Reflections on my very first (!) conference speaker experience

Last week, I had the chance to speak in my very first (!) design conference, Config Europe!

I submitted my talk on a whim: I knew what I wanted to talk about since I wrote a thesis on it (Tackling Tech Ethics with Value-Sensitive Gameplay). And the Europe timezone matched Singapore’s timezone to a certain extent, so why not? When I got news that I was selected to speak, I was first excited, then my nerves started. Could I really give a talk to thousands?

What I did not realise before submitting my talk, was that since I’m a first-time speaker, building my presentation was almost like a part-time job. My thesis project didn’t translate to a presentation automatically (oh how I hoped so!). I spent at least 4–6 hours every week in the month leading up to the conference structuring, rewriting, cutting content, designing and testing out my presentation.

I used Loom in the last week to record myself going through my entire presentation, and it was helpful to catch any names or words that I tripped over and needed to spend time working on. I also used the recording to get comfortable with my particularly Singaporean-sounding accent. 😆 It’s one thing to sound different in a recording, but to sound super Singaporean? My internal cringe was overworking, to be really honest!

The entire experience was pretty interesting and eye-opening as well, from building my presentation, to reviewing content with Figma design advocate @luis (the best kind of cheerleader), to rehearsing, and then to backstage interactions with other speakers. The people behind Figma were incredible and very supportive. They want you to succeed on the international stage.

I could feel my confidence build gradually as the day of the conference drew near. On the day itself, though I could feel my nerves (my palms were sweaty 30 minutes before the talk!), I thought: I can do this. And I will rock it. 💪🏻

Screenshot of conference with title (Tackling tech ethics with gameplay) at the top and speaker image at the bottom
Screenshot of conference with title (Tackling tech ethics with gameplay) at the top and speaker image at the bottom
Screenshot by Zoey Nguyen ; thank you!

The actual talk happened like a rush: the exhilaration of facing thousands online passed and settled 10 minutes into my talk, and then the talk was over after 25 minutes. I believe I was on the dot on timing 😁 When I went into the chat to thank everyone who attended, I realised that important conversations were happening. Attendees were contributing resources to learn more about ethical tech and design, and discussing their takeaways.

My aim for giving this talk was this: If techmakers thought more about what we are putting out in the world, and lead important conversations about the impact of tech with our teammates, we will be able to change our industry bit by bit.

It is an optimistic way to look at tech ethics, of course. Like I mentioned at the end of my talk, we need a systematic change on top of individual actions to see change happen. But we’ll need to start somewhere. 🙋🏻‍♀️

Figma has written up and kindly included my talk in a post on what was apparently the theme in Config Europe: Trust in design. It highlights how we as designers can build trust with the colleagues and clients we work with, and hopefully society at large:

Thanks for this opportunity, Figma!

Lastly, to anyone who has something to say, but not sure if you should put yourself out there: just do it! You will find that it isn’t as scary as you think it would be. And you might just gain new insights into yourself and open up new doors. 🙂

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