How to become a speaker at international IT conferences

    Becoming a speaker at a foreign IT conference is difficult, but possible. Here, as in the profession - you need to work hard and not be afraid to take the initiative.

    How to start a career as a speaker at international conferences? How to invent topics for reports? How to prepare for performances? How do Russian conferences differ from foreign? Vladimir Ivanov, the leading Android developer of EPAM, the speaker of Russian and foreign IT conferences, shares his experience.

    - How long have you started performing?

    - It has been four years since I speak. It started when I was working at Kaspersky Lab as a senior Android developer. We were making mobile products for security, and my first gig was related to them. “Sand Perimeter: How Mobile Devices Blurred Corporate Security” was such a topic. That report can now be viewed on YouTube .

    - This performance was where - at the meeting, the conference? And how did it happen that you started performing?

    - It was a mitap, it was organized by JUG.RU. They started exactly with Code Freeze mitaps, and it was interesting to try. I wrote to Andrei Dmitriev (one of the founders of JUG.RU): "I want to speak, let's organize ourselves somehow." And he answered me: “Come, we will organize a mitap, we will bring a pizza, you will perform, we will communicate - it will be fun.”

    - Did you prepare with the organizers? You listened to?

    - Yes. Andrei listened to me, we had one or two trainings, and he gave advice like “take it away”, “need to speed up here” and so on.

    - And how did it go? What were the sensations?

    - The most important thing that I understood: I like it. I realized that the feeling when you share what you know yourself is very pleasant, and that I would like to speak again in the future. The second thing I realized: we absolutely did not guess with the timing. They counted on an hour and a half, and the performance was 45 minutes. And I was also a little upset that few people came - 10-15 people. Thought there would be more. But it was a good start, because when you do it the first time, you worry, you do not know what to expect, and how to do it. And all the problems that are revealed - for example, they did not guess with time - this is normal.

    - You wanted to speak more. What did you do: read some books, watch videos?

    - I'll pop a little more JUG.RU: they do a cool thing for the speakers for free - they invite coaches. On weekends, there comes a person who is professionally engaged in coaching public speaking and conducting training. I participated in them, I learned about the structure of the speech, the statement of the problems of the report and not only.

    Secondly, of course, you open YouTube and start looking at people who act or disassemble, as others do. I can recommend the Art of Charisma channel . They sorted out, for example, the performances of Louis C. Kayand told that he is not just talking jokes, he plays them back - and this is 70% of success. Because if you say something with a dull face, it will not work. By the way, about the experience of performances - I was still trying to train in a stand-up.

    - Wow!

    - Yes, there is such a thing, called “Open Microphone”, it often takes place in bars, and anyone can speak there, you just need to write to the organizers in advance. You are given five minutes and a microphone, enjoy!

    - And you, then, wrote a speech to yourself with jokes ...

    - Yes, this is pretty stupid: you sit ready, write a page of text, there should be a few jokes in it. First you laugh at them yourself, then you stop. You step onto the stage and think: “All right, now I will burn it off!” And deathly silence. And you are: "Okay."

    - You tried it once, and that's all?

    - I tried a couple of times, the second time did not go at all. I was interested to find out how it was, and I participated. I understood that the sensations were mixed, and I don’t want to continue. But he found himself in the speeches at conferences.

    - At how many conferences did you speak during these four years?

    - At 20-25 - just did not count. Most of all performed this year: on AndroidParanoid, Mobius , GDG , CodeFest in Novosibirsk, DecompileD in Dresden, Code Europe in Warsaw.

    - We'll talk about the difference between foreign conferences and Russian conferences a bit later, but now I want to ask, how do you choose topics for reports?

    - There are several approaches to this. The first is to see what you have been doing at work for the past six months, and tell about it. I used this approach during the preparation for Mobius Moscow. At the project in EPAM we refactored, and I thought that I wanted to share my experience. But if you just go out and say: “You know, we have refactored the module in the project,” it will not be interesting to anyone. Someone also refactored, so what? Therefore, we need to develop this theme: expand and find something that will be useful to more people. To prepare the report, I read a lot, summed up the theoretical basis under the topic. And he gave his experience as an example.

    The second approach is to talk about a particular thing in technology with which you are well acquainted. For me, this is React Native. I wanted to tell you how to create push notifications using this technology. It is clear how to do them in the usual development, and how in a cross-platform? Here is the topic for the report.

    The third way, which I tried and which seems to be working, is to tell about a new technology, in which you yourself want to understand more deeply. Because the best way to master something is to try to teach it. When everyone started talking about Korutins in Kotlin, I realized that this is a cool technology, it should work well, and it is interesting for me to study it. I started digging up: what will happen if we use technology in this situation, and how will this affect the whole project, how to migrate from old technologies to new ones? And from this was born a speech.

    - Does the selection of the theme for the Russian and foreign conferences differ? Do we value more hardcore?

    - Yes, that's it. There is a very big difference between Western conferences and ours, and, let's say, between the Western audience and ours. In Russia, it is very interesting for everybody to have their guts dig up, carry out some kind of hardcore, explain in details, right up to assembly instructions, how the technology works. Accordingly, the speaker needs to understand the subject very deeply so that the audience will perceive it well.

    In the West, people, on the contrary, do not want hardcore: they think that they themselves will deal with it. They are more interested in an introduction to technology. That is, Russia will not be interested in the report that there is React Native technology, and what it allows to do. Let the speaker tell you about the nuances, for example, how to work with native modules. In the West, the listeners: “Oh, React Native! Come on, come on, this is what we need! ”That's the difference. But sometimes it turns out this way: you prepare a report in Russian, and then you simply translate into English, send abstracts to a foreign conference, and they say: "Class, what you need."

    - You also had it that you just adapted the report and took it?

    - Yes.

    - Tell me, how do you understand that it's time to perform abroad?

    - This year, at one point, I simply realized that nothing separates me from performing abroad. That is, I have everything: normal with English, experience of performances. Why not go to another country?

    - Okay, what needs to be done to become a speaker of a foreign conference? Where to apply, how does this process work?

    - There is such a process called call for paper - this is when the conference organizers say they are ready to accept reports on such and such topics. Anyone can apply in advance on the site - there is information about conferences around the world. Then the program committee members choose which reports they like best, decide what they will include in the program and what they will leave in reserve.

    If you are ready to be invited as a speaker, a confirmation is sent to the mail. You agree on dates, accommodation, and so on. Then you come, speak, grab your applause, say: “Thank you, subscribe to my Twitter ”, and leave. After some time, you get feedback, video - this is the process.

    - If English is not the native language of the speaker, how can the organizers be sure that the speaker will perform well? Can they somehow test English?

    - I have not checked, but I can say that this is a problem. Sometimes foreign speakers who want to speak at Russian conferences in English have a strong accent. And even if the topic is interesting, it is very difficult to understand exactly what a person is saying. And the program committee refuses him to participate. How to check abroad, I do not know. But probably, there is an easy way - to phone ten minutes and talk.

    - How different is the threshold for entering a Russian and foreign conference?

    - It is very different: it all depends on the conference. My first performance abroad was at the conference, which was held for the first time.

    - This is what?

    - DecompileD in Dresden. It began to be held from April of this year, and there, apparently, it was not so difficult to get there: I found them in the list on, submitted an application, and they took me.

    There are conferences that are difficult to get to. For example, DroidCon , which pass around the world. I moved there last year to Berlin, this year to Italy, but I was not taken. I sent the application for the third time, and I was invited to Berlin in June. But, unfortunately, I can not go: we are just at this time we will pass the project.

    - Here you two did not take, and the third took. What organizers justified the first two failures?

    - Here everyone is doing about the same thing. They say: "We have only 30 places, and there are 200 people who want to. We are very hard, but we need to choose the best."

    - Are there any criteria for this “better”? What is this: speaker's experience, the topic of the report?

    - Differently. There are two approaches to the selection of reports: anonymized and non-anonymous. Those who use the first approach, decide to invite or not to invite the speaker, focusing only on the topic: how interesting the audience is. Those who use the second approach pay great attention to the experience of the speaker, to how famous he is. For example, everyone wants Jake Wharton to come . No matter what topic, just, dude, come. People will buy tickets, just to see him, shake hands and say: “Look, this is Jake!” These are the two approaches. Conference organizers themselves decide which one to use.

    - In Russia, which approach is used more?

    - In Russia, in my opinion, they do not use an anonymized approach at all. In the West, this is more or less accepted. DroidCon organizers, for example, say that when selecting speakers, they only look at their topics.

    “Let's talk about something else then: there are conferences that are looking for female speakers, and they allocate quotas for underrepresented groups.” People treat it differently.

    - This is really a headache: for the organizers, for the participants, and for the media - for all. I went to Code Europe in Poland - there was only one female speaker. Because of this, many participants refused to go to the conference, there was a big scandal .

    In general, in the West, this is taken very seriously. Conference organizers make titanic efforts for women to perform. They say: "Welcome, come, serve, we have anonymized selection, you will not be discriminated against."

    The root of the problem is that, in principle, there are not enough women in technical specialties all over the world. There is a problem in the industry, and conferences for their part can help to solve it. They can cite as an example women who have succeeded in technical areas; to say that if you work hard and try hard, be successful in this area is possible.

    I am a member of the Mobius program committee, and we will now adopt this practice - to pay more attention to ensuring that there are female speakers at the conference. Just because they are also great specialists.

    - How does such a variety of speakers affect the content of the conference? Can it be said that he is becoming weaker or stronger?

    - There is a prejudice that, since there are few women in technical specialties, their performances are worse. But there are statistics that say that this is not true. In the West, conducted a study: analyzed the evaluation reports at several conferences from 2012 to 2017. It turned out that 95% of reports that fell into the worst half belonged to white men.

    Secondly, since women feel that they are underrepresented at conferences, they spend much more effort on preparing reports and spread out to the maximum. It seems to me that the conference content will benefit from the fact that more women will speak at them.

    - Cool. Let's go back to your first performance abroad in Dresden. How it was?

    - It was pretty weird. After the St. Petersburg and Moscow conferences, which take place in large hotels, it was unusual to be in the old building with one hall and a small stage, which is also greatly elevated above the audience.

    - How was the performance itself?

    - There is such a thing: when you go out to speak, not everyone knows you. Some continue to sit in the phones when you are already on stage, and you need to capture the attention of the audience. There are many different ways to do this, I found my own: you just need to learn a couple of phrases in the language of the country in which you speak, for example, in German, and pronounce them. Listeners immediately react to you, because this is their native language. Attention is drawn, the audience has focused, and then you can already tell the report in English. In general, it went well, I have no problems with English: I often speak it from work, while traveling.

    - Do performances abroad differ in general from those in Russia?

    - When I spoke in Hungary and Poland, the listeners did not ask questions. Either they understood everything, or they were too shy to ask. I felt that I needed to put a lot of effort into stirring them up. For example, in Poland you will ask the audience a question: “What do you think, what's the problem with this code?” And no reaction. In Russia, everything is going wrong. You ask a question, someone says: “Yes, the code is bad in general,” and the audience: “Yes, bad!”

    There was a rather interesting format in Dresden: they did not let the microphone into the hall. People sent questions using some software, and the presenter read them. It was unusual. I prefer the format when you can come into direct contact with the audience and answer personally to the person who asks the question. This is what people go to conferences for.

    - What other differences did you notice?

    - In Russia, speakers organize dinner at large conferences. The day before the conference, the speakers and participants of the program committee get together, meet, talk. At foreign conferences, I have not met with this. You come to the conference and think: “Who are these people?” After all, you communicated with them only in slack, for example. Because of this, a little uncomfortable.

    - I want to ask about the stands. We always have some fun at conferences: contests, lotteries, prizes - entertainment for every taste. And in foreign?

    “I have never seen anything like this there.” The stands that I saw disappointed me deeply. Because, firstly, most people on the stands do not represent companies that develop software. These are hiring agencies, and people distribute job descriptions, notepads, pens, and other things. You approach them and ask: "What do you need to win a power bank?" And they: "Yes, take it." Okay thank you.

    - Even the number is not necessary to pull.

    - Yes, maybe it works for them, but I was not used to it. We remember, at CodeFest, there was VR, games, interaktivs, a radio point where speakers were invited. And it was really interesting. It will be necessary to still travel abroad, to see, but so far I have not seen this.

    - I want to know about the preparation: how are you preparing for performances?

    - Pre-auditions help me a lot. They are satisfied with the program committee of the conferences: the organizers are interested in the speaker to speak well. You perform in front of the PC, you get feedback. It can be different: from “redo the slides” to “change the structure of the performance”. After that you finish the report, and so several iterations.

    In parallel, you can arrange auditions within the company, speak in front of colleagues. And not necessarily with the whole report. You can tell a piece and ask for feedback. Sometimes colleagues say: "You know, I also used this technology, and I had quite the way you say." And you go to refine.

    You can arrange an internal mitap and record a video report. Then send it to the program committee and get feedback too. Speakers should use all means - listening, reviewing - which help make the best possible report.

    - How many auditions do you usually get?

    - On average, three or four.

    - Do you do anything else to prepare for the performance? At home, in front of the mirror ...

    - I don’t do that anymore, but for beginner speakers this is good advice - just stand in front of the mirror and speak a report. I scroll the content in my head when I go to work, for example.

    - Let's just go to beginners. Suppose I want to be a speaker, and not only Russian, but also foreign conferences. What should I do?

    - It is worth starting with local meetings within the company. At such meetings there are few people, they are loyal to you. There you can get experience and understand what are the problems in the speeches. It is important to learn to speak confidently, to establish contact with the audience - all this is better to work out on internal meetings.

    When you have experience of speeches and some videos, you can go to a small conference. Then - to the conference bigger. So you gradually become visible - in Russia.

    To go to a Western conference, it is advisable to have a video in English. How to do this when we have decided to speak in Russian? One option is to speak with an English speaker. That is, you learn that there will be an English-speaking speaker at the conference, you have similar topics, and invite him to speak together.

    “How do you know that?”

    - You can refer to the program committee and say that you want to speak in English. Usually, the committee goes to meet and tries to somehow help. As a rule, it is known in advance which foreign speakers will come. They respond well to such ideas and are ready to help. I was able to perform on Mobius with the Google Developer Expert from Holland.

    - How to prepare for such joint performances?

    - That's the problem. Because such speakers, of course, are always busy, and they do not have time to listen to your report as well. Therefore, you train yourself, show records, coordinate with them, in general, get out in some way.

    And here you are speaking at a serious conference. Then you just need not be afraid and apply for the maximum number of conferences that can be found on the Internet. In the West, I did not see any preconceptions like "you are from Russia, we will not take you." The competition is high, but if you are denied on one, second, third conference, you should not hang your nose. We need to continue to work on the content and submit applications. I read that the confirmation statistics is 1 out of 10. That is, you need to go to at least 10 conferences so that they take you to one. Maybe it will not be big and famous, but you will definitely get to any conference.

    - In recent years, you have visited many places, spoke at a couple of dozens of conferences. What for? Well, like it. And what else does it give?

    - There are several aspects here. First, you meet different people. You never know when some acquaintance will come in handy. Suddenly you need professional advice, if someone from the conference is your future employer?

    Secondly, you are professionally developing: to prepare a good report, you need to immerse yourself in the topic. And when you understand something perfectly, it helps to grow at work.

    Thirdly, at conferences you feel like a part of the global community. You understand that applications for Android, for example, are not written in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk or Moscow - they are written all over the world. And you communicate with people from the USA, Germany, China, with whom you are engaged in a common business. This is a very pleasant feeling. People are a feature of our psychology - you need to feel like a part of something big and important. Participation in conferences is one way to feel it. And of course, you enjoy the fact that "Mom, I am shown on TV."

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