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Tips for delivering a programming talk

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

What advice would you give to folks who are thinking, I'm ready to give my first talk at a meetup or a Swift conference?

John Sundell: I would suggest to them, if you want to do a talk, start as small as you can, that would be to give a talk internally in your company, or to give a talk to your team. One really cool way to do that, that I will recommend to people is that we will have WWC now in two months, right? And there will be a lot of videos, hopefully. I mean, I hope this all works out, this remote WWDC. I'm really, really excited to see what's going to happen, but there's probably going to be a lot of videos, right?

“Start as small as you can, that would be to give a talk internally in your company, or to give a talk to your team.”

Last year there was something like a hundred plus videos. There was a lot of sessions. So very few people are going to be able to watch all of them, but guess what you can do in your team, you can kind of divide and conquer. You can watch different videos, and then you can prepare a presentation for each other about what was the key takeaways, or how can we apply the learnings from this video in our projects? And that way you can both kind of learn skills of summarizing things.

You can learn presentation skills and you can do it in a safe environment. And again, if you want to, as a group in your team, kind of hone your presentation skills, you can also give each other feedback about your presentations and say, “this is how you could improve. This is what I like, et cetera, et cetera.”

So that's a great way to start in a safe environment. And then you can kind of level up to that and to go to some local meetup. If you attend meetups yourself, you will probably, at some point, get to know some of the people who go there, the new organizers, et cetera, et cetera, so you can reach out to them and ask, “can I give a talk at the next one?” for example, and then you can go from there.

“And we talked about when you're getting your first job, you have to kind of find some way to prove yourself, to back up your skills. And this is true for conferences as well.”

And now we're coming kind of back to what we talked about earlier about getting a job. And we talked about when you're getting your first job, you have to kind of find some way to prove yourself, to back up your skills. And this is true for conferences as well, because even though a lot of conferences are organized by volunteers, they are organized by people who are just doing it for the community, but they are also events. There's a lot of risk involved, right? They need to find the right people to speak, the people who will deliver something that is worth the money that people paid to get there.

“If you have like a couple of recorded talks from a meetup, or slides that you prepared for the meetup that you can send over to them and show them, that's probably going to increase their confidence a lot in taking that chance on you as a first time speaker for that conference.”

So how can they get confidence enough to invest in you as a new speaker? Well, if you have like a couple of recorded talks from a meetup, or slides that you prepared for the meetup that you can send over to them and show them, that's probably going to increase their confidence a lot in taking that chance on you as a first time speaker for that conference. So again, I would suggest starting at the bottom and kind of leveling up.

A lot of people, they're looking for that fast track to the end. Like, how can I give a talk at a conference tomorrow? And I'm not the kind of person who will give you that kind of advice, because I don't believe in these kind of like, shortcuts, right? Like, I believe in doing things properly from the ground up and to grow slowly and to have patience and to learn along the way. I feel like that's the way to build something sustainable.

Paul Hudson: I remember speaking to Doug from PSPDFKit and he was about to give his first conference talk and it was AltConf. He'd gone straight to the top. And to be fair, he did a great job and that's not easy to do. It's much, much easier to start, as you say, internally, but also meetups because maybe folks don't realize this, meetups are nearly always desperate to find new speakers, because they want to meet up every month or every two weeks in some cases, and they want fresh blood as it were, coming in with fresh ideas, fresh voices, fresh perspectives.

And that's hard to do. That's like 26 meetups a year potentially, or certainly 12, 24, 26 depending on how often they do these things, a lot of times, and they want speakers to come in and fill those slots, sometimes two or three each time. So there's lots of scope folks, if you want to apply for a meetup to get in there. And it's much, much easier than you think.

“It's a little bit more of a relaxed environment. And that's again, why I think it's such a great way for people to start speaking.”

John Sundell: And meet ups, I think, you shouldn't be underestimated. I think meetups are so nice, and in fact, this year before this whole lockdown situation began and all trips were canceled, I was going mostly to small meetups around Europe instead of going to big conferences because I really, really enjoy going to these smaller meetups, just meeting people. It's a little bit more intimate. It's a little bit more relaxed. You don't have these huge presentations that you have to prepare for so many hours. You can just get up on the stage and talk about Swift. It's a little bit more relaxed environment. And that's again, why I think it's such a great way for people to start speaking, because usually it's not this like big commitment in terms of time and for the organizers as well. You can just do a little bit of a lightning talk or just demo one of your projects or just show an app that you build, whatever it might be, I think it's a great way to start.

Paul Hudson: I guarantee you folks watching this are thinking, well, when this lockdown closes, how can I get John Sundell to speak at my meetup? What's the trick, John?

John Sundell: So one thing that I'm doing this year, again, this is something that I was kind of betting on before this coronavirus situation started, but something that I'm doing a lot this year is to go to companies and to do training. It's something that I really, really enjoy doing. I really, really enjoy going for like one or two days to a company to just like, have discussions with them, to run some workshops, to do some coding exercises, to help them look at their code, to facilitate different new ideas and discussions in the team.

“I’m trying to combine both that kind of work, like going and doing that kind of client work on sites with clients and also giving a talk at a meetup at the same time, because then I feel like then I can both kind of contribute to the local community in that city where I'm at.”

And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to combine both that kind of work, like going and doing that kind of client work on sites with clients and also giving a talk at a meetup at the same time, because then I feel like then I can both kind of contribute to the local community in that city where I'm at. And I can also do some work as well, which kind of helps fund my other community work with Swift by Sundell as well. So it kind of is a nice circle where I can both contribute to the community and also get some work done.

So if you want to get me to a city in Europe... I try to travel only in Europe, I'm sorry, because I have to get back home as well, so traveling really, really far, it's really difficult. I try to just combine that client work with the speaking at a local meetup.

Paul Hudson: So you'll find a company who will pay the bills, basically. Fly you out there, pay your time, pay your flight and hotel and similar. And while you're there, great, there's a meet up.

John Sundell: I can hang out and chat. Just meeting folks all the time and say, “hey, show me your code.” It is so much fun. Let's see what you're doing, which is cool. Show me what you're excited about right now.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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