Yes, you can be a public speaker

Originally published as this Twitter thread.

A lot of amazing people don't speak at conferences because they think speaking requires being an expert.

It doesn't. At all.

Speaking is a form of storytelling. It's a performance more than anything. It's a skill that can be practiced and learned. But that's not very practical advice, so here's a technique I use in all my talks:

I'm never the expert. I'm the student.

I'm the main character that goes on a tech-related journey and learns thing along the way. My talk is me sharing those lessons with you. Here’s how that unfolds.


I pick a starting point that's accessible, that the audience can relate to.

For example, you might start with the question, “I want to be an expert developer ASAP! How do I do that?” That one's from my "Reading Code Good” talk that I've given ~15x. Also my 1st talk ever.

Or, the starting point could be ”What does it take to be an open source contributor?" That one’s from my "Lucky" talk.


A simple, relatable problem is an ideal place to start, and then the rest of the talk is spent taking you on a journey where I unpack this problem, and learn a few things along the way. I have a strong narrative that's easy to follow, but the lessons are always concrete and explicit.

At the end, I'm not an expert. I'm the character in a story who's grown and learned. And if I do my job, the audience has learned with me.

This is incredibly valuable, because now you have a powerful connection with your audience.


Interestingly enough, sharing not just what you know but *how* you came to know it means that you are able to establish your expertise without declaring yourself an expert.

So instead of focusing on whether you know enough, think about the last time you learned something that was meaningful to you. Find a problem, a conflict you experienced. Think about how you solved it. What's the story there? How did you learn? How've you grown?

It might make a good talk!

How do you overcome the "expertise myth" of speaking? Tell us on Twitter @CodeNewbies.


Listen to Season 2, Episode 4 of the CodeNewbie podcast for a candid discussion on public speaking pro tips and pitfalls. Hear from Kelsey Hightower, speaker and chair at many tech conferences, and Lara Hogan, author of a great new book on public speaking. They share their personal experiences as well as advice on how to prepare a talk, what makes a strong proposal, and the common mistakes they see first-time speakers make.