So you’ve decided you’d like to give speaking a go, or perhaps you were always interested. By now you’re probably wondering where to start.

There are various options depending on what you’re looking for. Would you prefer a smaller, intimate audience or would you like to reach far and wide? Is the topic of your choice suited for a quick talk or would you rather discuss it at length? Let’s have a look.

In-house / Workplace Knowledge Share

Lots of workplaces dedicate some time to knowledge sharing nowadays (and if yours doesn’t, see if you can start one!). They can be technical, for instance at Artsy we host a technical Lunch and Learn weekly. They could also be on any topic, like meditation. Anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes in length is common, and they are a perfect opportunity to talk about things you know well. This could be centred around your day to day work, spreading the knowledge to decrease the bus factor, or something from your personal life. I’ve given a talk on colour theory in painting once.

If you have a workplace you feel comfortable at, this is definitely a good place to start.

One of the key elements in public speaking that is often forgotten is the fact that the audience wants you to succeed. They’re not there to poke holes or boo you off stage. They are curious to see what you have to say and learn from you. Give them that opportunity.

Even if your goal is towards speaking at bigger events, any chance at practicing and putting together a well flowing talk is good and shouldn’t be ignored.

Local meet-ups

If you’re in a city that has a thriving meet-up scene, you may want to put your name forward to speak on a certain topic. A UK meet-up, NSLondon, is a great example of this. Many different members of the community have spoken, and it’s created a lovely atmosphere where it feels like you’re exchanging interesting tidbits of information continuously. Also for newcomers it’s created a welcoming atmosphere, as the people speaking are often people they know or “just like them”.

If you have a meet-up with a similar positive vibe, there’s no reason not to have a chat with the organisers and see what the next steps would be. It might even be well worth practicing a talk here, for when you’ve got a bigger event coming up and you would like feedback. Bare in mind, the audience wants you to succeed!

Sidenote — if your city does not (yet) have a great meet-up, it’s well worth starting one.


Often considered the most intimidating of all. People have purchased tickets and possibly travelled from far. The audience is usually in the hundreds, occasionally even more than a thousand. Even the most experienced speakers can get a bit nervous for this.

Funnily enough, my first ever talk, since starting out as a developer, was at a conference. It happened to have a very friendly atmosphere and really wasn’t that scary. I can’t stress enough that, yes, the audience wants you to succeed. I remember talking through my introduction and seeing all the curious, attentive faces. They were there because they were interested. They cared for what I had to say.

I will say that this doesn’t necessarily mean you should go talk about anything your heart desires. Ultimately the attendees are there to learn, so it’s only fair that as speakers you’d tailor your presentation towards your audience. But more on that in Part 3.

To be considered, often conference organisers ask people to submit a CfP (Call for Papers / Call for Proposals). This is your chance to submit details on what you’d like to present on, although they may give you suggestions. You usually want to include a preliminary talk title, an abstract, and a bit of background on yourself. If you’ve done any talks before and they happen to have been recorded, it’s worth including the video or otherwise previous slidedecks.

As for how CfPs then get chosen depends on the conference. Most of the time the organisational committee selects talks from the proposal list. Some conferences have an independent panel review anonymised proposals or have a system in place where the community votes. Once it’s been decided, they will get back in touch with you.

Usually conferences are swarmed with CfPs so please don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to get picked. It’s understandable to feel rejected and give up, but bare in mind that a friend of mine felt this way yet kept applying. He got his break at NSSpain 2014, and now is incredibly active in the San Francisco Swift meet-up scene. All of this got the ball rolling and now he’s given talks all around the world. You might even have heard of him.

Lightning talks

If a CfP is a bit too much to prepare at the moment (we’re all busy) or you didn’t get in, another option is to give a lightning talk if the conference of your choice has slots. When done well, they are great.

A lightning talk is usually capped at 5 minutes, and gives you the time and space to cover one thing well. The best ones I’ve heard, have had one main message to convey and did so excellently.

They require a bit of planning as you want to be concise, but will be done before you know it and gives the audience a great point of reference to engage with you. Not to mention that sometimes you might get asked to do a full talk based off these.

Preparing content

Choosing to publicly speak and where is only half the battle. Deciding the content, formulating an abstract, talk title, and slides are not trivial. But fear not, Part 3 in this series will have you covered. Stay tuned!

Categories: community, learning, oss, speaking, teaching

Part of a series: Public Speaking