When starting your speaking career it’s very unlikely that your first talk will be a keynote in front of 1,000 people. Public speaking is a lot about learning on the job. You get better the more often you do it.
Meetups and user groups
I started visiting user groups and meetups in my area. I saw some pretty bad presentations and knew that I’ll do a better job. After a while I was ready to hit the stage and it was awful. Luckily there were just 12 people in the room and I knew most of them from previous meetings. I got a few tips, did a presentation one month later and fixed a lot of flaws from my first presentation.
If you’re not yet regularly visiting community events you should go. Nearly every speaker I know started at a meetup, learned what resonated with the audience, and improved their performance. Look at meetup.com to find those groups in your region.
Before a new talk of mine hits the big stage I still try them out at a local meetup, get feedback, and improve it.
The next step is speaking at a conference. But which one? If you have spoken at some Meetup and talked to some people you should have some ideas about conference that would fit to your speaking topic. Tracl their pages for CFP (often you can subscribe to updates) and search the internet.
Here are some tips if you want to find out more about the audience and if they would resonate with your speaking topic
- download the sponsorship prospectus. It often has good insights on the audience
- look at the previous year sessions. Are they aligned with your topic?
- find out more about the committee. Maybe contact a member (often via twitter) and ask for feedback on your proposal
- see if the conference has a starter program for new speakers. Apply for that
It’s probably easier to get in community conferences first. There are also some conferences that are invite only. Don’t put too much effort to try to get into those. I often failed without having a personal contact.
Here are some resources you should check out:
- https://seecfp.com/ – Great list and newsletter about open CFPs
- https://www.cfpland.com/ – Great list and newsletter about open CFPs
- https://marcus-biel.com/java-conferences-2020/ – Pretty complete list of Java conferences
Talk to people, maybe reach out to frequent speakers. The speaker circuit is small and they’re willing to help.
Call for speakers
For a period of time in the year conferences have a so called “Call for speakers” or “Call for proposals”. Normally 4-6 months before the actual event and opened for 6-8 weeks. In that period you can submit your proposal and a program committee decides whether your topic fits and is good enough for the conference or not. You’ll hear around 1-2 months after the Call for Speakers closed… The more time it takes the less likely it is that your proposal is accepted. Conferences accepts speakers first before they decline all the others.
But what’s a proposal? You can read more about it at “Writing Killer Conference Submissions
Don’t worry if you’re not picked. I’m a frequent and known speaker and I still have rejection rate of about 60%-70%. Some events receive over 800 submissions and just have 150 speaking slots. Keep on trying. You might want to reach out and ask for feedback. Program committees often discuss proposals in a tool and keep the comments. It’s great if they can share those back with you so you can adjust your submission text for the next conference.