/ posts

How to land your first conference talk

Folks ask me how to land a conference talk.

I’m no expert but I’ve been speaking at meetups and conferences since 2013. So, I have a little experience.

Here are a few things you can do.

🔁 Have spoken before 👉 Have an obvious affiliation 🙋 Ask organizers what they look for 🙀 Craft a banger title 😈 Be a nuisance on social

Have spoken before

I know, I know.

Totally unhelpful. But true.

The best way to speak at a conference is to have spoken at a conference.

Organizers are taking a big risk organizing a conf. They want talks that are a sure thing. You won’t get very far if you can’t sell yourself.

So how do you sell yourself?

  • Speak at meetups (where talks are recorded and published)
  • Stream
  • Record yourself talking about the topic on social

Make it easy to visualize you, on stage, delivering your topic.

Have an obvious affiliation

Experts speakers sell conference tickets. So propose a talk in your realm of your perceived expertise.

Do you work at AWS? Propose a talk on grokking the latest serverless/edge offerings.

Do you work on Shopify’s Polaris design system? Talk about the challenges of distributed componentry and wins others can copy.

Be obvious. Draw a straight line between the role you hold and the information you’re sharing. Be predictable. Press your advantages. Borrow from your company’s brand if you have to.

Ask organizers what they looking for

Wild, I know — just ask. Nobody does.

Many organizers will create a document sharing exactly what they look for in proposals. And there’s no greater cheat code than the person evaluating your proposal sharing the rubric.

Let me make it easy. Here’s something you can copy and paste into a DM or email:

I'd love to speak at your conference.
Do you have a page with recommendations for talk proposals?
If not, do you have a favorite talks I might review?
Thank you!

Short. Sweet. To the point. And now you’ve introduced yourself to the organizer. 🐥🐥🪨

Craft a banger title

A conference talk title needs to entice people in a single sentence.

There are two ways to do that.

Obvious titles

If you’re fortunate enough to have a topic with a lot of interest and little prior art, say exactly what your talk is about in the title. Here are a few I’ve used:

These worked (several years ago) because there wasn’t a lot of material on the topic. These topics would get drown out today. But if you’re in the privileged position of working in uncharted territory. Use an obvious, SEO-able title.

Provocative titles

If your talk is more abstract, try to irritate people. You want a title that screams “WTF? How are these things related?” These are some I’ve used:

Take a concept people know and then punch a gaping whole into the middle of it. If they’re asking “why does this thing I thought I knew have a whole in it now?” they might actually attend your talk.

Be a nuisance on social

I’m gonna repeat this. Conferences are measured in ticket sales. Ticket sales are generated by hype.

It doesn’t matter how altruistic the event is. The life blood of a durable event is ticket sales.

So sell tickets.

Go to social and say you submitted a CFP. Share your title. Ask people what they’d like to see covered. Ask who’s in the area and what they’d like to do when you’re all together.

Make yourself a critical part of the conference before you even get accepted. When they can envision you, at the event, throwing vibes, it gets harder to say no (regardless of your topic).

Now, don’t be a jerk. This is a good way to augment the strategies above. If you haven’t demonstrated your interest in making a great event (to the organizers), you’ll turn the organizers off to you.

Ok. That’s probably enough on breaking into the speaker scene.

Do you have any tips for me? What worked for you? {% bug-me-on-twitter, “Hit me on twitter.” %}