I’ve spoken at JSConf and so can you!

Sandrina Pereira
7 min readNov 29, 2017

This is what I’ve done before taking the stage at JSConf Budapest ‘17.

JSConf Budapest 2017 stunning Venue: Urania National Movie theater

One month ago I was a Speaker at JSConf Budapest 2017 talking about How can Javascript improve your CSS Mixins. It was my first time ever in an international conference. I’ve spent almost 3 months preparing myself for that moment. The experience was amazing and now I want to share with you how I did it, so you can do it too!

Do what you love and love what you do

Earlier this year, during a project, I did some cool stuff that I’d never seen, so I wrote an article about it. For me it was something worth sharing and that’s the thing: If you really love what you do, you’ll want to share what you’ve learnt. It might help someone else. And that’s how you know you are passionate about something.

Take the risk

A few months later, a friend told me that JSConf Budapest was having a Call For Speakers and he suggested I should apply to talk about the article I wrote. At first, I thought it was a crazy idea… but those are the best ideas, right? So, I applied in the very last day! Done. ✅

Months later, a notification popped up at my phone and the title read:
✉️ JSConf Budapest 2017 — Sandrina, you’re one of our speakers! ... Holy shit, it took me a while to believe it. No way I would speak in english (not my native language) for an international conference… but at the same time I was really excited. My friends gave me the courage to accept this new challenge.

If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.
— Seth Godin

First step: Watch and learn

Let me be honest with you. One of my major concerns was time. The article I wrote takes you 5 minutes to read. My talk should take ~30. What will I do for 25 minutes? I had no idea.

My friends suggested I should see other talks, to learn from them and see how it works. I watched a lot of talks: tech talks, public speaking talks, talks about talks. I watched them all until I could see a possible flow for my own talk. This is what I learnt from them:

  • Tell a story
  • Engage the public
  • Be yourself

In my case, I would turn my 5 minutes article into a story that could start with how the subject was born. The problem, the solution, and some possible scenarios where that solution could be used or explored.

Middle step: Practice

While creating my talk, I asked some friends and colleagues if I could practice with them to get some feedback. The first major problem was spotted: You don’t need to show all the complex code. It gets boring. My first draft was full of code, code and more code. In that moment, I started from scratch: Instead of showing the code I knew, I focused on something I didn’t know: learning what the public wanted.

Know your public — A.K.A. Engage them

This is the hardest and the trickiest part: create a dialogue with your public. It’s not only about telling a story. It’s about sharing an experience that both sides (speaker and public) can relate to.

In a international conference about javascript, talking about it for 30 minutes straight with complex code scenarios can be dangerous if you don’t master public speaking. That was my case. There’s a chance that not everyone knows what I know about the subject, so I need to keep it simple. My approach was ELI5 style (Explain Like I’m Five).

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough
— Albert Einstein

Group of slides explaining part of the process of a PostCSS Plugin creation
  • Pseudo code: Show the idea behind the code before showing the actual code — use different fonts to separate meanings.
  • Show the code only when needed: the user will focus more on what you’re saying than understanding the slides behind you.
  • Colours: Use different styles to focus on the important information.

You can’t force the public to follow your super complex visionary code. You just need to explain the idea behind it. Then, if they are really interested, they will reach out to you during the coffee break or google it. That way, even non-developers can understand the idea and maybe get insights for their own projects.

The public wants to learn something new while having fun. It’s up to you to find the balance between both.

Explaining the code step-by-step can be boring, so you’ll need more than that. You need to create moments where the public can relax and feel included. You can do whatever you want on those moments. Be fun. Be creative. Be ironic. Be yourself!

Some ice breaking slides to feel more connected with the audience

Last step: Go back to the first step

Start small before the big jump

It’s not only about asking your best friend for feedback. You need to practice with people you’re not comfortable with. They will point you things to you that you’re not expecting. Most of my talk was about postcss-mixins, so I got in touch with its author, Andrey Sitknit, and his feedback was a huge help for me.

Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.
— Bill Nye

Besides practicing with friends and colleagues I also looked for a local place to talk before going to Budapest. As a Dry Run, I spoke at PixelsCamp a month before JSConf Budapest. It was intimidating but was also a great way to improve my talk as well as understand the vibe of the crowd for those 30 minutes.

Walls can be your best friend too

I’ve practiced more times walking around my living room that in front of other people. It’s a different way of training. I focused more on my words and the tone of my voice, instead of being nervous for having people staring at me. A great trick that worked for me was starting the talk from a random slide so I wouldn’t get addicted to “Just say what you have to say” all at once.

Be confident

Let me confess… No, I didn’t improvise that much during the talk. I used a script and most of the time I knew exactly what I had to say. Don’t get me wrong… If it was a portuguese talk for a local presentation, I would go and just do it on the fly, as I always do. But in english and while being recorded, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to improvise. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing, but that’s how I felt more comfortable handling the pressure.

Also, the only speaker notes I had were “drink water”, “breath” in caps lock on some slides. I forgot about those all the time, even with the speaker notes right there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The big day: Go with the flow

All I thought before entering the stage and the day before where the worst possible scenario: No internet? No microphone? No battery? Forget to say something? Bite my tongue during a tricky english word? Oh well… Fuck it, I’m not going to die.

I don’t know how and why but when the big moment arrived, minutes before entering the stage… I was calm and ready to do my best. I knew what to do. I practiced a lot. I had my friends in the front row. The venue was amazing, as well as the Masters of Ceremony’s motivation. What else could I wish for?

Let’s do it. And I did it.

Scene taken from Les Sins — Bother

30 minutes had passed and I had so much fun during that time. The audience was amazing and really supportive. It was an amazing experience. Let me share some points about being on stage:

  • In the very first second when I said the first words “Hi everyone!” I thought to myself This is it. I can’t fuck this up. Not now, please don’t.
  • You can’t see half the public because of the lights. But please don’t forget to look at them, even if all you see is darkness.
  • You can hear your own voice from the mic while you’re talking. It’s weird during the first minutes but then you get used to it.
  • Don’t mind if people are looking at their phones instead of paying attention. They are probably tweeting about you. (or not)
  • Please, turn off all the computer notifications while speaking. They are the true evil.
  • Breathe and drink water. The public wants to feel that you’re speaking to them, not just speaking because you have to speak. Actually, some breaks during the talk can be used in your favor.

Of course there is a lot of room for improvements. A forgotten sentence. A less confident posture. A forgotten slide. Having a demo. But nothing that can’t be improved next time. Don’t expect to be perfect. Don’t expect too much from yourself, otherwise the anxiety will speak louder and you’ll suck. Everyone wants to have a great time, so just be yourself and have fun.

After that I still felt the adrenaline all over my body during the rest of the week until I returned to Portugal. Both CSSConf and JSConf were great and everyone was so friendly. It was a really awesome week in Budapest. ⚡️

So, if I was able to do it, so can you! You just need to love what you do.
Be open to feedback and learn from everyone.
Just go with the flow!

Because sharing is what make us better! Thank you 🙌

Last but not least, you can check the talk on Youtube and the slides on Github.



Sandrina Pereira

I’m a Senior UX Frontend Engineer who helps to turn ideas into accessible experiences. I’m into React, Accessibility, and Design Systems.