How to become a speaker?

time to read 5 min | 955 words

I get asked that quite frequently. More to the point, how to become an international speaker?

I was recently at a gathering where no less than three different people asked me this question, so I thought that it might be a good post.

Note: this post isn’t meant for someone who isn’t already speaking. And if you are speaking but are bad at it, this isn’t for you. The underlying assumption here is that you can speak and are reasonably good at it.

Note II: For this post, speaking is used to refer to presenting some technical content in front of an audience.

Why would you want to be a speaker anyway?

I heard that it is actually possible to make a living as a speaker. I haven’t found it to be the case, but then again, while I speak frequently, I don’t speak that frequently.

There are several reasons to want to be a speaker:

  • reputation (and in the end, good reputation means you get to raise your rates, get more work, etc).
  • contacts (speaking put you in front of dozens or hundreds of people, and afterward you get to talk with the people who are most interested in what you talked about)
  • advertising for your product (all those “lap around Visual Studio 2010” are actually an hour long ad that you paid to see :-) ).

I’ll focus on the first two, reputation & contacts gives you a much wider pool of potential work that you can choose from, increase the money you can make, etc.

So how do I do that, damn it?

Honestly, I have no idea. The first time that I presented at a technical conference, it was due to a mixup in communication. Apparently when in the US “it would have been delightful” means “we regret to inform”, but in Israel we read that as “great, let us do it”, and put the guy on the spot, so he had to scramble and do something.

Okay, I lied, I do have some idea about how to do this.

Again, I am assuming you are a reasonably good speaker (for myself, I know that my accent is a big problem when speaking English), but there are a lot of reasonably good speakers out there.

So, what is the answer? Make yourself different.

Pick a topic that is near & dear to your heart (or to your purse, which also works) and prepare a few talks on it. Write about it in a blog, comment on other people blogs about the topic. Your goal should be that when people think about topic X, your name would be on that list.  Forums like Stack Overflow can help, writing articles (whatever it is for pay or in places like CodeProject). Join a mailing list and be active there (and helpful). Don’t focus on regionally associated forums / mailing list, though. The goal is international acknowledgement.

This will take at least a year, probably, for people to start recognizing your name (it took over 2 years for me). If it is possible, produce a set of tools that relate to your topic. Publish them for free, and write it off as an investment in your future.

For myself, NHibernate Query Analyzer would a huge boost in terms of getting recognized. And Rhino Mocks was probably what clinched the deal. I honestly have no idea how much time & effort I put into Rhino Mocks, but Ohloh estimate that project at $ 12,502,089(!). While I disagree about that number, I did put a lot of effort into it, but it paid itself off several times over.

If you don’t have a blog, get one. Don’t get one at a community site, either. Community sites like are good to get your stuff read, but they have a big weakness in terms of branding yourself. You don’t want to get lost in a crowd, you want people to notice who you are. And most people are going to read your posts in a feed reader, and they are going to notice that the community feed is interesting, not that you are interesting.

Post regularly. I try to have a daily post, but that would probably not be possible for you, try to post at least once a week, and try to time it so it is always on the same date & time. Monday’s midnight usually works.

Okay, I did all of that, what now?

Another note, this is something that you may want to do in parallel to the other efforts.

Unless you become very well known, you won’t be approached, you’ll have to submit session suggestions. Keep an eye on the conferences that interest you, and wait until they have a call for sessions. Submit your stuff. Don’t get offended if they reject you.

If you live in a place that host international conferences (which usually rule Israel out), a good bet is to try to get accepted as a speaker there. You would be considerably cheaper than bringing someone from out of town/country. And that also play a role. Usually, if you managed to get into a conference once, they’ll be much more likely to have you again. They have your speaker eval, and unless you truly sucked (like going on stage and starting to speak in Hebrew at Denmark), and that gives them more confidence in bringing you a second time.

And that is about it for now.