Speaking for Geeks: Where to speak

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You want to speak at a conference. You’ve figured out what to talk about. You have a session abstract written up. Where do you submit it?

First, figure out if you’re able to travel to a conference. This costs money, but there’s some ways you can get that covered.

Some events pay for speaker travel. The conference would be nothing without the speakers, and they make all this sponsorship and ticket money because of the speakers, so it’s great when they do this. It’s pretty rare in the tech conference world for non-keynote speakers to have their travel covered, however. If the conference doesn’t pay for speaker travel, ask them if they will, or if they can provide a travel stipend. Sometimes they say yes.

If you’re an independent developer or consultant, you can probably claim travel costs to speak at a conference as a business expense. Talk to your tax advisor about this.

If you work for a company, talk to your boss to see if they’ll pay your travel. Some companies have a policy that you can attend any conference you earn a speaking slot at. Always wanted to go to OSCON? Get a speaking slot, and you’re in.

Having you speak at a conference is great marketing for your company. If potential customers are there, they’ll see you, they’ll see the name of your company, they’ll hear what you have to say. It’s almost like sponsoring the event, but cheaper. Even if your prospective customers aren’t at the event, your company can start saying that their developers are leaders because they speak at events.

You’ll also meet people at the event, which can be good for recruiting, finding new vendors, finding new partners, and finding new ways of doing things. It’s easier to meet people at a conference if you’ve spoken there because people will want to come talk to you. Finally, having you speak at a conference is great training for you, making you a better employee.

These are all reasons your company should want to pay for you to speak at a conference.

Local events like meetup groups, users groups, and unconferences are a great avenue for speaking. They’re smaller groups, so less intimidating. It’s an informal setting so talks tend to be more interactive. The attendees are friendlier and more forgiving of mistakes, because they don’t feel like they’ve paid to see you. And your hometown groups don’t require you to travel.

Local events are often more desperate for content, since they have a smaller pool of speakers to draw from. It’s easier to get a talk accepted at a smaller, local event than a large, national one.

When trying out a big talk that I plan to give for a while at lots of events around the world, I like to test it out at a local meetup first. Sort of like a comedian touring some small local comedy clubs to try some new material before they take the show on the road.

Once you’ve decided if you’re staying at home or taking your show on the road, there are some tools that can help you find an event to submit your talk to.

For local meetings, Meetup.com is a great place to start. Lots of groups use this site to organize, and you can filter be location and keyword. Search for programming languages like PHP, Ruby, or Java, or search for broader terms like startup, internet, and programming. You’ll probably find some groups in your town you didn’t know about. They usually have their event calendar on the site, so you can see when they have an opening coming up and what their past talks have been about.

Check with your local co-working facilities and maker spaces. They tend to host a lot of user groups and other tech talks, so they can put you in touch with the organizers of local events. You might be able to get on an email list of social media page to keep updated on what events they’re hosting in the future.

If there’s a Startup Digest or similar email newsletter in your city, subscribe to it. They list tons of events. By the time they list it, it’s too late to submit a talk to it, but you can use this to learn about recurring events that you didn’t know about.

Talk to your co-workers and people at other local groups you attend. Chances are they attend or at least know about some groups you don’t.

If you’re looking at events you will travel to, the “talk to people you know” approach works as well.

Lanyrd is a site that lists conferences all over the world. They’re focused more on conference attendees than speakers, so sometimes get the event listed too late to participate in. But by looking at what events have happened in the past, you can start to build a list of what events you’d like to speak at in the future. Lynyrd will give you the event details so you can track future ones on your own.

The CFP Report is an email subscription service that sends you notices when conferences open up their session submissions. It has a smaller list of events than Lanyrd does, but they’re more focused on developer events.

Now go find some events!

This is part of a series on becoming a better public speaker. Read the rest of the series.


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