You should speak at conferences. Yes, you.

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The speakers at too many conferences are the usual suspects, speaking over and over again. Local tech user groups and meetups are starving for content, leading to much of the meetings being dominated by companies from outside the group with an agenda that doesn’t always meet the need of your community.

Developers, you should give talks at conferences and your local meetups. Besides helping out your community, you’ll improve your own career. People who are outgoing, who speak up, who are visible, tend to be better connected within their company and their community. This leads to new opportunities. By speaking at events, you’ll gain confidence and find it becomes easier to be a leader instead of a follower. You’ll raise your visibility in your industry, your community, and your company.

You might think it’s hard to get a talk accepted. Many conferences have trouble filling all their speaking slots. Sure, the keynotes are usually full, and often with speakers who are paid to be there. But breakout sessions, technical trainings, lightning talks, Birds of a Feather, and other sessions are often available at conferences. Discussion panels often have spots available for panelists.

Your local technology meetup probably has trouble finding regular speakers. Think of the meetings you’ve attended where the speaker wasn’t known until the last minute, or that consisted of a free-for-all discussion. These were probably meetings where the organizers were scrambling for a speaker. They’d love it if you offered up a talk.

Have a Barcamp in your area? The talks there are open to anyone. Just put your name on the board and give a talk. At these, you could offer to lead a discussion, giving a short 5 minute talk, then using the rest of the time to discuss your theme among the participants.

Perhaps you’re afraid you have nothing to say? You certainly know something that not everyone else does. Your talk doesn’t need to be a comprehensive encyclopedia of all knowledge on your subject. For a subject that’s likely to be new to your audience, an overview is better. Give them enough information to decide if they want to learn more on their own.

Or you have an opinion, perhaps one that you’ve been giving to your friends and colleagues. Surely you can speak for 30 minutes about something you’re passionate about. At one conference, I recently said that “RCS is solving last decade’s communications problems.” The quote got a bit of attention, so my next talk was focused on why I believe that and what the industry needs to do in order to change.

Where to start? The easiest place is your local community. Those meetups and local user groups will be happy to have you speak. Ask any organizer and you’ll find that they really are struggling for content. That’s one reason your community is a great place to start: they’ll welcome you with open arms.

The other reason is they’re friendly. It’s a smaller, controlled audience. These are your people. You’ve probably had dinner or drinks with some of them. They want you to succeed. They’ll overlook your faults. If you have stage fright or fear you won’t be able to get your point across, or just don’t know how to go about preparing a talk, this is the right group of people to try in front of.

Go out, give a talk. Improve yourself, your community, and your future career.

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


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