On Submitting to Conferences

Well Global Diversity CFP Day has wrapped up again for another year, and my head is still spinning with things I wish I'd remembered to share. So while it's all still fresh (and while I can continue to postpone my other work 😂), I thought I'd take the chance to write them down.

Writing a Proposal

  • Writing Your Proposal
  • GDCFP Day have an excellent video with advice on writing a CFP

  • If you need help coming up with an idea for your talk, Conference Proposal Ideas is a great worksheet to go through
  • Keep track of your proposals, so that you can find them when you need them. I use a Talk Template which includes notes about writing a proposal and the different parts I need to cover so I can keep that at the front of my mind each time. That template also includes a few points for the presentation when you get to that point

Submitting to Conferences

One important note on submitting to conferences - it doesn't hurt to try. I've talked to so many people who didn't submit to a conference because they didn't think they had anything to share with the audience. But the conference may be looking for something different, there may be a different angle to your presentation, and you lose nothing by submitting. I'm not saying to blindly submit to every conference out there, but don't be afraid to give things a shot

Creating Your Presentation

  • A useful piece of advice someone once gave to me: "Rank your design skills on a scale of 1 to 5", that's how many colours you're allowed to use. Don't try and overdo it, a simple presentation is better than a convoluted one
  • Plan your presentation, work out what works best for you. This may be a flow chart, sketch notes or a blog post
  • Melinda Seckington put together a great video for Global Diversity CFP Day

  • Try and keep it simple, don't give the audience too much to read, give them a short snippet to remember, highlighting anything import (my slides are often something I think is "tweetable")

  • Know what your timing is, and have points in the presentation where you mark what time you should be at (eg. at slide 50, have a note that you should be 10min in to the talk), practicing adding or taking out parts of your talk, without skipping through a bunch of slides. Have a longer explanation or a story you can tell to fill the time, or that can be omitted to make it up
  • Make sure everything can be read from the back of the room, and keep accessibility in mind when choosing the colours; red, deep blue, cyan and yellow are distinguishable from each other 99.9999% of the time. This is also important if the projector in the room isn't great, colour shouldn't be the only thing being used to demonstrate something
  • Code is often more readable on a dark background and if you're using highlight.js for your syntax highlighting, they have an accessible theme: a11y-dark (there's also a light version)

Before the Conference

  • Have a list of questions to send to the organisers, these include details about the room setup, equipment and how the day will go. Here's a starting point
  • Keep in mind what kind of mic you'll be using (you'll find out after asking the organisers your list of questions), if you have a handheld mic, you lose one of your hands and if there's a lectern mic, you'll be tied to one spot
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice for your coworkers, your friends, your family, a meetup group, your dog, or just you. Particularly when you start out, it's useful to know the content so well that you're bored of it, that way when the adrenaline hits and you forget how words work, you should even out nicely. My first conference talk I knew so well I could give the whole talk without any notes or slides
  • Assemble a speaker pack with everything you need

    • Display adaptor - check what connection they have and be prepared, also don't skimp on a $2 one the internet, try and buy something half decent
    • Slide clicker - buy your own and get comfortable using it (I use the Logitech Spotlight, see if you can get it on sale but it's totally worth the money)
  • If you're doing a live demo, make sure you practice that even more, you should be comfortable switching between you presentation and your demo. Also make sure you have a backup if that doesn't work, get a screen recording just in case
  • If you get a chance to practice for a live audience (preferably one not covered in fur and above the age of 5), try and get feedback from them. This can be hard to know what to focus on, but my Talk Template has a bunch of questions to ask (make sure you ask before, so they can watch with the idea of feedback in mind)

On the Day

  • Make sure you eat breakfast. I have a fairly nervous stomach so depending on when my talk is that could be the last meal I have until after I'm done.
  • Bring snacks. Yes the conference probably has food (sometimes they don't though), but it helps to know what you'll be able to handle. I'm known for always having food, and generally carry at least a muesli bar or banana with me (although one of them doesn't travel too well)
  • Don't be afraid to have some quiet time out (before or after your talk). There's probably a speaker room or a quiet room you can go and sit in for a bit and speaking does take a lot of energy so make sure you're looking after what you need

What to Wear

  • Comfortable shoes. I know it sounds obvious, but I've made the bad shoe choices and had to power through a presentation with my feet hurting (and eventually giving up and taking Q&A with bare feet). As an extra precaution, I even have a set of gel innersoles that make the world of difference when I'm on my feet all day
  • Your mic will probably have a belt pack, so keep in mind where you can clip it. That could be a belt, pants/skirt, you can put it in a pocket. In a pinch, you can also clip it onto the back of your shirt/dress collar or put it down the back and clip it onto your bra strap (you may need someone to help with that one, preferably a close friend 😂)
  • Highly recommend eShakti for excellent speaker dresses (most have pockets and they can be custom made to fit)
  • If you have a lapel mic, make sure you have somewhere to clip it, so try and avoid anything with a really high collar. Also avoid any big bulky necklaces or scarves, anything that might knock or muffle the mic
  • If your mic will be a headset (or Beyonce mic), keep in mind how you're wearing your hair. I like to wear my hair down, but I have a lot of it so it gets in the way and we have to weave the mic in and around my hair. Make sure you get there with plenty of time to test it out and work out what works for you (now I can tell the AV tech the best way to put my mic on, we don't have to fumble for ages).
  • Keep in mind the parts of you that you want your audience to pay attention to (ie. your hands and face), and avoid text on your chest (particularly something that can't be read easily from the back of the room)

It's Showtime

  • Go to the room early (see if you can see an earlier session in the same room, it'll help you to see how it works for speakers), get yourself set up, see the layout and take a chance to have a deep breath
  • It's ok to be nervous, everyone does, speaking in front of a large crowd invokes the fight or flight response, try doing some diaphragmatic breathing and take your time
  • Make sure you have water with you on stage (the conference may provide some for you, but I always have some as backup). It's easy to forget how thirsty you get when talking for an extended period of time
  • Use the water to help centre yourself. If you find yourself getting out of breath, stop, have a sip of water, take a second and then go on. I've seen people include 💧 emojis in their speaker notes, to regularly remind themselves to stop and take a drink. If you plan this well, you can also use it for comedic timing or to let the audience read what you have on your slide
  • Remember that if everyone is staring at you, that means you're doing a good job. Also, if people are on their phones, maybe they're frantically live tweeting how awesome your talk is (that's what I do)

After it's Over

  • Don't be afraid to take some time out and have a breath, you've just survived a near death experience!
  • Try and share your slide deck so that people can access it after, Notist is a great tool for doing this and because it was built by tech speakers, they know everything we want to be able to do (like include code samples). I include all my talks on Notist and it's really useful to be able to share past talks
  • Celebrate, you did it, it's over!

Resources

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