How to Pitch Yourself as a Speaker

You might not see the audience at this year’s virtual events, but you get the picture!

Have a great story to share? Hopefully you’re considering pitching yourself as a speaker? With so many fantastic virtual events on the horizon this year, it’s an unrivalled opportunity to connect with peers across global communities, share your knowledge and boost your profile.

But — and it’s a big but — getting through the gates is tough, especially when you’re setting your sights on a major conference in the tech world.

Luckily, there are some tried and trusted techniques to capture the event organizers’ attention and position you high on the agenda.

Research

You must, absolutely, know your audience — it’s not just for writing! Like a jigsaw puzzle coming together piece by piece, your talk has to fit into the context of the conference, so you need to pitch a talk that will genuinely benefit the audience.

Do your research early and review previous years’ agendas:

  • Which conferences or meet ups focus on the technology you want to talk about? Does the conference call for presentations about open source projects? If it does, and you’re working with proprietary tools, even for a little part of your project, you’re not going to meet the requirements.
  • Would you be speaking to an audience of peers or does the event target people outside of your industry? Would you need to work on a presentation that appeals to folks from different backgrounds, without your level of knowledge?
  • Do you need a certain level of experience to get through the gates? You can usually find out fast from looking at the job descriptions of previous speakers — some conferences focus squarely on senior folks and won’t take presentations from individual contributors.

Read the CFP carefully

Seriously, read it really carefully! Know exactly what you need to cover and how many words you have to play with, as most CFPs will have a word count. Even if there’s no strict limit on words, treat your pitch like a killer introduction and summarize your presentation in no more than a paragraph.

When you start writing your pitch, use the “catch & throw” method — for each question posed in the CFP, answer it in your pitch. Quite literally, throw the answer back. Conference organizers have hundreds, if not thousands of pitches to work through, so make yours stand out by ticking every box.

A fantastic resource for this is the Cloud Native Computing Foundation — have a look at the sample submission outlined on the Kubecon website, which elegantly demonstrates how to craft a pitch that meets the CFP requirements.

Show them who you are

A strong bio is so important, after all, you’re the one who’s going to be presenting. This is an opportunity to showcase your experience, successes and passions — so don’t hold back.

Make sure you include:

  • A good, high-res headshot that really represents you, and you alone — this is no time for cropping out your partner and half your ear along with them. A great piece of advice is to never submit an image you wouldn’t want to see on a global website.
  • Clearly state what you do — if you’re a developer, say which part of the stack you work on and which tools you’re most experienced with.
  • Demonstrate what your work does — for example, rather than stating you work for a health tech company, say you’re working on putting accessible health services in the hands of individuals.
  • Give folks a glimpse of who you are outside of work. Share something a little extra — do you skydive at weekends, live on a boat, or crochet jackets for dachshunds?
  • If you can, include examples of your previous presentations — everything counts, from speaking at meet ups to moderating webinars. By sharing this, you’re giving conference organizers proof that you’re already an established speaker who’ll be able to present well.

Let’s take a look at an example

I worked on this CFP for an in-depth technical presentation at Kubecon Europe 2020 — you can watch the results here. This is a good example of how to pitch a really technical topic, sharply tailored to the conference audience.

Essentially, it focuses on selling the ‘pain points’ for folks new to Kubernetes and how the initial Ingress set up can prove to be a real barrier to entry. It positioned the speaker as a down-to-earth expert who’d been through this process and had valuable information to share with the audience.

Title

Ingress on the Rails: Use Community Tools to Automate Ingress Provisioning

Session description

Routing traffic into your clusters is a key part of many Kubernetes workloads. The tools to manage this are great, but getting them all to work together can be a configuration nightmare for the uninitiated. I will demonstrate a concrete, automated, cloud-provider agnostic setup for provisioning DNS, TLS certs, and monitoring using community tools like ExternalDNS, cert-manager, Prometheus, Grafana, and Helm with the kubernetes/ingress-nginx controller, so you can securely serve and monitor HTTPS and HTTP/2 (e.g. GRPC) traffic to many hostnames across multiple Kubernetes clusters.

Benefits to the Ecosystem

helm install stable/nginx-ingress won’t get you very far, so I want to present the talk I wish I’d seen at my first Kubecon (NA 2017). Setting up ingress is a daunting part of many new K8s user journeys. Ingress-nginx is a common entry point for engineers migrating into the Kubernetes ecosystem due to its familiarity and underlying reliability. The community has done an amazing job producing tools that provide a common interface to the cloud provider APIs, but few examples exist of how to glue them all together. For many users, this is the first foray into the “depths” of Kubernetes - how ingress, service, and endpoint work together, multiple controllers watching one resource, updating external services and feeding that back into an object’s status, and working with secrets. Hopefully I can save new users some pain and share some tips for established users. I will provide working code and deal head-on with some trickier issues like X. 509 wildcard certs across multiple namespaces and multiple clusters updating the same DNS zones. I’ll also show the wonderful dashboard from ingress-nginx and how to quickly deploy that with prometheus-operator, to visualize error rates. While this stuff may be old hat for everyone on the Program Committee, it’s still a challenge for new users. I’d also like to highlight how the community has grown these solutions into the robust controllers they are now, making it easy to deploy and monitor web services on K8s.

Go for it

If you have a great story to share, you really should put yourself forward as a speaker. Don’t be put off if you don’t land on the agenda first time — often it’s circumstances far beyond your control that kept your name off the list. Keep going and you will find the right stage and the right audience to genuinely benefit from your efforts.

If you’re a Camunda user, you should consider pitching yourself to the upcoming Camunda Community Summit. The CFP is open until March 15 and the event welcomes technical folks from all backgrounds, whether you’re using Camunda for work or play. And not to be bias, but I reckon it’s one of the most welcoming and friendly user communities in the world :-)

Charley Mann is a recovering journalist, runner & wine lover, helping software developers unlock their writing potential & turning code into prose @ cmann.dev

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store