Developers, designers, UXers, managers, marketers — 1,700 attendees, 70 speakers, 5 halls, 2 days
Last night I flew back from my first live international conference. Being flown abroad to speak was an exciting milestone in my career! The first day the ~20 international speakers had breakfast at the hotel, went on a guided walking tour of Prague, lunch together out, and then met up with the ~50 local speakers plus the mentors, round table facilitators, and everyone else, for an icebreaker and dinner, followed by the first party where early attendees joined. It was a whirlwind. Then the conference began.
Speakers are just people
Main takeaway from my time with the international speakers — we all feel a little “fake it til you make it”. All making last minute adjustments to our slides and practicing one (or three) last time(s) in our hotel rooms. You might not guess that from the impression we give on stage, or on paper. Why is that important? It means no one should be afraid to apply to speak, too. It was a very humble group. From the most well-known to those speaking for the first time, 100% of the speakers were down to earth, friendly, and excited to be there.
New voices are critical — old voices have work to do
Which led to a really interesting conversation over lunch between some of the international speakers and one of the conference organizers: why aren’t there more new faces and how do we change that?
Part of the problem is the built-in bias of speaker applications — new voices didn’t apply. Women and minorities didn’t apply. That put the organizers in a pickle, who desperately wanted a more diverse lineup.
Then there was the part about some of the new-voice applications not being as good, which makes sense, these are people with less experience. The conference is only as good as its content and keeping a super high standard is critical for success.
We started brainstorming what we, the experienced speakers and conference organizers, could do to change that. How do we get more, better applications from inexperienced speakers? A whole bunch of ideas were thrown out and it was reassuring to hear that this is a common value for the people who are most empowered to make change. (I also suggested getting in touch with Button organizers because in my opinion they are trail blazers in getting DEI right. Will let the WebExpo organizers catch their breath before picking that back up where we left it :)
Experience is no guarantee
My talk didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’m a pretty harsh critic of myself so I’ve spent a huge amount of energy analyzing why. My conclusions:
- Each speaker was introduced with some improv banter with the conference host. That totally threw me off. Right before I get on stage I take a deep breath, repeat my opening sentence out loud, and then jump up and get started, and this messed with my process. However, for a few reasons including that I’d watched a number of speakers before me, I should have been prepared for this format. I did not mentally prepare and I believe it would have gone better if I had.
- I did not do a full dry run right before. In fact, I hardly rehearsed at all. I had already given this talk live to an audience of 300 and a second time in a dry run organized by WebExpo a few weeks ago, and I glanced at my slides and mumbled bits and pieces to myself in the hotel but it wasn’t enough. My talk definitely would have benefitted from a full proper run through right before I left for the conference which my husband offered and I didn’t make the time for. Why didn’t I do it? While on the one hand I feel strongly about not over practicing, that it shifts the energetic, articulate, casual voice I’m known for, to a more scripted, less engaging presentation, there is a middle ground. While I don’t need to do 5+ full rehearsals in front of different small groups in person like I did before the first time I spoke years ago, twice wasn’t enough. I don’t know if I was more lazy or more cocky but I won’t make that mistake again.
- I let my disappointment in the unexpectedly low attendance affect me. Of the 5 halls, I was scheduled for the biggest one which seats 1,500. I was insanely flattered. But there were only 1,700 attendees and multiple talks happening simultaneously so I certainly didn’t expect it to be full. Furthermore, the topics and attendees were very diverse and my topic so niche that I expected that to lower attendance too. Plus, the speaker before me ran over so those who got up for a break didn’t have a chance to get back to their seats on time. However, despite all of that good logic and reason I was disappointed and it affected my delivery. I won’t let that happen again. After everything the organizers invested, they deserved my best, no matter who else is listening. And I owe it to myself.
All in all, WebExpo was an amazing experience! Being on my own away from my family which is a very very very rare occurrence; being abroad which, other than the US, I haven’t done in years; the shear size of the conference and venue; being an invited international speaker. I’m sure I’ll be processing for a while and what it means for the types of opportunities I want to take on next.