Lady Conference Speaker Headshot

You’re a technologist. You got accepted to this conference because of the excellence of your proposal, and now they want a…. picture? ARGH! The last time you had a professional photo may have been senior pictures.

I’m sorry. I understand your reluctance and complicated feelings, but it’s a part of the process. The conference needs the picture to put on the website, promote your talk, send tweets, all sorts of things. Some people remember faces better than names. Conferences would like to say-without-saying that they are not 100% white dudes. They really do need this.

So you need to provide one, and the better it is, the happier both you and the conference will be. So what goes into a good headshot, especially for conference purposes?

Headshot best practices

  • High-resolution. It needs to be something that can handle being blown up to conference screen size, and physically printed. Compressed thumbnails are not going to cut it.
  • Mostly your face. I do know someone who has an 80’s-style background and cat, but that’s funny, not useful.
  • Square. That way it fits into all the directions they want to orient it. Also, if it’s square they don’t have to figure out how to crop it.
  • Color. Some conferences will desaturate a headshot for display, but you want to give it to them in color so they have the option.
  • Neutral background. The more background you have, the more someone will be trying to parse it out and not paying attention to you.
  • Accurate. I have a bunch of good headshots that I am using much less now that I’m a glasses-wearer, because I’m hoping that people can recognize me.* (Yes, the hair helps, but still)

Please don’t

  • Noisy backgrounds. If there’s a lot going on behind you, your face loses prominence, and that’s the whole point.
  • Selfies. I have used a selfie as a speaker headshot, but I assure you that it was not my best choice. The lighting is very seldom good. That is getting better with smarter camera settings on your phone, but on the whole, it’s better to get someone else to run the shutter.
  • Political statements. In the US, and much of the rest of the world, politics are polarizing. Putting something political in your headshot means that people are reacting to that and not your expertise. Especially if you are a speaker from an under-represented group, your very existence is already a statement.
  • Funny pictures. Feather boas, beer hats, earflap caps – these are all distracting from your image as a professional.

That said

You can still have personality. You can smile or not smile, you can wear a bow tie, you can pick your favorite clothes, you can show up on a conference page with you team’s ballcap, I suppose. A good headshot has a lot of personality in it, just not a lot else.


I was going to show you some examples of terrible headshots, but… I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, and it’s not really needed. Open up your LinkedIn and scroll through your Network page. Which pictures do you like? Which ones are less appealing? I’m going to guess you are drawn to the thumbnails that are well-lit, have a white or light background, and mostly just show a face instead of a scene. That’s what we’re aiming for. In the spirit of disclosure, here are some headshots that I have used but maybe should have rethought:

I actually use the top middle one on Twitter, because I don’t want a full-face picture right in my profile, but it’s not like you can’t find pictures of me all over. And Petra! It’s a cool selfie, but also you end up with a lot of questions about what’s happening. The bottom one was literally a selfie I took on BART.

In contrast, here are some that I use and feel pretty good about:

The first one is actually from a very fancy photobooth in the Minneapolis Airport (I also buy my makeup in airports. I go to airports a lot more than malls, is what I’m saying.)

The second one is a speaker gift from KCDC. Conferences sometimes set up a time where their photographer also does portraits/headshots, and it’s great, because you don’t have to carry anything and it’s abidingly useful. I have other good conference headshots, but these will do for examples.


Odds are, you know someone who has a “real” camera and would be willing to shoot with you. Pick a neutral background, use portrait mode to make sure nothing is in sharp focus. Feel as good as you can about how you look. Get someone to tell you jokes so you actually smile. If you don’t have a handy friend, there are a lot of places that do adequate photobooths, even the ones intended for passport photos can work, although I find the lighting very flat. If you’re speaking somewhere with a photographer, ask the conference photographer for some shots that will work for headshots, they’ll know what you mean. I love action speaking shots, too, and use them for other things.


I had to Google images of myself, and that was very weird. But for you, make sure that the picture you send to a conference is going to make you and them look professional, informed, and brilliant.

Go get ’em, tiger!