5 years ago, I kicked off the conference-speaking section of my career, with this classic hit:

So many things about this! Like, uh, I’ve dyed my hair and learned to take my lanyard off and stopped using FrameMaker and Prezi. But also, this core theory is the basis of so many of my talks now.

  1. Users are angry about reading docs
  2. Users are searching for answers
  3. Fix the common problems first

I expected to be a little embarrassed at watching baby!speaker Heidi, but I’m really not. I’ve polished some things, improved some processes, refined some ideas, but at the core, there’s nothing to be embarassed about here.

I thought about what 5 things I would tell that speaker, besides she’s awesome for taking this leap.

  1. Your content is conference value. Don’t feel ashamed of asking conferences to pay.
  2. When someone compliments your talk, say thank you, don’t argue. Engage them.
  3. Never apologize at the beginning of a talk.
  4. Long introductions mean you can get less content in. Tighten them up to almost nothing.
  5. You run long. Write your talks to be shorter than the window.

In the last 5 years, I’ve gotten to three continents, dozens of cities. I’ve made so many conference friends that there is almost nowhere I speak that I don’t know at least one other person. Conference speaking is almost the entirety of my lead generation for independent consulting. It has quite literally changed my life, expanded my career, and given me a globe-spanning network.

Results may vary — I think I got into it at an opportune time, and I now have enough of a portfolio that I’ve gotten a couple invitations instead of straight CFP applications. But I still think it’s an amazing way to expand your career, your cicle, your industry experience, your education, and your ability to take taxis in strange cities.

Bring some value. Spend time on your talk. Go to the whole conference. Watch other speakers. Learn new things. Google jokes that everyone but you laughed at. Learn to sleep on planes. Invest in good antacids and excellent luggage. Your talks will never be perfect, but you can keep trying.

I believe in you.