Speaking at design conferences is a great way to connect with the community, share ideas, and develop your practice as a designer. It can help you to develop and share your unique perspective and voice, and contribute to the practice. It’s also a great way to meet people, build your profile, and make connections in the design community.
For many people that don’t have experience giving talks, it’s also a daunting prospect. Navigating the landscape of picking a topic, creating a talk, and figuring out how to get speaking slots — not to mention facing the terrifying prospect of public speaking — can seem very overwhelming (Jerry Seinfeld even has a joke about the oft-quoted survey result that people fear public speaking more than death!). The good news is that if speaking at design conferences is something that you want to try, there are ways to break this goal down into smaller steps.
Figuring out what to talk about
Much like in writing, it’s usually best to talk about what you know. Picking topics that you have first-hand experience of, feel very strongly and passionately about, and have a unique perspective on will usually lead to the best results. It’s also important to consider your audience. Think about your topic selection as a user-centered design project:
- What does your audience care about?
- What will be useful to them?
- What can they take away from your talk?
Certain conferences will have particular focus areas, or even more specific themes from year to year. For example, UX Week tends to have more wide-ranging topics and keeps the conference open to UX in general, whereas Midwest UX will focus on certain themes (in 2018 it’s “Curiosity. Collaboration. Integrity.”).
When you’re starting out, there are some tried, tested, and true approaches that can help you pick something to build your talk around. In the beginning, it’s often best to go deep and specific rather than trying to be too all-encompassing. Using a specific case study of a project you have worked on to share lessons learned can be an effective way to share insights with your audience. Finding a unique perspective that combines two of your interests can also lead to novel and interesting topics.
Finding an audience
Finding places to give your talk can sometimes feel like the catch-22 of finding your first job. You need experience, but to get that experience someone has to take a chance on you as a new speaker.