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Getting The Most Out Of A Conference

Published 11/9/2015

Today, we talk about participating in conferences, both as a speaker and as an attendee.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I'm going to be talking to you about conferences, how to apply to conferences and how to get the most out of your conference tickets when you do go to conferences. Thank you to today's sponsor, linoe.com. Linoed is the expert on Linux cloud servers. We'll talk more about them later on in the show. They have a special code for you by the way and I'll give that code to you later in the show. But first I want to talk to you about conferences. It is conference season right now and many of you are probably going to some conference or another within the next year or so. I just went to CSS DevConf and I'm getting ready to go to SAS Conf. And in fact, when you hear this episode, I will be at SAS Conf this week. So I'm really excited about the conference and I want to share with you my process of applying to conferences and also what you can do when you go to a conference, even if you aren't speaking to get the most out of that conference. But first let's talk a little bit about why you would want to go to a conference. Usually there are a lot of people that are moving your particular industry forward at a conference and it's not often that you get to spend time with these people and see them work or see the work that they do in person. A lot of the time the way that we see this stuff is online. It's through the lens of a computer. And so going to a conference like this, it helps you get a little bit of a better perspective on what is going on in the industry around you. Conferences also act as a great platform for networking with people at a typical conference. There are a few companies that will sponsor and they'll have presence at the conference because they're looking for people that are coding in that particular language or maybe if the conference is centered around a framework, those companies work with that framework. And so it's really good for professional development if you're just looking to get hired for example. But it's also great to network with people who are simply working with the same stuff that you're working with. Instead of scouring the message boards trying to find people to connect with, you can actually connect with them in person. You can talk to them over a meal or over coffee during the conference. And you can exchange emails at that point. It's a great networking opportunity for those reasons. But beyond the purely professional reasons you would go to a conference, conferences also serve as a major morale booster. There are people around you at a conference that are deeply interested in the same things that you are deeply interested in typically. And connecting with other people who are deeply interested in the same stuff that you're interested in is really good for you. It actually helps you stay interested in those things. It keeps you from losing interest over time. And it's worthwhile to mention that this could be a great place for you to make friends, friends who understand what you do and friends who enjoy the same things that you enjoy at a professional level. Now one step beyond attending a conference is actually speaking at a conference. And it's easy to think, especially as a young developer that speaking at conferences is only reserved for the people who have tons of experience or tons of followers. That's just simply not true. And I'm going to give you a few tips today for crafting your own proposals, your own talk proposals to submit to conferences that you're interested in speaking at. And I'm also going to give you a few tips for how to make the most of your conference tickets, how to get the most out of the conferences when you go to them. All of these tips are going to be short and sweet. So you may want to take notes. I'm not going to expound too deeply on them because I've got a lot of points to go through. So I want to jump right in. Number one, when you are applying to conferences, you don't have to already be an expert in the subject that you want to present. You can make this an opportunity to force yourself to learn the ins and outs of a given subject. So the cool part is when you apply to these conferences, all you're really doing is presenting a potential idea to expound on. And as long as you know that the idea actually has some substance, you can't make something up out of thin air, obviously. But if you want to teach a certain subject and you have the idea to teach it, but you don't necessarily know everything about it yet, that's okay. You can still apply. And in fact, many conference speakers actually do it this way. They have an idea for what they want to learn. And they give themselves the conference talk as a good reason to learn the ins and outs all the way throughout. So this is a great strategy to get started with speaking. You can go ahead and apply by presenting an idea that you think would be an attractive idea to the people who would be attending that conference. That leads me to number two. And that is that you want to make your proposal relatively short and punchy. You should basically treat it like an elevator pitch because there's hundreds of these proposals that the conference organizers and the people who are picking the speakers, they see hundreds of proposals coming in and yours has to stand out without being laborious to read. So you don't want to send in a book about your topic. You want to capture their attention and then you want to get out of their way. That's kind of the way that you should treat this. A few paragraphs is plenty for them to determine if your talk is going to fit their audience or not. And remember, going back to point number one, you don't really have to go into a ton of detail when you're proposing a talk like this. Really all you need to do is explain what the talk is going to be about and why it's of interest to the people who are going to be attending buying tickets for the conference. So number one is you don't have to know the topic entirely before you actually submit a proposal. Number two is keep your proposals short and punchy. Number three, to gain some confidence and to help you find the right topic, start by speaking at your local meetups. Meetups are usually very open and looking for people just like you who are driven to give presentations at the meetup. They need the content and you need the experience. So team up with them, team up with a local meetup, refine your skills by speaking in front of people you know first. Another great place to speak in front of people you know is whatever company you work for, go ahead and give the presentation to the development team that you work for. Now the simple reason that you want to do this is so that you can refine your speaking skills in a situation that's relatively available to you. Number one, and number two is a little bit more comfortable than speaking to strangers. And this gives you the opportunity to practice. This is absolutely necessary. Before you go and speak at a conference, you need to give your talk, whatever your talk is going to be, you need to give it to a few people or a few different audiences beforehand. But before you actually submit your proposal, you have to come up with a few general topics that you're interested in. And then you want to adapt those topics to fit the conference format. Because remember, your job is to create a talk that flows well and grabs the attention of the conference attendees. If your talk is out of place, it's likely to get dropped. So number four is adapt your content so that it fits the conference that you are applying to speak at. And that's because the conference is more important than your talk. Your talk has to fit the conference properly. So make sure that you adapt your content to fit the conference that you're speaking at. That's mostly because the conference has to sell tickets. They have to sell tickets. And if your content doesn't fit their format very well, then they're going to have a hard time attracting their particular target user base. So you want to make sure that your content matches the format. Otherwise, it's very likely that your talk is going to get dropped. Okay. Number five, applying to speak takes a lot of practice, patience, and determination. In the last year alone, I applied to at least 15 different conferences. And I'm only speaking at a total of two conferences this year. That means I received way more knows than I received yeses. And the number of conferences that I applied to is probably closer to 20. The truth is these conferences have a lot of interest typically. There's a lot of people who are applying. And most of the time, these conferences are doing double blind selection processes where they don't even know who you are. They're just looking at your talk. So if you get a no like I did, if you get a lot of nose like I did, don't let that keep you down. Keep on applying to the conferences that you want to speak at again, apply over and over and over. It takes a lot of practice. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of determination to be able to get into a conference. Now, if it was easy, then everybody would be doing it, right? If it was easy, then everyone would be speaking at conferences. So it is hard to get into a conference. And it's supposed to be difficult to get into a conference. But that doesn't mean that it's not for a beginner. And it also doesn't mean that you're not going to be able to get into a conference. It just means it takes work. It takes practice, patience and determination. So let's go back over those first four points. Number one, you don't already have to be an expert in order to propose a talk to a conference. Number two, you want to make your proposal short and punchy and treat it like an elevator pitch, rather than a full-on summary of what you're going to talk about. Number three, to gain some confidence, you want to speak at local meetups and maybe speak to the people who you work with. Number four, you need to come up with a few general topics and then adapt them to fit the conference format, whatever conference you are applying to. And number five, you're going to get a lot of nose, but you have to practice. You have to stay patient and you have to stay determined in order to speak at a conference. Now, I have a few tips for everyone, anybody who is going to a conference to get the most out of your conference tickets. But first, I want to talk about today's sponsor, Linode. Go to Linode.com to instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode cloud. You can get a server running in seconds with your choice of Linux distribution, resources and the node location, the physical location of the server itself. Now, Linode provides hourly billing and they have a monthly cap on all plans and add on services like backups, node balancers and long view. They recently switched from Zen to KVM and the latest Unix benchmarks showed a 300% performance increase. You get full-root access for more control over your VM. You can run containers pretty much anything you can imagine doing with root-access on Linux. You can do on Linode. You could even run a private get server, for example, unlimited signups for a new Linode account using the code developer T10, unlimited signups with this code. So whenever you hear this episode, whether it's when we release it or way in the future, you can go to Linode.com slash Developer Tea and use the code developer T10 to get $10 credit towards a brand new Linode account. Thank you so much to Linode.com for sponsoring today's episode and all of this will be in the show notes. Linode.com and the show notes you can find at spec.fm. So we've been talking about applying to conferences, applying to speak at conferences and getting the most out of your conference tickets. I give you five tips for when you are applying, especially for beginners who have never applied before, when you want to go and speak at a conference. And now I'm going to give you some tips on how to get the most out of your conference tickets. So I'm going to jump right into these and they're pretty basic ideas, but it's stuff that when you get it wrong, it really can hurt your experience. So number one, you want to get in town a bit early. So if you're traveling from out of town, make sure you plan to get in a little bit early because most conferences have a kickoff meeting of some sort and you don't want to mess out on that. That's where you meet people for the first time. And a lot of the time at conferences like these, the people that you meet for the first time, you will end up sitting with that lunch or maybe going to a session with them. So this early part of the conference is really important. Make sure you don't get in late. Another reason you may want to get in town early is in case you have travel delays, you definitely do not want to mess out on the beginning of the conference. The beginning and the end of the conference are typically the most important parts. So make sure you get in town just a little bit early. You'll also want to find out what people are going to the conference in advance if possible. Pretty much every conference uses a hashtag to bring all the Twitter users together to allow you to tweet about the conference. So tweet at the conference goers that you like to connect with. That's one of many ways you could possibly connect with people at the conference. Remember, one of the most important parts about these conferences is the fact that you're with other people. If you're only going for the sessions, then you're going to be missing out on a major value that conferences are providing to you. And that leaves me straight into my second point, which is don't be shy. Go to the social events at these conferences. Now, I realized that this is a challenge and I'm not intending to be insensitive to anyone who has social anxiety of any sort. But remember, going to conferences, one of the most important things you can do is connect with people at the conferences. So it is a worthwhile endeavor to try to branch out. If you're not so great at social situations, it's totally okay. You will not be the only one at the conference who is not great at social situations. But if the situation is too difficult for you to engage at a social level with people that you're not familiar with, then consider going with another person that you are familiar with and allow them to break the ice with the people who are strangers. Because again, remember, a big value of these conferences is that you're with other people who do the same types of things that you do who are interested in the same technologies or the same methodologies or values that you're interested in. So number one, get in town a little bit early. Number two, try not to be shy. Go to the social events, engage with the people who are at the conference with you. Number three, stay healthy. Don't do something that you know could possibly make you sick. For example, if you drink alcohol and usually there is a lot of alcohol at these events, take it easy. You need to get enough sleep. You need to not eat foods that may make you feel queasy. Nothing is worse than being a hold up in your hotel room, missing the conference you are paying to attend just because you're sick. And it's even worse if you could have prevented it. So do whatever you can to be as present as possible, but as clear of a mind as possible. You absolutely do not have to stay out until two or three or four in the morning in order to have a good time at these events. So remember, you're here because you've paid for a conference ticket. You're here to engage with the people at the event for the duration of the event. So make sure that you stay healthy. Number four, if at all possible, you want to bring a lightning talk or a demo or any material you want to distribute. Now this is very common for development conferences to allow for lightning talks and what is a lightning talk? Well, it's a five to ten minute talk where anybody from the audience can sign up and give that talk over the course of a couple hours usually. So there's a session time that is set and a room that is set typically for these things. And they have kind of an open stage. It's like an open mic and kind of like a show and tell format. Now if you're going to participate in the lightning talks, be sure that you are aware of the etiquette of the lightning talk. You don't want to over pitch, for example, you don't want to over pitch a product that you've built in that lightning talk because people are going to get turned off pretty easily to it. Most people are there to learn. And usually if they see some kind of unsolicited advertisement to them, especially if you're not an official sponsor, that can be frowned on. But if you're like me and you have a product for me, it's Developer Tea. If you have a product or a service or a blog and you want to carry around your stuff, usually these conferences allow people to carry around and give free swag out. I give out stickers at every conference that I go to now. So keep that stuff in mind and don't forget it. Make sure you pack that stuff before you head out to go to the conference. Of course, you also want to respect the conferences rules. And if they say the only corporate sponsors are allowed to distribute materials or distribute swag, then you definitely want to leave that stuff back in the room. But don't forget to take it and ask the people who are organizing the conference. It's very unlikely that most conferences are going to keep you from distributing that kind of stuff. I hope this has been a helpful and informative episode on conferences. And if you are going to a conference, I'd love to hear about what conferences you're going to and why you're choosing to go to those particular conferences. As I already mentioned, I will be at SAS Conf the week that this episode airs. So if you're in Austin, make sure you tweet at me. My Twitter handle is at J. Cutrell. Of course, you can find Developer Teaat at Developer Tea. Make sure you tweet at me and let me know that you are in town. Maybe we can grab a coffee or something. I am also speaking at SAS Summit. I'm going to be giving basically the same talk that I'm giving at SAS Conf at SAS Summit. Now, SAS Summit is an online conference. So everyone who is listening to this right now, you have the opportunity to attend SAS Summit online. I will include a link in the show notes and you might just get a discount if you go and read those show notes. I love for each and every one of you to attend SAS Summit. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Linode. If you are looking for a cloud hosting solution, Linode is a fantastic option, especially with the new speed improvements. They are always trying to make their service better. Go and check it out. Linode.com. Of course, there is a link in the show notes with a special code to get you that $10 off on your new account. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. Of course, all of the show notes for this episode and every other episode of Developer Teacan be found at spec.fm. 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