Public Speaking In Tech: HOW ON EARTH DO YOU DO IT

Hey, you’d like to speak!  That’s awesome.  Speaking is a great way to contribute to our community, spread great ideas, solidify your own knowledge, gain confidence (even—or especially—if the idea of talking in front of people is terrifying to you), meet people in your field, travel (often for free!), hear other great conference talks, raise your company’s visibility, and show the world how excellent you are.

That being said: it can be totally overwhelming to break into speaking or even to keep going once you’ve started.  The good news is that there are a ton of places to find guidance, help, encouragement, and tons of practical advice, whether you’re brand new or seasoned!  And even better news: there are links to a ton of them right on this page.

Everything I’m listing below is something that I’ve come across on my speaking journey that has helped me navigate the madness.  I started aggregating links about a year and a half ago when I was first asked to give a talk at a meetup and was both exhilarated and totally terrified.  Since then, I’ve given talks at seven tech conferences across three different countries, and I use the resources on this page all of the time.  I’m still exhilarated, still terrified, but infinitely more prepared—and that makes all the difference.

Where To Submit Talks

Where do you find CFPs (Calls For Proposals)?

First and foremost: there are two newsletters you need to subscribe to.  Yes, I said need, because they’re that important.

  1. The Weekly CFP
    This newsletter delivers a huge range of tech conf CFPs.  Each week they send you a long list of featured CFPs, new CFPs, and CFPs that are still open from previous weeks.  This is your new go-to list for speaking opportunities, sent to you once a week so that you don’t forget your goals.  #worthit
  2. Technically Speaking
    This is a great complement to The Weekly CFP.  It features just a few quality CFPs per week but also includes links to new speaking-related content, like articles and blog posts on how to start, continue, and master speaking at tech conferences. Plus, it’s run by two women and does great work on inclusivity and diversity.

There are also lots of great places to search for open CFPs immediately:

    A tool many conferences use to do “one-click CFPs”, where your account stores information about talks you want to submit and you can easily submit them to different conferences using the tool.
    Lanyrd tracks a lot of conferences.  Their CFP page is an extensive resource, but the downside is that there are so many conferences on here that it can be hard to find relevant ones.  You can, however, filter by topic to wheedle it down a bit.  
    If you’re just looking for Ruby Conferences, this is a solid place to see what’s upcoming.
  • Callback Women
    Yes, this is a twitter account geared towards all underrepresented genders in tech, but it’s also an awesome resource for finding CFPs in general (regardless of your gender).

Another great way to look for CFPs is simply to find conferences that interest you and find out when their CFP is.  If it’s not now, join their mailing list or follow them on twitter so you’ll remember it when it counts.

Meetups are a great way to practice or develop your talks!  It can be much less intimidating to start out by giving your talk at a Meetup or two before taking it out to the conference world.

If you want to see a list of conferences Treeps like, check out our conference tracker google spreadsheet.  You can see what the conference is about, when and where it is, who’s interested in going, and more information.  Plus, if your talk gets accepted, you can put your name in the “speaking” column and feel like a total badass.

How To Come Up With A Topic 

For lots of us, this is the hardest part of all.  Here are a couple blog posts and articles that can help you with topic creation:

And here are a few tips we’ve put together:

  • Keep a notepad or trello board where you can aggregate talk ideas, however half-baked.  I find that if I can write down my ideas immediately on my phone wherever I am (and put them in a place I’ll know to look at later) I am much more likely to follow through or build on them.
  • If you are stuck on something at work and finally figure out a solution, that could make a great talk (or blog post)!  Help out people who might run into the problem in the future. Even if other people out there are already talking about it, were they able to talk about it in a way that connected with you?  If not, you’ve identified a need that you can fill with your beautiful brain!
  • Come up with the talk you wish you could see, whether or not you feel qualified.  Write the proposal, and then do the research you need to write the talk.  Bonus points if you commit to giving the talk first, because then you’ll be really motivated to learn.  On that note, maybe you’ll end up disagreeing with your original thesis.  That’s okay too!  Use that.  Talk about why you changed your mind.
  • Remember that you don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert in order to talk about something.  Okay, so maybe you don’t know as much about Docker as that gal from the DevOps meetup, but you might still have a lot to share about it with a big group of Rubyists. You might not even be the person in the room who knows the most about your topic, but you bring yourself and your background and your unique perspective to the table, and that’s something only you can do.
  • Your talks don’t have to be explicitly technical.  Some of the most memorable talks at conferences talk about culture, soft skills, process, connections with other fields, or a bevy of other issues surrounding technology.  Both sides are equally important!

How To Write A Good Talk Proposal 

There are tons of really, really good resources out there for crafting your proposal:

How To Give A Good Talk

Once your talk has been accepted, how do you prepare it?

Resources That Cover EVERYTHING

Here are a few links that have a wide array of content and cover all of the above categories:

  • Fabulous and long post (complete with table of contents) on everything from picking a topic to organization tools and how to speak as an introvert.  “How To Prepare And Write A Tech Conference Talk” by Lena Reinhard
  • We Are All Awesome — articles and resources on how to start and continue speaking at tech conferences
  • — advice on all aspects of the speaking process by a seasoned tech speaker

Things You Might Want To Consider Before You Submit/Accept

Your time is worthwhile, and you’re going to get the most out of your speaking experiences if you’re speaking at a conference that values its speakers and its attendees.  Either before you apply or after you get your acceptance email, you might want to consider if they deserve you!  The following points aren’t things you have to take into account, but they can be interesting topics to think about before you accept.

  • Do they give speakers a free ticket?
    This might seem like a given, but some conferences make speakers pay their way in.
  • Do they genuinely support their speakers?
    There are lots of different ways of showing this, from organizing a speakers’ dinner to paying for your hotel to just being genuinely grateful that you’re gracing them with your talk.  The talk acceptance email is a good place to gauge this if it’s not clear elsewhere.
  • Do they care about diversity?
    If the conference routinely only gives voices to certain kinds of people, consider whether it’s the kind of place you want to support.  An important step if you want to avoid being featured on this site.  Check out their speaker lineup from previous years, and take into account measures they’ve taken to increase diversity among both speakers and attendees.  Do they offer diversity scholarships?  Are they partnering with organizations focused on increasing diversity in tech?
  • Is there a code of conduct?
    There are lots of good articles about why codes of conduct are necessary and why many people choose not to speak at conference without one.  (Want way more links on this? Try this article.)


I’ll continue adding to this guide when I find good content.  If there’s something else you think would be good on this list, tweet at me with a link!  And if this helps you reach one of your speaking goals, let me know and I will tweet the heck out of your success.

Best of luck!