Categories
Speaking Thoughts

What makes speakers happy

I wish I could speak at CSSConf.eu, but unfortunately I had to decline the invitation, as it collided with a prior speaking engagement I had agreed on. I recently got another email from the organizers with an interesting question:

We want to make this event as stress-free for our speakers as possible. Since you spoke at a bunch of events, can you share a tip or two about what will make a speakers’ life easier, and their stay more pleasant? Any typical mistakes we can avoid?

I thought it was lovely that they care about their speakers enough to ask this, this already places them above average. I started writing a reply, but I soon realized this is information that could be useful for other conference organizers as well, so I decided to post it here instead. So, what makes speakers happy?

The baseline

These are things every good conference is doing for their speakers, although they often miss one or two. They keep speakers happy, but they ‘re not out of the ordinary.

  • Cover their flights, accommodation for the entire conference and ground transportation from/to the airport (with a car, not public transport!).
  • Do not expect them to go through the hassle of booking all those themselves and then sending you receipts. Offer it as an option, but book them yourself by default.
  • Do not book flights without confirming the itinerary and personal info with them first. Also, this sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many conferences have made this mistake with me: Type their name correctly when booking flights!
  • If hotel WiFi is not free, make sure it’s covered and included in their reservation. Same goes for breakfast.
  • Offer a honorarium, at least to those who have to take time off work to speak at your event (e.g. freelancers). Even if your budget is small and can only give a tiny honorarium, it will at least cover their meals, cabs etc while there. If the honorarium is small and mainly intended to cover miscellaneous expenses of the trip, don’t ask them to submit an invoice to claim it.
  • Have a speakers dinner before the event, where they can meet and socialize with the other speakers. This is also good for the conference, as they get the chance to catch up with their speaker friends (there aren’t that many people on the conference circuit, so we often know each other and want to catch up)  so they will talk more to the attendees during the conference. Make sure the speakers dinner does not overlap with the pre-party, if you have one.
  • Do a tech check before their talk to make sure everything is smooth. Have dongles for Mac laptops. Have clickers they could use. Use wireless lapel microphones. Have a reliable private wifi network for speakers to use if they need an internet connection for their talk.
  • Have breaks between talks so they have some margin of going overtime without impacting the schedule. If they are too stressed about going through their talk fast, it won’t be a very good talk.

Going the extra mile

These are all things one or more conferences have done for me, but they are not generally common so they are a positive surprise when they happen, not something expected.

  • Book Business class flights, especially for longer flights where passengers are expected to sleep. It’s so much more comfortable to sleep in a seat that fully reclines! I was incredibly grateful to the one conference that did this.
  • Cover incidentals in the hotel. Yes, it’s a bit risky but come on, we’re not rockstars. We won’t screw you over. In most cases it will be a pretty small extra cost and it looks really good, it tells speakers you trust them and want them to have a good time.
  • Offer a speaker gift bag. It can contain all kinds of things: Stuff that will make their stay more comfortable (stain remover, travel toothbrush etc), souvenirs from the place since we rarely have time to do touristy stuff, alcohol for impromptu get togethers with other speakers, snacks to eat during a late night craving in the hotel room, anything goes and I’ve seen conferences put all kinds of stuff in there. It’s a nice welcome gesture. Bonus points if they’re personalized based on what you’ve researched about the speaker.
  • Send out a survey to the audience after the conference and let the speakers know how they did. Let them know what comments their talk got and how well they did compared to other speakers.

Also, make sure you read PPK’s excellent Conference Organizer’s Handbook.

Categories
Personal Speaking

So, you’ve been invited to speak

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to do about 25 talks over the course of the past few years and I have quite a few upcoming gigs as well, most of them at international conferences around Europe and the US. Despite my speaking experience, I’m still very reluctant to call myself a “professional speaker” or even a “speaker” at all. In case you follow me on twitter, you might have noticed that my bio says “Often pretends to be a speaker”, and that captures exactly how I feel. I’m not one of those confident performers that don’t just present interesting stuff, but also can blurt jokes one after the other, almost like stand-up comedians and never backtrack or go “ummm”. I greatly admire these people and I aspire to become as confident as them on stage one day. People like Aral Balkan, Christian Heilmann, Nicole Sullivan, Jake Archibald and many others. Unlike them, I often backtrack mid-sentence, say a lot of “ummmm”s and sometimes talk about stuff that was going to be later in my slides, all of which are very awkward.

However, I’ve reached the conclusion that I must be doing something right. I do get a lot of overwhelmingly positive feedback after almost every talk, even by people I admire in the industry. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a negative comment for a talk, even in cases that I thought I had screwed up. Naturally, after all these conferences, I’ve attended a lot of technical talks myself, and I’ve gathered some insight on what constitutes a technical talk the audience will enjoy. I’ve been pondering to write a post with advice about this for a long time, but my lack of confidence about my speaking abilities put me off the task. However, since people seem to consider me good, I figured it might help others doing technical talks as well.

All of the following are rules of thumb. You have to keep in mind that there are exceptions to every single one, but it’s often quicker and more interesting to talk in absolutes. I will try to stay away from what’s already been said in other similar articles, such as “tell a story” or “be funny” etc, not because it’s bad advice, but because a) I’m not really good at those so I prefer to let others discuss them and b) I don’t like repeating stuff that’s already been said numerous times before. I will try to focus on what I do differently, and why I think it works. It might not fit your style and that’s ok. Audiences like a wide range of presentation styles, otherwise I’d be screwed, as I don’t fit the traditional “good speaker” profile. Also, it goes without saying that some of my advice might be flat out wrong. I’m just trying to do pattern recognition to figure out why people like my talks. That’s bound to be error-prone. My talks might be succeeding in spite of X and not because of it.

Categories
Personal Speaking

My experience from Fronteers, JSConf EU, Frontend and FromTheFront

This month has been very busy conference-wise. I had 4 conferences in a row, so I was flying from country to country and giving talks for 2 weeks. As I usually do after conferences, this post sums up my experiences and feedback I got from these conferences, in chronological order.

Categories
Personal Speaking

CSS3 for developers: My Fronteers 2011 workshop

In case you haven’t noticed, in addition to my talk at Fronteers 2011, I’ll also be holding a full day workshop the day before the conference. The title of that workshop is “CSS3 for developers” and I wanted to explain a bit what it’s going to be about and why I chose to target web developers only.

Categories
Personal Speaking

My experience from the CSS Summit 2011

It’s been a few days since this year’s CSS Summit and my talk there. Where most people would assume that public speaking in a “real” conference is more daunting, I was much more nervous about this one, since it was my first talk at an online conference. I wouldn’t be able to see the faces of the audience, so how would I be able to tell if they like it or are bored shitless? Also, the whole idea of me, alone in a room, giving a talk to my laptop sounded kind of awkward, to say the very least.

Contrary to my fears, it was a very pleasant experience. In some ways, it’s much better than real-life conferences, the main one being the number of questions you get. In most real-life conferences you should be lucky to get more than 3 or 4 questions. Also, they’re usually at the end, so most attendees forget the questions they had at the beginning and middle of the talk (it happens to me a lot too, when I attend others’ talks). In the CSS Summit, I answered questions after every section of my talk, and there were quite a lot of them.

The attendees had a group chat in which they talked about the presentation, posted questions and discussed many other stuff. That group chat was the other thing I really liked. It might surprise some people, but even though I’m not afraid of public speaking, I’m quite shy in some ways and I almost never talk to someone first. So, if I didn’t know anyone at a conference and vice versa, I’d probably sit in a corner alone with nobody to talk to during the breaks. The chat makes it much easier for attendees to get to know each other. On the minus side however, “meeting” somebody in a chat is not by any means the same as really meeting someone f2f in a real-life conference.

Regarding my talk, it went surprisingly well. No technical hiccups like some of the other talks, no me going overtime as I was afraid I would (since I had to be slower), no internet connection failing on my part (like it sometimes does lately). I received lots of enthusiastic feedback on both the chat and twitter. I couldn’t even favorite them all, as the tweets were so many! That’s the 3rd good thing about online conferences: People tweet more, since they’re at home with their regular connection and not with a crappy conference wifi or a smartphone on expensive roaming.

Here’s a small sample of the feedback I got:

Categories
Personal

WD @media talk subject change

I recently changed my Web Directions @media talk title & abstract to something more specialized. Instead of discussing under-hyped CSS3 features in general I will only focus on one CSS3 feature (more hyped than the ones I was planning to show, but all the hype is only about very basic use cases): CSS3 Gradients:

Mastering CSS3 Gradients

With most browsers adding increasing support, and the simplicity of providing fallbacks for those that don’t, CSS3 gradients are something we can start to use right now. They benefit our users with faster websites and ourselves with more time in our hands to spend in other things, since they are easy to create, edit and update. A very powerful feature that can also be utilized for a surprising number of design effects, even ones that don’t resemble gradients at all. In this talk, Lea will explore CSS3 gradients in great depth and it’s almost guaranteed that no matter your expertise level, you will walk out having learned new things.

I tested a draft of this talk with a meetup group in Oslo (Framsia) and it went very well. I got reviews like “I was amazed that you managed to speak almost an hour of CSS3 gradients and still keep the crowd interested” (thanks Legendre!). Even Bruce Lawson, who happened to be there, told me he didn’t know like 70% of the material presented! 🙂

I’m looking forward to it since it’s a topic I’m passionate about, and I hope to see you there! Don’t forget that you can use the coupon code WDVEROU when registering to take £50 off the current price.

PS: I don’t like the title very much, so if you have anything more witty to suggest, feel free. 😉

Categories
News Personal

I’m speaking at @media Web Directions ’11!

Just a quick note to let you know I’m speaking at this year’s @media Web Directions conference, which will take place during May 26–27 in London, UK. I’m very excited about this, since I always considered @media one of the top front-end conferences in the industry 🙂

The title and abstract of my talk is as follows:

CSS3 at the Outer Rim

By now most of you know how to use the core CSS3 features in your designs to embed custom fonts and easily create rounded corners, drop shadows, and scalable designs with media queries. But there is still a large area of CSS3 that remains unexplored by most web designers and developers. In this talk Lea will present many CSS3 features that are useful but underrated, as well as uncommon ways of utilising the CSS3 features you already know about, in order to do much more with even fewer images and less code.

Although it’s on the design track, I expect it to appeal to both developers and designers.

You can use the coupon code WDVEROU to take £50 off the current price. 😉

Hope to see you there! 😀

Categories
Apps & scripts Original Personal

My FT2010 slides and CSSS: My presentation framework

Screenshot of the first slideAbout a week ago, I was in Warsaw, Poland to give my first talk at a big conference, Front Trends 2010. As every first-time speaker, I was extremely nervous and worried that everything would go bad. That my talk would be boring or too basic or that I would just freeze at stage, unable to say a word. It was a 2-hour talk with a break in between, so I was also terrified that nobody would show up the second hour.

Contrary to my fears and insecurities, it went better than I could have ever hoped. The feedback on twitter and in general was enthusiastic! There wasn’t a single negative comment. Even people I look up to, like Tantek Çelik, PPK, Jake Archibald or Robert Nyman had something good to say! And instead of nobody showing up the second hour, the audience almost doubled!

At this point, I would like to thank Christian Heilmann for helping me become less nervous before my talk by going through all my slides with me and offering his invaluable advice for every part (I forgot to follow most of it, but it really helped in my attitude). I can’t thank you enough Christian!

Categories
News Personal

Lea Verou @ Front-Trends 2010

Just a quick note to let you know that I’m speaking in this year’s Front-Trends conference, which will take place in Warsaw, Poland on October 21-22. Front-Trends is a new conference (starting this year) but the organizers have managed to put together an impressive line-up (Crockford, PPK, Paul Bakaus, Dmitry BaranovskiyTantek Çelik, Robert Nyman and more).

My talk will introduce many aspects of CSS3, some of them in good depth (eg. selectors). Here is the official abstract:

Pragmatic CSS3

With browsers constantly adding support for CSS3, especially now that even IE jumped in the game, it’s quickly becoming a necessary tool of the trade. CSS3 offers exciting possibilities and changes the way that we design and develop websites.

In this 2-hour practical session, full of real world use cases, you will learn:

  • Everything you ever wanted to know about CSS3 selectors
  • Transparency and new color formats, including RGBA
  • New ways to work with backgrounds, including CSS gradients, multiple background images and natively supported CSS sprites
  • Rounded corners and border images
  • Box and text shadows
  • Transforms, transitions and their potential downsides
  • New values, including calc(), attr() and new units
  • Browser support information and techniques to take advantage of the exciting new stuff with respect to browsers of the past, to create experiences that are enjoyable for everyone

Tickets are very cheap (Just €198) but they’re selling quite fast, so if you want to come, hurry up!