As I did this time last year, here are my reflections on my public speaking experiences in 2017. Last year provided amazing opportunities to level up my skills as a speaker and also grow as a human being.
I’m a firm believer in the practice known as “recycling talks”. This means giving the same talk at multiple events instead of trying to create a brand new talk for each event. I think that new speakers often try to do the latter because they think that tech events don’t want talks that have been previously given. While there are a few exceptions, the opposite is almost always true.
There are few things more compelling to event organizers than a battle-tested talk that has been delivered at multiple events and survived multiple first-contact impacts with attendees. This is especially true if you can show positive feedback from these attendees on Twitter. Event organizers want speakers who can pack rooms, and a talk that has been given in front of large audiences is more likely to draw a large audience.
Think of your favorite song. Do you ever get tired of hearing that song? It’s the same way with a strong talk. Even people who have heard it before often don’t mind hearing it again, and they usually look forward to seeing the reactions of people who are experiencing it for the first time. They know where the key points will be driven home and when the funny parts are about to happen.
Of course, signature talks need to be tailored to individual events. This tailoring can include the technologies mentioned in the talk as well as the anecdotes and facts that are shared.
My Lending Privilege talk has been my signature talk for the past 18 months. I spent the first 12 months giving it around the United States, but I’ve now given it in several countries.
My Leadership Lessons from the Agile Manifesto talk went international from birth having given it for the first time in London. While I’ll give Lending Privilege to any event that asks for it, I plan to make Leadership Lessons from the Agile Manifesto my signature talk for the next 12 months.
I made one exception to the signature talk principle this year when I created a new talk for a conference that has already hosted both Lending Privilege and Leadership Lessons from the Agile Manifesto. This is a conference I love, and this new talk will stretch me in many new ways.
My first talk of 2017 was in New York City, but, as the year progressed, I took the stage in the UK, Hungary, and Canada. While I always speak before technical audiences, I really enjoyed finding ways to fit the locale into my talk. This expands my thinking about the topic of my talk, and attendees from the local area usually appreciate the recognition.
I’m not a full-time speaker so I’m almost always working when I travel to give a talk. It wasn’t unusual for me to fly in the night before my scheduled session, manage meetings from my hotel room right before I needed to go on stage, give my talk, chat with a few attendees, and then rush back to my room for more meetings. I then flew back to Houston as soon as possible and tried to get as much done on the plane as I could before the wifi died.
While I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to speak at international conferences, there is a significant personal cost. I hope to actually enjoy the cities where I’m invited to speak more in 2018.
I spoke in front of tens of thousands of people in 2017, and the opportunity to make personal connections is probably my favorite part of being a speaker. And, I don’t mean just connecting with the people at the event venue. I enjoy meeting the people who check my documents at airport security lines, the flight attendants on planes, the drivers of ride-sharing services, receptionists at hotel front desks, and all of the random interactions that I can never plan.
I’ve learned from so many people that I’ve met in my travels, and, of course, I like when meeting people leads to new opportunities to speak or even job offers. However, while I can’t say every interaction has been life changing, I can’t think of a single person I’ve met on the road who hasn’t touched me in some way.
My wife (Dr. Aneika Simmons) usually stays in Houston to keep our home life running while I travel to some distant destination to give a talk, but I was able to see her speak at a few events in 2017. She’s an amazing speaker, and I always enjoy seeing how she enthralls and educates audiences.
My wife speaks at academic conferences, and I speak at technical events, but I hope to one day give a talk with her. I think we would make a compelling duo on stage!
Keeping it in the Family
Speaking of speakers in my family, my oldest son gave a talk at the Scratch conference in Budapest. At 12 years of age, he definitely started his speaking career way before I did!
When we learned that my son’s talk was accepted, my wife and I initially planned to fly with him to Budapest so he could give his talk in person. This would have been my third trip to Budapest and his first international trip. However, we realized that this would have been during the first week of school, and we thought it would be too disruptive to his education. So, I wrote the conference to regretfully turn down their invitation to speak.
However, the conference nicely offered to have my son stream his talk from Houston to Budapest. I worked to make sure that our home internet connection had as much bandwidth as possible, and my son and I practiced over and over again for the event. I’m very happy to report that he did an amazing job!
I usually don’t discuss details of my corporate speaking events because they are usually not open to the public. However, I can share that 2017 provided more opportunities to speak at corporate events than I could have imagined at the start of the year.
As I learned last year, corporate events pay speakers more than conferences, but they also far more likely to be rescheduled or even cancelled. More than half of the corporate events I spoke at last year were rescheduled. However, this flexibility in timing is also a positive because I can find availability in my schedule to accommodate the corporate event organizers. This is not true for conferences which are almost always fixed to dates on the calendar.
Summary of 2017
No matter how many times I speak around the world, I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to share my voice with audiences. I don’t take this privilege for granted, and I’ll always see speaking as a responsibility that should be taken with utmost seriousness.
Goals for 2018
I can’t give the details, but one of the goals I wrote on New Year’s Eve a few days ago was to give a talk on a new continent. I found out on New Year’s Day that I would get that opportunity later this year! I’ll provide more details on Twitter as soon as I’m allowed to do so.
Be a Tourist
I also intend to actually try and enjoy the cities and countries I visit when I give a talk. This probably means using more vacation time than I like, but I’ve been to so many cities around the world only to learn how many beautiful places I missed only after I’ve returned home.
More Corporate Talks
I also want to do more corporate speaking events. In fact, I would like to double the number I did in 2017. I really enjoy the intimacy of corporate events, and I believe the impact of my talks is maximized when I give them within the walls of one company instead of the multitude of organizations represented at conferences. To be clear, I absolutely love conferences, but a lot of my talks are meant to change culture, and that’s easier to do in one corporate culture.
Continued International Expansion
Like last year, I want to do more international events, and I hope to bring my family along with me on at least one trip.
Create a Technical Signature Talk