Under the Radar

Under the Radar 51: Speaking at Conferences

 

  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so today we

  wanted to talk about speaking at

  conferences David and I have both done a

  lot of it David you're right in the

  middle of two conferences now and we a

  lot of developers you know both attend

  conferences and also many developers are

  asked to speak at developer conferences

  and so there's there's certainly a lot

  of I don't know if interest around this

  topic I'd say and we figured we go over

  like kind of what it's like to speak at

  a conference why you might want to why

  you might not want to the process

  involved and kind of had to manage it

  that seemed reasonable

  yeah and I think it's a kind of thing

  that I remember being very intimidated

  by when I was early in my career I

  didn't when I was in the phase where I

  would really only ever attend

  conferences and I'd kind of go and that

  see these people do this they this thing

  up on a stage and it would feel very

  scary and my hope is that we can kind of

  make that a little less scary or at

  least put some handles on it for if

  you're someone who is trying to think

  about getting into this or wanting to

  start doing conference speaking to make

  it a little bit less scary because it's

  but not really as scary as it may

  sometimes feel yeah and so you know

  first you know it's let's assume that

  there's a conference that you either

  want to submit a proposal to or that has

  asked you to speak so so assume

  basically that you're in the planning

  process or the deciding process one

  thing to think about is like is this the

  kind of thing you want to do and and

  what are you looking to get out of it it

  is not a quick or easy process it is it

  is not something you can just kind of

  blow off and and get on with your life

  it takes a lot of time to prepare for a

  conference speaking and you know like I

  mean I would say most of my talks I'm

  probably preparing for maybe a week

  ahead of time like salt a solid weekend

  I might not that might be spread out

  across you know more time spans but it's

  about of about a week of work I would

  say for a good talk is that is that

  about it right for you I'd say so I mean

  I think I probably spend typically two

  to three days

  is just getting the talk like I want it

  in terms of the structure and the slides

  and the overall kind of flow of it and

  then it's probably another couple of

  days this is where it starts to become

  more spread out but if just practicing

  of going through and doing it over and

  over again and especially depending on

  how long your conference slot is you

  know so sometimes I've done the

  conference speaking where I'm only doing

  you know 15 20 minute talks where

  rehearsal is a bit easier because you

  know doing a full run-through you can do

  pretty quickly but I've also done in

  talks where it's 45 minutes to an hour

  where then the rehearsal schedule gets a

  little bit longer and more drawn-out

  because if you want to do a single

  run-through takes you know it takes a

  full hour to do that run through but

  overall yeah I'd say it's about about a

  week if you want to do it well and I

  think that is something that I when I

  was first sort of mouth my the first

  time I ever said yes to doing a

  conference speak speech I remember

  having no real concept of how long it

  was going to take I was like oh you know

  it's the kind of thing maybe it's like

  I'll spend an afternoon kind of putting

  it together and you know how wrong I was

  about that I think is a good thing to

  say just because if you don't plan for

  it in that way and Vout and factor that

  in whether you can both they have afford

  the time for it and then if you actually

  just have the ability to do it is

  definitely something that if you're not

  expecting it like it's it's easy to

  imagine that you know the output only

  Tiffani were just trying to put together

  a 15-minute song

  it seems like that should be really easy

  but trying to have something that's

  concise and to the point in that period

  of time takes way more effort then you'd

  probably even imagine yeah I mean like

  like one of the places I usually start

  is by writing out the the bulk of what

  I'm going to say kind of like in like an

  outline format that's kind of like an

  informal outline so it's kind of like

  halfway between an outline and a

  blogpost because what the basis of any

  good talk is some kind of coherent story

  that runs through it so you know a good

  talk should basically read like like if

  you if you read transcription of it it

  should basically read like a good blog

  post you know like a persuasive essay or

  good story or something like that and so

  it really helps a lot to write it out

  you know even if you're not writing out

  exactly every word you want to say just

  to at least write out like a general

  overview that is readable so that you

  can then treat it a little bit like a

  blog post as you're writing it and be

  able to edit things move things around

  reframe things in ways that make more

  sense as a coherent story because if you

  don't do that and so and I've had talks

  where I've done that I've had talked to

  where I haven't done that the ones were

  the ones where I just opened up keynote

  and just started making slides have

  always been substantially worse the ones

  that I start out like just as if as a

  presentation that way I just always

  worse it my best talks I haven't done

  that many but ultimately like my good

  talks are the ones where I have written

  it out basically as as a blog post style

  of speaking and structurally first and

  then gone and made the slides from that

  point and this is all to say also that

  you know that that you should treat it

  not as this kind of full waterfall

  process of like you write it all out

  then you make the slides then you go

  give them all of my talks I have edited

  up until like the night before I've

  given them some times the same day I've

  given them I'm still editing them

  because what you realize during

  rehearsal which you should you should

  always rehearse your talks hopefully

  even more than once if you have the time

  before you give them because rehearsing

  it like by yourself running through it

  like actually like standing up with a

  clicker and having your lap up in

  presentation mode like actually like

  running through it as you would give it

  giving it to a room of nobody is

  incredibly valuable to get a sense for

  kind of what works what doesn't you know

  how it flows how it doesn't flow like

  what parts you stumble over what parts

  need to be rethought or don't belong or

  kind of break the rhythm or whatever

  else the the rehearsal part of it is

  invaluable and I highly highly recommend

  that you never give a talk that you have

  not rehearsed if it's this kind of

  format and we'll get to well I have some

  pics about this format that I get to

  later but in the kind of traditional

  format of you have a person standing in

  front of a crowd with a microphone and

  station clicker going through a slide

  deck and talking you need to have

  rehearsed that because otherwise it

  basically it shows if you haven't

  rehearsed it and it really helps to get

  a lot of the a lot of the the problems

  that you kind of stand them away if you

  go through some rehearsals and realize

  what doesn't work and edit what needs

  what needs to be edited yeah and I think

  - it's what I find is most helpful when

  I'm preparing some of the talk and I

  don't quite do that through the road

  that you do where you kind of outlined

  it like I tend to think it through in my

  head and it's the kind of thing that

  once I sign up for a talk I'll take in

  the back of my mind for like a month I'm

  kind of running through this vague sense

  of what I want to accomplish and I think

  one of the key things that I found is

  that if I can condense what I'm trying

  to say to you know a few sentences or a

  1 minute kind of overview like I can

  kind of get this kernel of like this is

  the thing that I want the audience to

  come away with and I can be very concise

  and specific about that I always find

  that's very helpful for me to prepare a

  compelling talk and as I go through my

  rehearsals I can kind of judge if I'm

  going down any dead ends or things that

  aren't connecting back to that main

  point because the reality I think - is

  as like I used to be really scared of

  public speaking in and a lot of that was

  coming from overemphasizing I think the

  the reaction that your audience is going

  to have to your talk that you put all

  this time and effort into it and the

  reality and you kind of you in initially

  I used to think that everyone is going

  to be like hanging on every word and

  really thinking about it and and I can

  turn Eliza knit but then I started to go

  to conferences and I realized that I

  would I leave with a talk is a general

  impression far more often than I do like

  a specific like a detailed understanding

  or analysis of what someone just said

  like you kind of get this high level

  well that's kind of what they were

  saying and if what you want to do as

  you're preparing it I feel like is to

  make sure that that impression that

  you're going to be leaving someone with

  is the actual impression that you're

  trying to leave them with and so as you

  do it if you have this the core thesis

  that you can kind of compare all of your

  notes slides with compare all the

  like anecdotes or the lines of thinking

  you're doing towards I feel like that

  makes it a much more compelling thing

  because everything is just pointing back

  to the same point over and over and over

  again you know when when you're writing

  it or when you're thinking about what

  what it will be like to be to give a

  conference talk and maybe you're

  stressing out about it like one of the

  things that that I that I read I think

  it was like the there's that one book

  like a bad that everybody reads I giving

  presentations I've totally forgotten

  what it is this is well and I read like

  the first I'd rather the intro basically

  that's it because I don't read very very

  well but one of the things I learn from

  that which which is a very valuable

  lesson is that you know if you think

  about what people stressed out about

  most of the time people are stressed out

  with the project of giving the talk

  about what if I say too much or I

  stumble over a sentence or or I I fumble

  something or I don't say something right

  and the reality is that if you actually

  if you've been to conferences if you

  actually think about it and actually pay

  attention to what people are saying word

  for word detailing a little

  transcription for a minute in your mind

  and you'll see that people on stage are

  constantly fumbling look you know

  fumbling over their words are constantly

  saying or more alike and you are

  actually Auto correcting that in your

  head as you're listening so it doesn't

  really matter at all that is not that is

  not a kind of thing you need to worry

  about when you're doing that kind of

  public speaking it basically the room

  does not care if you say uh they just

  don't care so that's not that isn't we

  have to worry about and you're right

  that you also have to worry less about

  like the every single thing you're

  saying being greater accurate or tied

  together because the room is going to

  have very different levels of people

  paying attention especially you know

  look around a tech conference anybody

  you see with a laptop they're not paying

  attention to anyone with the phone in

  their hand they're not paying attention

  anyone who's going to get a coffee or

  drink they're not paying attention so

  you know you're talking to maybe a third

  of the room who's actually listening and

  but where it can help to have a coherent

  story is to keep people's attention like

  if you're kind of all over the place

  where there's some rough spots in the

  presentation where like you're throwing

  in stuff that didn't really need to be

  there or you're not really saying or

  telling some kind of long convoluted

  story doesn't really make sense or

  whatever else

  you're giving people opportunities to

  tune out and so if you can keep them

  engaged with something that's a little

  bit better rehearsed and edited more

  people will hear what you're trying to

  say and and people who want to pay

  attention will have an easier time

  paying attention and I think it's also

  bright fair to say it's always better to

  run short than run long yes

  you know you mean obviously conference

  organisers if you if you're somebody

  give you a slot you want to be

  respectful of you know if they say it's

  a half hour slot don't show up and do a

  ten minute talk like that probably

  wouldn't go well but on the flip side if

  you have to go one way or the other I

  always run short no one's ever gonna be

  like oh you know it's like if you leave

  the audience being like oh I wish you

  would just talk had talked for hours and

  hours it's like you're doing great don't

  worry about it but on the flip side if

  someone's like oh why won't he is like

  is he ever going to finish is this like

  where is this going that is far more

  problematic than things like being too

  short exactly and then I guess the nice

  thing to talk about is kind of like if

  you're going to do one of these talks

  kind of the mechanics of like what what

  should your presentation include what

  should it not include how to do certain

  things I mean number one that these

  presentations almost always include is

  slides you have some kind of slide deck

  usually from keynote or if if you are in

  the Microsoft world from PowerPoint and

  you go through the slide deck and and it

  can be like you know meaningfully

  structured or whatever else it could be

  heavily designed it could be very

  bare-bones it could be all pictures or

  all text or whatever else I would say

  from my experience making slides there's

  always going to be other people at the

  conference whose slides look way better

  than mine and that will make me feel bad

  but the reality is that spending a lot

  of time on your slides especially the

  kind of conference is that that

  listeners of the show would attend or be

  asked to speak at you know a lot of like

  kind of nerdy one spending a ton of time

  on your slides is a massive time sink

  that will never end and is probably not

  worth stressing too much out about like

  I mean one of my talks I gave at at

  singleton a few years back I didn't even

  have slides because I was like I had had

  a bad experience with slides and at a

  previous conference and I said all right

  next next time I do one no slides it was

  totally fine

  like if you have a good

  story to speak and you can keep people's

  attention well enough by what by just

  the words and it's a little bit harder

  but it's possible then doing without

  slides is actually kind of freeing and

  wonderful but you know if you're gonna

  have slides I would say again for the

  people listening to this show doing like

  you know geeky and programming types of

  conferences I would say don't spend a

  whole lot of time trying to make them in

  the most incredibly designed slides ever

  keep them very simple you know don't put

  a lot of text on them just keep it keep

  it simple you know you know single

  sentences or words pictures if you have

  to show pictures definitely don't be

  reading off of them you know simple

  stuff you can get from pretty much any

  you know guide on how to do good

  presentations and I think in many ways

  it reminds me of app design in the way

  that I have to approach it myself where

  I always admire slide decks that are

  beautiful and really well and put

  together and really clever but the

  reality is in the same way that I'm not

  really an app designer and I can't make

  like there's a certain kind of design

  that I love to look at in an app but I

  just can't do myself I understand that

  in the same way when I'm designing a

  keynote deck I can't make it look pretty

  in that way and so all of my - all of

  them the presentations I think I've ever

  given I opened up keynote I choose the

  first template which is a black

  background with white text that's very

  important by the way because if you if

  you you know at any conference you see

  like you see the problems when somebody

  has a white background basically this is

  being projected by a dim crappy

  projector onto a gray wall or or screens

  like anything that that has like a white

  edge it's gonna be all like you know

  this blurry white edge and those screws

  it just goes like a big big square in

  the middle the wall like whereas if you

  have a black background and white

  elements then those elements seem like

  they're floating in the middle of the

  wall there's you don't see the borders

  around it basically and that's why

  that's why Apple's slide deck so are

  always you know when they're presented

  things it's always black backgrounds

  with things just kind of floating in the

  middle that's why it looks better and

  it's easier to see for the people in the

  room and then beyond that I think like

  just like you said it's being careful to

  I for me my slides are usually

  like a short phrase like two or three

  words on each slide they're just there

  for emphasis they're not there to convey

  any information typically like every now

  and then they'll have a slide that's you

  know it's like it's a graph or it's a

  picture or diagram we're supposed to

  convey information but otherwise it's

  just you know essentially whatever

  sentence I'm saying right now if there's

  something I want to emphasize it's on

  the slide behind me and it's kind of

  like not like a transcript in that way

  but it's if you just went through and

  listened and looked at the slides

  they're just there to emphasize things

  but then actually also I wanted to

  mention too is it's the importance of if

  you actually are doing this and you

  actually think the experience of doing

  it so you know you signed up you've

  built this a presentation the actual

  experience of going and giving a talk

  something's to keep in mind one is you

  always want to ideally you'd always want

  to do it like a run-through in the in

  the venue but you ideally will have your

  slides on the machine that they're going

  to be run on you're going to want to

  have a clicker you want to stand on the

  stage and you know just hit next slide a

  few times make sure everything looks

  good make sure you feel comfortable with

  where everything is like the worst thing

  is if you just you know at the last

  minute hand somebody a drive which is

  kind of amusing but in conferences or

  the only situation and I can counter now

  where I ever have to use like old USB

  thumb drive yeah because that seems to

  be the universal way of getting

  conference slides to the organizers but

  you hand that to somebody like you don't

  want to be handing that to them the

  moment before you step onstage because

  who knows what's gonna happen when they

  go try and open that keynote deck and

  you want to do a quick run-through you

  want to make sure everything's together

  and for me at least I find too that it

  helps it makes me a little less nervous

  if I it's like if the all of the

  practical logistic parts are taken care

  of that I know I know where I'm gonna be

  I know what I'm going to hold in my hand

  what kind of microphone it's gonna be

  for example like it makes a big

  difference in terms of if you are gonna

  have a handheld microphone where you're

  gonna have to be aware of keeping that

  in this you know in a constant place

  where your mouth is if it's a lapel

  microphone where you have to be careful

  of how you move your shoulders because

  if you have a lapel microphone sometimes

  you need to be careful that you don't

  turn your head

  the opposite direction of your shoulders

  where suddenly you kid that you your

  voice starts to fall off from the

  microphone or if it's the really cool

  ones the ones that can like stick out of

  your ear and come down where you can

  have a bit more flexibility but it's a

  good thing to run through that and in my

  experience if you ask an organiser hey

  I'd love to do a quick run-through of my

  slides like I want to be more prepared I

  very rarely will you encounter an

  organizer who's like no no no you know

  that we can't do that like their other

  goal is for you to do well and so it's

  always a good idea to try and do that do

  a quick run-through make sure you feel

  comfortable in the space and are

  confident that everything's gonna work

  and so you don't have those things

  weighing on you as you're getting ready

  to actually do it alright so now we're

  going to talk about basically you know

  things like is it worth doing doing

  conference speaking and why you might

  want to in the format etc but first our

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  supporting this show so we basically

  talked so far about like if you want to

  do conference speaking like how you know

  some general tips and pointers as much

  as we can fit into like 18 minutes of

  how to do it kind of you know how to

  write and how to how to do some

  technical sides of it I want to talk a

  little bit about though reasons why you

  might want to do this at all and reasons

  why you might not want to do this at all

  this you know if you if you get to any

  level of notability in a field

  especially in the tech field you are

  likely to be asked to speak at some kind

  of event or conference and especially

  you know like in the in the in our

  little world of app and tech people we

  have lots of conferences big and small

  many of them are kind of more

  commercially run and where the speakers

  are getting paid a substantial amount

  and the tickets are cost a lot of money

  and they're usually larger and they

  usually appeal to like wide you know

  wider markets like a Java conference or

  whatever and then you have a lot of

  these like smaller indie ones that I

  think the iOS world has more of those

  typically where you have like smaller

  budgets oftentimes the speakers are not

  getting paid either at all or like that

  you know they might have their travel

  expenses and ticket covered but no

  additional money after that or some some

  small amount like you know under $2,000

  say obviously that their it varies for

  you whether that's consider a small

  amount but some something in that range

  you know and so you can you can look at

  like whether to do this as like

  basically if you're going to be a

  professional conference speaker if you

  are going to if you want to speak for

  money if the money is what drives you

  here you really need to be doing it a

  lot and that's why I like the people who

  speak on conference circuits they tend

  to make a small number of talks and give

  each one a high number of times

  sometimes they'll give the same talk all

  around the country or are on the world

  of different events for like a whole

  year because that's their business that

  they make one amazing talk that is

  applicable to a wide audience in a

  certain industry and they go around the

  world and they

  paid good money because that is

  effectively that that's their full-time

  job or that is most of their job or they

  you know maybe they use that to build

  credibility to sell more books or or

  they write books to increase their

  speaking fees my boss speaking so it's

  that is a whole career and if you want

  to do that that is a very different

  career than being a software developer

  and that might be well suited to you but

  I you know you have to decide we know

  whether that's the kind of career that

  you want and all the things come along

  with it like a lot of travel and things

  like that if if that's not your goal if

  your goal is simply to speak at a

  conference because it might be fun or

  you want to attend that conference and

  that's an easy way to attend it or you

  want to promote something that you are

  doing like an app you're making that's a

  very different job and that in that kind

  of case whether or how much you're being

  paid is way less important because

  chances are whatever they're going to

  offer you is not going to be worth the

  week plus of work that you're going to

  lose by if I agree to do this not to

  mention that you know the value of

  whatever stress it might put you through

  so the money part of it I think is

  almost irrelevant for most people who

  are in our kind of business because it's

  not going to be enough money where the

  money is going to matter to you

  in all likelihood so I would say ignore

  the money part of it and and really

  think about like do I want to do this to

  promote something or to give back to a

  conference I've I've loved for years or

  or to just get better at public speaking

  or whatever else and that's a very

  different question and so like to me

  I've actually decided over the last

  couple of years that it is almost never

  worth doing it for me because I get so

  much stress about it and I lose so much

  time to it and that even when I go to a

  conference to speak at it I end up not

  really able to enjoy that conference

  until my talk is over which is often at

  least halfway through it and and so it

  is and like all like the the fun like

  socializing and and and things that

  happened before my talk I basically

  don't enjoy or don't even get to attend

  so I I have recently found that I would

  rather just do like podcasts and

  occasional blog post to get my message

  out

  hardly ever speak at conferences and

  then just attend conferences because I

  enjoy them and that way I'm able to

  enjoy them rather than really do a lot

  of talks and that that's why I do almost

  no talks anymore what do you think so I

  think there's a tricky balance and I

  think for sure I think you're right in

  the sense that I don't do conferences

  for financial reasons like they're out

  there they're definitely a loss part of

  my professional career at this point

  like that's and going down the route of

  trying to do it more professionally

  where you would actually get reasonable

  speaking fees and things it's just a

  whole other world that I don't really

  have much interest in and I think when I

  was starting out I had the first time

  like a conference organizer reached out

  to me and said hey I think you'd be a

  good fit for this conference I remember

  it's like I wanted to do it mostly just

  just so that I would have done it and

  none it's nothing like a like a oh look

  at me I've done it kind of thing but a

  bit to eliminate this like the fear of

  it that I think public speaking is one

  of the things that it's so easy to get

  scared of to really have genuine honest

  fear about but the only way you can

  really get over that is to sort of work

  on it and try it and if you're well

  prepared it's a it's less scary than you

  might expect and largely I do conference

  speaking now just for the purpose of

  practicing and developing that skill to

  make it easier and better for myself

  down the road to give myself

  opportunities that I may not otherwise

  have to speak at there are some

  conferences that I you know have would

  have always wanted to go to for example

  and it's like you have the goal of like

  well maybe one day I could get to speak

  at that and the only way you're going to

  be sort of good enough to do that is if

  you have practiced and one thing I will

  say is a nice way to start out if you're

  kind of trying to feel this out for

  yourself is this something that's worth

  it for you is it something that you'd

  like to do is to start small and there's

  a lot of conferences that are small like

  really like I think of like Coco Kampf

  is an example of this where it's a

  relatively small multitrack conference

  that is probably able you know anyone

  with who is able to put in some

  preparation could probably speak at or

  another example there's a lot of user

  groups you know Wow

  often speaking is a bit more

  sophisticated a lot of local you know

  user groups will have monthly things

  where someone gets up and talks for 10

  minutes 20 minutes about something cool

  they're working on and you can kind of

  get a feel for it but it is a tricky

  question to say like is it worth it

  because I think it's something that you

  typically are doing for reasons other

  than strictly rational reasons like it's

  for me it's a lot of it's about

  conquering of fear and being comfortable

  doing this so that I don't have this

  part of my professional skill set that I

  feel like is do is you know isn't there

  because while the nature of being an

  developer and doing work you know

  largely by myself it's not that I need

  to keep working have tremendous

  communication skills but I would feel

  bad about letting those skills just sort

  of fall waste and so overall I think it

  is a tricky thing to find that balance

  and I think it is very important to

  understand that it is a huge cost and

  sink in terms of time that you know it

  we're all said and done like I'm

  speaking at all this year and that's a

  conference that's in Ireland so in

  addition to like roughly it may be a

  week's worth of prep I'm also going to

  be flying somewhere and dealing with jet

  lag and then dealing with jet lag on the

  way back in many ways we had these

  similar conversations when we're talk

  about going to WWDC like is it worth it

  to go to that where you know you can

  kind of get a lot of the the feeling of

  it without actually going you can get a

  lot of the information but there is

  something different about actually going

  and for me conference speaking is a

  great way to kind of get myself to go to

  more conferences because I feel it's a

  hard thing to sometimes decide uh-huh

  you know do I want to pay to travel

  don't want to pay to buy ticket and be

  away from my family to attend it makes

  it a little bit easier where I feel like

  I'm I'm accomplishing something by doing

  that that I'm getting better at speaking

  as a result and typically it's helpful

  that they pay for the accommodation the

  travel and the ticket but there is

  definitely a balance to be struck there

  between is am I getting enough out of it

  and the nice thing about conference

  speaking is you know if you really want

  to do it and pursue it a lot you can

  probably find opportunities to do that

  if you only want to do it one or two

  times you can probably find a way to do

  that

  like there's an easily scalable up and

  down between the two extremes yeah

  and I mean you know to close this out

  cuz we're out of time now I think I

  would say if you are on the fence about

  whether to speak at a conference reasons

  that you that you don't need to worry

  about are things like what if I'm

  terrible at it what if people laugh at

  me is like that that doesn't really

  happen in this community like that that

  literally never happens so you don't

  have to worry about that I think what

  you mainly have to worry about is is it

  worth it to me and and if you've never

  done it before it's a good reason just

  do it as you know just just try it just

  to find out if it's worth it for you you

  might find that you love it

  you might find that you hate it but you

  should you know if you have the

  opportunity to try it try it and then

  decide from there exactly and I think

  that's the right way to think about it

  just keep an open mind to it and it's an

  important thing to just try and if it

  doesn't work that's no problem

  but if you've learned something about

  yourself in the process alright thanks

  everybody for listening and we'll talk

  to you next week bye