Why Am I Doing Public Speaking at Tech Events? The Honest Answer.
Hi everyone. My name is Alex. I speak at meetups and conferences and give tens of talks every year. I don’t think I’m the best public speaker, but I am continuously working on improving myself. I often travel to other countries to give my talks. I started doing so from 2013, was increasing pace year by year, and likely haven’t finished by the moment you read this article. Most of my talks are technical talks about programming; however, there were some non-related ones. I don’t earn any money directly out of it, but spend the immerse amount of effort preparing to talks, traveling, and giving them. People usually ask me — “why the hell are you doing so?” I had some answers, but it never felt complete. Recently I met people, conversations with whom brought me deeper into self-reflection, so now I feel ready to share my motivation with you.
Sharing is caring
This one is boring, but it’s still a real motivation for me. I think it’s a result of my obsessive thoughts related to the existence of human beings and their role in society (at least mine). If sharing my mistakes or experiences will help others to avoid it — people will have a chance to spend their efforts on something different, which may help the technological community to evolve faster. I think we shouldn’t all repeat the same mistakes over and over again; it’s a destructive way. So sharing is caring.
Also, I had situations when I was sharing my videos with teams I’ve been working with. In particular, my presentation related to hybrid mobile apps technologies were quickly distributed in my previous agency between teams who were into the process of selling our customers this kind of mobile apps. It helped them to shape the better vision of what the limitations and benefits are, what pitfalls they might encounter, and also increased my credibility as a contact person regarding the subject in a company.
Responsible use of open source
I use open-source projects to make money. I try to contribute to some libraries also, but promoting them on stage feels like the best thing that I’m capable of doing. If something makes my life better, and some people invest their efforts and share it for free — I want to help them to gain exposure. Also, I feel that spreading good project benefits the community as well. You will be negatively surprised how many cool open source initiatives die just because authors became desperate supporting and developing something nobody knows about. I believe we should help such libraries/frameworks/tools if we use them by contributing to them, promoting in talks or articles, etc.
This might sound abstract, so let’s think of some examples. Think about the following bullets as the consecutive events in the timeline:
- You find a library that solves your exact problem in the best way. It’s not popular, though, and you are constantly finding some things which might be improved fixed.
- You give a talk about the library and share how cool it is, how it solves your issue, and also mention what might be improved.
- More people start using the library; more people open PRs to it and improve the quality of it. Creators of the library become more motivated as they see feedback from the community.
- More people share the library on events/blogs/videos and expose new ideas and use cases.
- Process iterates, quality of library gets better, capacity of contributors increases
Meeting new people
Since I started doing public speaking — I traveled to Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin, Stuttgart, Hannover, Amsterdam, Verona, Wroclaw, Poznan, Warsaw, Lodz, Kyiv, Odessa, Dnipro. All those communities have lots of amazing people I would never meet without joining them on their events. Talking to them, listening to their questions and experiences, having networking parties after events, talking to other speakers — it is all enriching me as a person, and I feel grateful for having those doors opened. I got a chance to speak to all those fantastic people I want to learn from, and it drives me. It’s not something I would be ever able to buy for the money.
Once in the cafe, one guy asked me, “You gave a talk about multithreading in Node a month ago, don’t you?”. We had a good conversation till midnight and became good friends. Even though “That ginger guy with hard Slavic surname” isn’t the best definition of myself, I wished initially, still, I’m astonished to see people discussing my talks. It also feels like it brings additional weight to me when I go to job interviews.
This one is an easy one: if you believe in something — public speaking is a tool to interact with people and share ideas. Probably you can improve the world or make people hate pink unicorns — it’s your choice.
Overcoming fear and complexes and growing personally
It was terrifying in the beginning. It became a passion in the end. Let me share some chronology:
- In 2014 the first time I gave a talk in front of 50 people. It was f*cking scary. At this point, I thought that I’m an absolute introvert.
- In 2015 I tried to joke in one of my talks, and I was afraid to appear a buffoon.
- In 2015 I saw a comment on the internet like “it’s the worst thing I ever seen, how organizers allowed him to speak on stage.”. It demotivated me to do anything for half a year. It has taken a while to overcome this bias and give it another try.
- 2016 was the first year when I gave a talk in front of a bigger audience of about ~150 people. I did it twice that year. It was game-changing; I saw positive feedback and started to believe it worth to continue.
- In 2017 started actively traveling and gave my first talks in English. It felt surreal, as, at the beginning of this journey, I had an A2 level of English (or even worse). Also, those were my first talks in the EU, which was something I never felt I’ll be capable of doing. Also, I gave a speech in glasses (I was bullied at school for wearing glasses, so had individual complexes related this). I waived them by doing so a couple of times; now, I don’t have such a problem.
- 2018 — I gave 19 talks, most of which on conferences in different countries. I gave talks in Western Europe, which was a personal milestone for me. I organized our community. I started doing funny (I hope so :) ) performances on stage along with my talks, doing various non-standard openings, and experimenting with withholding people’s attention. I was finally able to have zero unrest related to public speaking, and it allowed me to follow the behavior of the audience and help them to stay online.
- 2019, keep doing, expanding the geography, thinking of recording educational videos, and make my first attempts talking about medical topics.
I try to bring value to the audience; otherwise, there is no point in giving a talk. Even though I try — my attempts not always are very successful. I got some takeaways for myself and would like to share them with you:
- Learn the approximate proficiency of your target audience before giving a talk. Make it easier to beginners (usually) or harder (on particular events) if needed. I mismatched several times, and it’s not the best thing to do.
- Talk about topics that make the world a better place in particular accessibility, diversity, ethics, etc. I started trying to go beyond just technical issues and trying to spread some good ideas I believe in.
- Stories of failure feel way more honest than success stories. From many conversations feels like a description of mistakes yields more value than success stories. Problem — Efforts — Solution is the best format. (This point you may disagree with, it’s subjective)
- Put the audience in front of your priorities in the first place. Time of 100 together is more expensive than yours, regardless of how cool specialist you are. When I review my slides — I try to think from the perspective of listener and think, what I would like to hear if I never knew this topic before.
I hope my history will make you more open and motivated towards the public speaking or at least understand people who do this. There is nothing scary, and it’s not a school where kids are forced to listen to you. I never saw the “bad” audience, and don’t think ever will. I feel incredibly grateful for having such a possibility in my life and consider it a fantastic adventure, which I will definitely continue.