With just a few clicks on Google, we can see that it’s full of sites that recommend and explain “the best tips to be the greatest speaker.”
But how do you get to be a speaker in the first place? Being a keynote speaker who startles audiences and gets posted about on socials is a bona fide career path. And if you’re a successful developer, to offer an example, you might have the first half — being interesting — sorted out. But how do you even score a speaker deal? How do you become a sought-after presenter? We’re going to explore how.
What comes first — the topic or the speaker?
You can become a speaker first and only define what you’ll elaborate on afterwards, and it’s not even a fake-it-till-you-make-it situation. It’s more about stumbling upon an opportunity and leveraging it. If someone asks you if you’re ready to discuss a broad topic, you can confirm if you know enough about it before you dive deeper into it. We will give you some advice in a specific hierarchy, and the logical order would be “Knowing what you can talk about first → then searching for opportunities.” Still, if you were to find yourself doing it the other way around, it’d be fine.
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Why become a conference speaker
We mentioned that being a conference speaker is a career path. The former basketball star Magic Johnson makes millions off talking about his struggles while sitting on a stage.
But it could be different for you. Maybe you’re not a former basketball star, and you’ll still have motivations for becoming a speaker. Being a speaker will make your profile stand out, and your next employer, manager, or investor could be sitting in the corner. It could also be an excellent addition to your CV, and if you couple it with your contributions to open-source projects, you could quickly fill in a page even if you haven’t programmed that much yet.
When you’re a developer-turned-speaker, you’re leaving a myth behind: “Devs can’t communicate if it isn’t with an API.” So you’re also showcasing a talent that people still consider rare enough: you can break a chat and say something articulate, and you can also code. You can find plenty of opportunities to speak up and show your communicative skills at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress, and we’re continually looking for speakers to chime in.
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The step-by-step process to becoming a conference speaker
Since you obviously want to become a speaker, this would be the most logical step-by-step process to be a developer who’s also a conference speaker.
1. Get your pitch together
The first step to becoming a conference speaker and earning rounds of applause from Bill Gates and Greta Thunberg is to specify what you’ll talk about. Are you a programmer who successfully bootstrapped a startup that’s now impacting households all around the globe, only aided by a Java library? You’re about to land a spot right next to the country’s UN ambassador during a fireside chat.
But maybe you’re too early in your career or think you’re just yet another programmer who hasn’t changed the world. If that’s your case, think about what’s attractive about your narrative. What can you tell people that would make them insightful, or feel inspired? Even if you believe you don’t have any stories to dig up and let shine, you’ll probably be reaching. Historians who’ve become conference speakers have confirmed that our species loves telling and listening to stories. So dust off your old Python projects and pitch how you could, for example, licence a tiny piece of tedious code into a SaaS bundle and make a living off it. Many fellow programmers would be curious to understand how they’ll cover their mortgage with this.
💡In the logic realm of things, should this step come first? Yes. Is it essential it goes first? No, not at all.
2. Run it by an expert editor
We’re including this because it’s too necessary and too overlooked. Even well-established pop stars with a penchant for speaking up publicly mess up when they don’t share their script with an editor. Editors usually work with written material, but you can run your pitch by any experienced speaker so they can help you make something memorable. It’s a matter of spinning your message so that the audience says, “Hey, give me more of that!”
3. Connect with conference representatives — or with your company’s sales department
You’d be surprised how often people who work in sales are invited to be speakers, but not to big, Las Vegas-type events. They’re called all the time to smaller-scale events which would help you get a start. There are two primary sources of speaker events you can tap on if you connect with your sales colleagues:
- Chambers of commerce or boards of trade. When insurance or fintech companies bundle up and make small events to promote their chambers, they start shopping around for people in tech to churn up an introductory talk. And the salespeople, who’re famously outspoken, regularly get called around. Ask your sales colleagues if any conference-speaking opportunity has reached their inboxes and if you can take their place.
- Giant software vendors. For example, big companies that offer cloud services frequently want to cross-sell their products to their clients. To do so, they typically organise short sessions where they call up third parties to present how this or that solution runs on their cloud and will change the industry forever. Those small conferences occur at their offices and are an excellent starting point. Have you asked your sales rep colleagues if they got any invitation to it?
Now, the downside to getting to speak at these small-scale Friday-morning talks is that the audience might be incredibly irrelevant to your career goals.
Still, suppose you’re a freelancer or would rather not bother your sales friends. Then, one way to be a speaker is to search online for agencies with a motivational speaker roster, apply, and go through their process. It’d be akin to landing a spot as a software engineer on Google, though — you’ll have to face vehement competition.
You can also list the conferences you want to speak at and organically connect with the organisers. If they happen to read your email, it could occur that, yes, they allow you to début your conference-speaker career on their stage.
💡 You could start from here and try to get an idea of the most sought-after talking point. “What’s the demand for tech talks looking like? Alright, I’ll put something together that they’ll like.”
4. Get ready to rumble (and to ramble)
So you got your conference-speaking confirmation, and it’s all set. Want to face a bitter truth? To be a pro conference speaker and ensure your career has more than one event, you must look like a pro. So don’t rely on what you consider charming about yourself, because your scruffy beard might make people think that you don’t take your well-being seriously. Also, mimic the pacing. Have you noticed how those TED professional speakers go around the stage from points A to B like an unhinged pendulum? That’s how you’ll be moving onstage from now on. If you’re giving your talk while sitting down or on Zoom, study what the pros are doing. Have you checked out that crossed-leg pose? We didn’t say it was easy, but this will be worth it.
Become a speaker: Consider the WeAreDevelopers World Congress
What’s the most challenging step in becoming a conference speaker? Is it getting your pitch ready? Is it tidying up and dressing to impress? No. The hardest part is still scoring a deal to speak at a conference. And we’re helping you with that.
At WeAreDevelopers, we’re constantly looking out for developers who want to participate in our sessions and share their perspectives with fellow industry members, especially during our World Congress, which will take place in July. When you sign up, you’ll notice that you’ll be in a slot that Steve Wozniak or Sir Tim Berners-Lee were in — so you can already start thinking about how good your pitch to your second conference will look like. We got the audience, and we’re offering you the opportunity. Now make sure you make the most of it!
Call for Speakers for World Congress and Live Sessions →