ModelViewCulture Article: Getting Funding to Attend and Speak at IT Conferences

In early April, an article of mine was published in the fifth issue of ModelViewCulture, which focused on Funding.

Getting Funding to Attend and Speak at IT Conferences, by Adele Shakal

I’m beyond thrilled to have been able to pass along what I’ve learned on this topic.

Here’s hoping that some aspects of my experiences are now helping our entire professional community increase the diversity of voices at IT conferences worldwide!

2014 CascadiaIT Lightning Talk: “So you should speak at conferences!”

First, a few thoughts…

I’ve been wanting to pull together a longer blogpost about this topic, but since I wanted to get some practice at presenting it as a Lightning Talk first, this is my Lightning Talk notes followed by some additional thoughts.

For those that don’t know, in this context a Lightning Talk means a fairly informal talk that is five minutes or less, nearly impromptu, where you can use notes but no projected slides.  The speaker has volunteered for their topic ahead of time, and these talks are usually not recorded or streamed online.

My first Lightning Talk was last year at this same conference: Getting Your Arms Around Unscopable Projects – and that Lightning Talk last year developed into an Invited Talk I gave this year, Nerdherding On The Frontier.

And my invited talk from last year’s CascadiaIT about Designing IT Emergency Drills grew into invited talks, a workshop and a tutorial which have found audiences in multiple venues this year.

In general, I have found the audiences at Lightning Talks to be very positive and supportive… most of the speakers show some form(s) of nervousness or disorganization, and that’s perfectly OK.

Specifically at CascadiaIT, the audience is incredibly positive, and in good spirits.  They seem to want the speaker to have a good time.  It’s a great place for people new to IT public speaking to get some practice, and a great place for seasoned speakers to try out new topics or presentation methods.

Plenty of people stumble over our words when we feel rushed or nervous, and mis-speaking and then an awkward correction mid-sentence over a particularly bizarre slip of the tongue tends to bring gentle laughter and sympathy from the CascadiaIT Lighting Talk audiences (rather than the derision which a new or nervous speaker might have been anticipating).

Here are my notes from my CascadiaIT 2014 Lightning Talk:

“So you should speak at conferences!”

  1. Topic Choice
  2. Format Choice
  3. Local Speaking Opportunities
  4. Local and Regional LOPSA Conferences and Chapters
  5. National Conferences
  6. Travel Assistance and Grants
  7. In Conclusion: SPEAK!!

Yes, I spoke for five minutes in front of a room full of people, based on seven lines of notes.  You can do this, too!

Go! Speak!!  🙂

More thoughts on those same themes…

Topic Choice

Your experiences are valuable, your knowledge should be shared!  Don’t assume that someone else who knows what you know has submitted to speak to the conference that you’re considering submitting to… they may not have.

Do not assume that the people you’ve seen at that conference presenting about topics that you know about will be there this year.  Attendees and speakers change over time, people have availability collisions, and time marches on.

Submit more than one topic! If the conference organizers get a whole lot of submissions on one topic, they’ll sort through and pick what they want… don’t worry about being one of eighty people actually giving talks about your same topic at one conference; the organizers are clever people and are unlikely to do that to their conference schedule.

And if multiple topics you’ve submitted yourself to speak about are accepted to a single conference, note that you can choose to decline one or more of them… nothing requires you to go ahead with multiple talks at the same conference unless you want to.

Give the conference organizers as much time as you can so they do their jobs, though… be sure to communicate clearly with conference organizers, in a timely fashion, and honor your commitments!

Format Choice

Different formats work for different topics. Your topic may be well-suited to a talk, or a collaborative workshop, or a tutorial.  Imagine yourself giving each of them… which feels most appropriate?  Try developing draft materials for a format or two… which flows most easily for you as a presenter?

Try giving your topic as a couple different formats with small audiences to practice them, and ask for feedback.

Note that different formats of presentations often include different honorariums or expense reimbursement possibilities. I did not have any clue about this a year or two ago!  And different conferences can be very different about this!

Local Speaking Opportunities

Be aware of local opportunities to see others speak and to get speaking practice yourself. Grab a meeting room and offer a lunchtime or coffee-break talk at your own workplace! Join local groups relevant to your technical interests! If they don’t exist, consider forming one! Consider joining Toastmasters, the audiences there may not understand the tech you’re talking about, but you will learn to be more comfortable with public speaking.

Local and Regional Conferences and LOPSA Chapters


CascadiaIT and LOPSA-East are great regional conferences. They are great places for people new to IT public speaking to get some practice, and a great place for seasoned speakers to try out new topics or presentation formats.

Local LOPSA Chapters are another great opportunity to get to know likeminded local folks, see a variety of speakers, and to gain speaking practice yourself. Join your local LOPSA chapter if you haven’t already.

Shoutout to Crabby Admins in Baltimore/DC and Back Bay LISA in Boston who’ve given me the opportunity to speak this spring!

If you’re traveling for other reasons (yay vacation!), see if there’s a LOPSA chapter or group near your destination that may need speakers for their meetups!

National Conferences

Submit to speak to national conferences, like USENIX LISA 2014! It’s really not as scary as it might sound! And if you’re not submitting or were not accepted as a formal speaker, sign up to give a Lightning Talk at every available opportunity!

Travel Assistance, Discounts and Grants

This is a biggie that I did not have a clue about!

If you are a member of any underrepresented group or if you are a first-time speaker, there may be financial assistance available to assist you in traveling to conferences.

Read the fine print of conference websites and Calls For Proposals (CFPs), politely ask the conference organizers, do a web-search for additional resources which may be available to you that are not specific to a particular conference.  There’s no harm in asking!

In Conclusion

So… you should speak at conferences! Go! Speak!

Recent things I’ve been reading

which I didn’t get to mention during the Lightning Talk…