Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

Boost Your Public Speaking Skills with These Resources and Tips

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that one of my goals over the next 12 months is to present more regularly on product strategy, development, and leadership.

Since then I've booked two spots and have submitted proposals to six more. Fingers crossed that at least one of those comes through! ?

What follows is the basic action plan I've followed (as outlined by Karen Cohen) along with links to the resources and tips I've found useful in each step of the plan.

My purpose here is twofold: first, it's helpful for me to get this organized and all in one place, second, I hope to demystify the process and make the steps concrete enough that if you're interested in public speaking but haven't yet jumped in, perhaps you'll read this post and take the leap!

Action Plan

1. Pick a Topic

This may come naturally. Maybe you've already got a "thing" you're known for around the office or there's an area of your field you're already passionate about. If so, carry on.

If not, here are a few thoughts on discovering a topic where speaking at length could come most naturally.

  • If you've already got a blog, the lowest-hanging fruit is to consider turning one of your posts into a presentation.
  • Scan your "Sent" email over the past few months for a thread that was particularly controversial or that you were especially outspoken or passionate about. What was the topic and why was there so much energy around it?
  • What do your friends come to you for advice on?
  • What's the most difficult problem you've solved in the last six months?
  • Did you make a leap into your current job from another industry? How did you do it and what lessons or principles are you applying to your current job? For example, I used to teach Middle School and I'm tinkering around with a "What Teaching Middle School Art Taught Me About Innovation" presentation. The title needs work, but directionally, the topic might have something interesting.


2. Pick a Format

For each topic you're going to prepare, decide if you think it is best suited as a Talk (typical allotments are 20 min, 40 min, 60 min), Lightning Talk (5 min), or Workshop (half-day, full-day).

3. Prepare to Submit Your Talk

First tip. Either:

- Create a account, or
- Create a Google Doc and write your abstracts there

Don't put any content in the Conference's Proposal Form that you don't have recorded somewhere else. I made this mistake on one of my submissions and ended up having to rewrite the abstract later. A rookie move that you should avoid.

Include in your Google Doc:

- Your bio
- Headshot of your gorgeous mug (some conference organizers want a link rather than an attached file, so have both ready for your own convenience)

For each talk you prepare, you'll need a brief abstract and a more detailed description.

Which brings me to my second tip. Read through a few of these proposals to get a sense of how a good abstract and description are crafted.

It was in reading through just a few of these that I realized the "description" I had submitted for one of my talks was way underdeveloped. I knew what the outline of my talk would look like and the narrative I would use to thread it all together, but the organizers would have no way of knowing how fully-formed my thought process already is because I didn't bother to show an outline as Nadia does so well in this proposal.

4. Finding Conferences and Events

Once my Papercall account started coming together, the overhead for submitting my talks came way down. Of course, I still tweak the abstract and description to be sure the content is relevant and tailored to each conference's audience, but it's better than starting each submission from scratch.

The hardest part is obviously finding events to approach. So let's start small.

Lunch 'n Learn at Your Workplace

Hey, you gotta start somewhere! If you're ready to test out your talk but can't find anywhere to present, pull a group of your colleagues together over lunch and show them how brilliant you are.

Meetups & Startup Week

I've had the opportunity to speak at a number of Meetup and Startup Week events and they've all been great experiences. In many cases, the organizers of Meetups are looking for new speakers with fresh content to keep things lively for their community. They want you to reach out!


This is a growth area for me that I'm focusing on very, very specifically.

I've got some links below that I've used to find conferences with open calls for papers, but the first thing I'd suggest you do is to create a Trello board to keep track of your workflow.

I was able to find the conferences you see on that board through a mish-mash of the following:

5. Create Your Presentation

It's 2017. Nobody needs to be told that people love stories and hate PowerPoint bullet-list-read verbatim-off-the-slide talks.

I've found the following sites to be really helpful for inspiration, guidance, and practical resources (beautiful, royalty-free images).

6. Get Out There and Be a Bad Ass

Ideally, some more of those "Submitted" cards on my Trello board will move over to "Accepted" and yours will do the same as well!

As I've been writing this, I'm very aware that most of these resources are completely geared toward technical conferences. It's been much harder for me to find resources that aggregate Product and UX conferences as efficiently as Technical conferences. I mean. It makes sense that developers are more likely to organize around a Github repo and pull requests for sharing CFPs, right? ?

If you've got anything to add or know of some resources that might be helpful, please let me know and I'll be sure to add it.

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