinely useful to your listeners.
Remember that talking about your mistakes can be as beneficial as celebrating your successes. Consider your failures as lessons that can prevent others from making similar mistakes. I've done this numerous times, for example, while discussing the five startups I failed at. I talked about this at three different conferences, sharing my business journey and what I learnt from it https://horosin.com/i-launched-6-startups-in-8-months-and-5-of-them-failed. It is to this day one of my most popular talks and blog articles.
While preparing the slides, I follow a process:
Craft an outline for your speech.
Draft your initial version.
Refine your draft, brainstorm fresh ways to share your ideas, and then settle on the final version.
Create slides for your presentation.
Improve your presentation with engaging elements such as data, graphics, personal anecdotes, or connections to certain individuals to make it stand out.
Remember to practice your speech, watch your timing, and make adjustments as necessary to fit the given time frame.
During your presentation, don’t forget about a few key tips while still trying to stay natural. It's not necessary for everything to go according to the script, however, small adjustments can improve the final result:
Body language: Try to pay attention to how you move. Use your body to show your ideas and to better connect with your audience. Move around the stage, keep eye contact with various listeners and use hand gestures or facial expressions to underline some main points.
Focus on your personal expertise: Your main goal should be to provide value to the audience, not to sell products. If you give people what they came for, they'll want more from you. You just need to tell them how to find it. I put my social media information on my presentation’s slides and sometimes at the end of the talk, depending on the conference, share new product ideas connected with the speech.
Get the audience involved: Keep the conversation going. Plan a time for questions and answers with the listeners. This part can help you look at your material from different perspectives. You can get authentic feedback on your work.
Ask for feedback: Don't forget to ask for thoughts and suggestions. It can help you get better for your next talk and develop your portfolio. At some conferences, feedback is collected through forms and later visible in your speaker’s profile. Otherwise, simply collect it by directly sharing feedback forms.
While presenting, never downplay yourself. If you were selected to speak, then your expertise is enough. You also put your name and time on the line. We're all busy and trying the best we can. If you "had no time to make the slides pretty", don't say that, it's annoying to people that give you their attention. Just pretend your lack of design polish is just your cute nerdiness. Much better effect. Or better just have a look at my article about MARP so your slides are never ugly again and take 10x less effort: https://horosin.com/effortlessly-create-powerpoint-presentations-with-chatgpt-and-marp
How to get the most out of conferences (before and after)?
OK, you got an acceptance email and now what? If you want to get the most out of the conference, it's important to plan ahead. Here's a simple guide on what to do after being selected as a speaker. It's a process I loosely follow. If you do any of the steps, you're already ahead.
All that said, the key is a great submission and a value-packed presentation. Everything below is pointless without those.
- 3 weeks before the conference
Start researching the people involved, like the event organizers, other speakers, and sponsors. Identify those you'd like to connect with and reach out to them online. Contact them to schedule a meeting or chat before the event.
- 2.5 weeks before the conference
Share any promotional graphics the organizers provide, which usually feature your photo, topic, track, and maybe a discount code. Publish content on your social media and tag people involved. You can also create your own announcement post if needed.
- 2 weeks before the conference
Consider talking to the organizers about creating a post for their social media. This could be a video inviting others to the conference or a short post about your talk.
- 1.5 weeks before the conference
Create a teaser post with a summary and key points from your presentation to generate more interest. This is a good way to share some knowledge online in preparation for the event. Provide real value, don't advertise.
- 1 week before the conference
Make sure your presentation is well-prepared. Upload your slides online so you can easily share them with participants after your talk. Also, direct people to your social media for any updates.
On the day of the conference, connect with as many people as you can, especially those you researched earlier. Attend other talks, take notes, and share your thoughts about them on social media. Take photos during other speakers' presentations and share them later to provide fresh content for their social media. Engage with your audience after your presentation, perhaps over a coffee. Respond to social media posts related to the conference and share your behind-the-scenes impressions.
Now that the conference is over, expanding your network and benefiting from participating doesn't really stop. Here are some things that I do afterwards.
- 1 Day After the Conference: Share Your Thoughts
After the event, post your impressions on social media. Share what you learned and your general thoughts on the conference. Tag people to start discussions.
Here is an example of my LinkedIn post, which I published after speaking at Devoxx Poland:
As you see it was quite successful - got 52 likes with only 500 followers I had at a time.
- 2 Days After the Conference: Update Your Portfolio
Add the conference experience to your speaker portfolio. This could be a website, LinkedIn article, your resume, or wherever you gather your accomplishments. Keep a list of the talks you've given, including dates, titles, and event names. It's a good place to share notes, slides, and related materials from your talks.
- 5 Days After the Conference: Share Your Presentation Materials
Share the slides you used in your presentation. You can post the original materials or create a quick guide on the topic you presented. Sharing knowledge is one of the key points of being a conference speaker, so I try to come forward to my listeners with as many useful sources as possible.
- 10 days After the Conference: Gather Feedback
Collect feedback from the audience and organizers. You can use social media polls, direct messages, or check for opinions on your speaker profile. Reading feedback helps you find areas for improvement and can be useful for future conference applications or negotiations regarding payment.
- 2 Weeks After the Conference: Reuse Your Content
You can reuse your slides by turning them into articles, posts or applying feedback and refining them for another conference. I post articles related to my talks on my blog so they're always available for reference.
Money. How much does it cost? Can you get paid?
Usually, the conference will cover all your travel expenses and admission. You will also get invited to speaker dinners and extra networking opportunities. Some events may ask if you have an option to pay for travel yourself or ask your employer for coverage, it will raise your odds of being admitted.
My experience with travelling for conferences is mixed. Some booked very low quality, scary even, accommodation. These events are often sponsored by big companies and generate a lot of profit. Saving on speakers feels unacceptable to me, as they usually contribute to the event's success for free.
I lived abroad for some time and a few conferences paid for my flights back home in order to speak.
Getting paid? If you have a lot of experience, are an established author, and work in a great company - yeah, possible. Usually, a good conference will pay a few speakers, especially the keynote ones. Many, even very experienced ones, will just get their expenses covered but it's a welcome enough benefit for them and should be for you. Speaking is often a community contribution, a way of giving back to the community.
Do you have to take time off to speak at a conference? My arrangement is usually to present as a part of my job. The company I work with always gets mentioned, I try to generate sales leads and do a bit of hiring at every event I attend. I also provide photos and short written reports for the marketing department so they can prepare some content for the company's social media channels. Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager to work out the details. You being at a conference as a speaker is a pure benefit for the company - you get free training and generate free publicity. Make sure it is well understood.
I’m also spending a bit of my own money on the whole process. I work with a part-time personal assistant who helps me, among others, with managing talk submissions and refining slides from the design point of view.
Summing up, I recommend taking part in conferences as a speaker. You get the opportunity to expand your network, organize knowledge and practice public speaking.
Making conference research a part of your regular tasks will result in more event opportunities, I did so and the number of conferences I took part in 2023 is higher than ever before.
If you prepare for your speech in a smart way you can reuse your content.
Following a few simple steps before and after the conference will help you make the most out of your presentation and will result in the development of your personal brand.
For the next year, my plan would be to speak mostly at international events so I can mix it with some travelling. I'm also aiming to get some number of paid gigs, as I have plenty of experience to do a solid agenda-boosting keynote.
Do you plan to speak at any tech conference? Any stories or thoughts?
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