TL;DR do it. If you need more convincing, read on to learn about what it’s like to be a first-time attendee/speaker, and my advice for you.
Before I went to my first tech conference about a year ago, I thought they were silly. Why would I pay all the dollars when I could just watch the recordings later on YouTube?
… Because when you are utterly surrounded by amazing people who are excited about the same things as you, good things happen. I’ve never felt more inspired to imagine, build, and share.
What I noticed as a first-time EmberConf attendee:
- Women comprised half of the speakers, trainers, and mascots (hell yeah!)
- The speakers were from all over the world.
- I came home with pages of useful notes, tools, and tips. Half of the notes were from conversations, and the other half were from presentations.
- It was great to chat with the people who built the addons and tools I use every day. Everyone was patient with (and in many cases excited to answer) my questions. Even the dumb questions.
- I didn’t have any coworkers to hang out with, but I could sit down at any row of seats in the auditorium or lunch table, introduce myself, and have an interesting conversation. Flashbacks of awkward middle school cafeteria moments were banished.
- I had no trouble finding the people I had met earlier if I was looking for a familiar face, even though it was a huge event. I also recognized a few people from the Ember community chat (now on Discord)
- At least from where I was sitting, near the front, it was the most respectful large audience I’ve ever been in. It’s hard to believe but with a crowd of ~800, there was very little background chatter distracting from the speakers.
What I noticed as a first-time conference speaker:
- I’ve never been so nervous in my whole life, but everything was fine. The most comforting advice I got was a point Bear Douglas shared in the Public Speaking workshop she ran. It was something along the lines of, “Remember that the audience wants you to succeed. They want to hear what you have to say.” The most useful strategy she taught me was to say to myself “1… 2… 3… set!”, plant my feet, take a deep breath, and launch into my first sentence confidently.
- The lights were very, very bright! I couldn’t really see how big the audience was. This was unexpected.
- So, so many people came up after my talk to simply say congrats and thank you ❤ Plenty more had great questions, advice, and ideas to share. I was afraid that my talk would be “too basic” for anything but my local Meetup, but I was told that talks at all levels would be welcome, and that was true.
- The other presenters were very supportive and welcoming, whether veterans or new attendees like me.
- The opportunity to stand on stage, test out HDMI cable things, and figure out presenter mode settings helped put me more at ease.
- Speaking slowly takes practice. However the echo of the mic made this easier. I hope it wasn’t too slow. I’ll never know because I am NEVER watching the recording. Nope nope nope.
- The volunteers and staff put a lot of work into making sure everything ran smoothly, and I had all the information I needed to be successful
Advice for attendees and speakers
- Sign up for a workshop the day before the conference. Spending a few hours learning and getting to know a smallish group of people will make the rest of the conference more interesting. Of the people who I want to keep in touch with, most are from the workshop
- Women should join the Ember Women Helping Women mailing list and Discord channel, even before you sign up to attend or submit a proposal. It was great to meet a few “internet friends” in person! I was able to get some great feedback on my proposal and talk through this group as well.
- If it’s offered again, do the Public Speaking Workshop… especially if you are presenting. This year it was offered as part of the Ember Women workshops.
- Take lots of notes. It’s hard to remember what to research and who to email/LinkedIn once the conference is over
- You don’t need to be a “famous person” to submit a proposal, so you should go ahead and give it a try. New speakers were given a fair chance in the evaluation process. In the first round, any identifying information was hidden. The result was that my fellow presenters were a mix of people whose names I recognized and those who I was introduced to for the first time.
- Try giving a talk sometime! Whether it’s your first talk at your local meetup or on a huge stage, practice your first five minutes of your talk repeatedly, in front of other people. You will have the muscle memory to carry you though the most nerve-wracking moment at the beginning. By the time you’re five minutes into your talk, you’re past the hardest part.
P.S. If I met you at EmberConf, thank you for everything :)