Speak at a meetup

Dear new developer,

Go out and speak at a meetup. This will have the following benefits:

  • Decrease your fear of public speaking
  • Increase your knowledge of a topic
  • Help build a community of developers
  • Build your public profile
  • Teach others something useful

You don’t have to do this every quarter or every year, but I challenge you to do this at least twice because the benefits are so large.

How can you do this? Let me give you a simple six step process.

  • Think of a topic. Here are two options:
    • Consider a problem you solved recently. Could be on a side project, could be on a work project (if it is directly related to company IP, discuss with your manager at a one-to-one), could be something you just read about and dug into.
    • Alternatively, think of something new you have heard of, whether from a friend, a colleague, an online community or someplace else, that you want to learn more about.
    • There are more ways to think of topics, but these two are a great place to start.
  • Spend 15 minutes outlining what you’d talk about, if you were to give a talk on this topic. A set of bullet points is fine at this point in time.
  • Search for a meetup in the technology you are using in your geographic area (if you want to present in person) or one in a good timezone (if presenting on Zoom is ok). All other things being equal, I’d suggest presenting in person for your first time, as audiences *feel* more sympathetic in person.
    • Don’t use the meetup search engine, it’s really hard to use. Use Google instead. Here’s a good search term if you were in Colorado and wanted to present something related to the Ruby ecosystem: ruby meetup colorado USA.
  • Send a message to one to three interesting meetups: “I’d like to present on <topic> at your meetup. I’m a new software developer.” Follow up two times since people are busy. Make sure you understand the amount of time you have and the exact date they want you to present, including timezone. It’s best to commit a few months out if you haven’t written the presentation already.
  • After they say “yes”, get to work on writing the presentation. Don’t be fancy, just expand the outline. Bring your own story and touches. Some people like to sprinkle humor (like memes), others personal touches, others code examples. It’s all good. You can watch presentations on youtube, sometimes from that same meetup, if you want to learn more.
  • Show up and present.

Once you have the organizers’ attention, they will want the following before you can present:

  • Talk title
  • Talk description
  • Bio

Some of them may want more info, like:

  • A picture of you. Use something that looks professional; anything you would feel comfortable being on LinkedIn. If you don’t have a headshot (no reason you would), have a friend take a photo of you from the shoulders up dressed professionally in front of a white/light background. Don’t obsess about this.
  • Your presentation. Ask when they want it and deliver it. I like google slides if you will have network access, but any presentation software package will work.
  • Examples of previous presentations. Here, feel free to explain you haven’t presented in the past (if that is true); this meetup may not be a good fit.

Common objections to doing a meetup talk include:

  • Will my work allow this?
    • Ask. If you are doing it on your time, not portraying yourself as a representative of the company, and not revealing work secrets, most employers will have no problem with this.
  • It sounds like a lot of effort?
    • Yes, the first time it is. It gets easier. You may want to find a few meetups to give the same talk to, so that you can amortize the effort.
  • I’m not a public speaker!
    • Did you know how to ride a bike the first time you hopped on one? Not everyone can be a great public speaker, just like not everyone can ride in the Tour de France. But everyone can be a good public speaker.
  • I don’t have time.
    • Can you carve out 5-10 hours over 3 months? That’s enough time.
  • What are the benefits again?
    • You’ll learn a new skill, help promote a software community, make new friends, have something you can put on your resume, learn a topic more deeply and become known to other developers in the area (either geographic area or technical area).

Final suggestions:

  • Don’t bail. Ever.
  • Follow up with them a week before to reiterate your commitment and availability.
  • Ask if you can publicize it, and share it with your network. Some other folks may be interested in showing up to learn things and/or supporting you.
  • If you have to bail (a dear family friend passed away, you are sick), give as much notice as possible. See if you can find someone else to give a presentation. The organizers may not take you up on the offer, but the effort will be appreciated, and remembered.
  • Practice it beforehand (I like to do so 2-3 times), but realize you won’t be perfectly prepared and that’s okay.
  • Know that by dint of your effort, you will be one of the experts in the room on the topic. Perhaps the most expert. That can help with your confidence.

Doing this will at least a few times challenge you and help you grow. You may find you love it. You may do two and never present again, but the ability to teach in public is a skill that will be helpful to you in many work scenarios.



2 thoughts on “Speak at a meetup

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