Lara hogan

Lara Hogan

Co-Founder Wherewithall

Lara is the former VP of Engineering at Kickstarter, co-founder of Wherewithall, a company that coaches and levels up managers, and author of the new bestselling book, Resilient Management.

Kelsey hightower

Kelsey Hightower

Sr. Staff Developer Advocate Google

Kelsey is an open source advocate and toolsmith and spends most of his time working with people and solving their problems.


This is the last week to submit a talk to Codeland, our annual tech conference, so we wanted to give you some insight on what makes a good talk, a good speaker, and a good proposal. You'll hear from Lara Hogan, who literally wrote the book on public speaking, and Kelsey Hightower, speaker and chair of many tech conferences. They share their personal speaking stories (and nightmares!), how they prepare their talks, and the common mistakes they see first-time speakers make.

Show Notes


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[00:00:00.00] SY: We are launching a brand new show! It's called the base.cs podcast, and I'm so excited about it. We're teaming up with Vaidehi Joshi, developer and creator of the base.cs blog series, to bring you a fun, beginner-friendly podcast on computer science topics. So make sure to subscribe, and tell all your friends about it. Link is in the show notes. (Music). Welcome to the CodeNewbie podcast, where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I'm your host Saron, and today we're talking about public speaking. (Music). This week is the last week to submit your talk proposal to CodeLand, our annual conference happening May 4 and 5, 2018 in NYC. Link to that is in your show notes. So I thought it was a good time to publish this very special episode on speaking. Why is it so very special? Because in this episode, you get to hear from not one, but two awesome people who know a ton about speaking. First up -

[00:01:04.13] LH: Hi! I am Lara Hogan, and I'm the VP Engineer -

[00:01:06.07] SY: And she literally wrote the book. It's called Demystifying Public Speaking - link to that is in your show notes, along with the special promo code, for ten percent off. Then, we've got -

[00:01:16.07] KH: Kelsey Hightower, I work at Google, on the Google Cloud platform. And what I do is help people be more awesome.

[00:01:22.24] SY: And Kelsey not only gives many, many, many, many talks on all kinds of technical things at dev conferences all over the world, he also chairs a lot of these conferences. Which means he's got a lot of experience evaluating talk ideas and speakers. So, get ready for some insight, helpful tips, and quite a few embarrassing speaker stories. After this.

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[00:03:53.02] So, you recently wrote a book called Demystifying Public Speaking. What was that book about?

[00:04:00.24] LH: So, I found as I was talking to other people about public speaking - I give a lot of talks, I've had the privilege of giving a lot of talks, and I realized I had accumulated a lot of tips and tricks over the years about feeling equipped to get up on stage and give a talk, and I also started to realize that there's not a lot out there written for members of underrepresented groups in tech, so a lot of the unconventional advice and wisdom works great for a lot of people, but there are some nuanced parts to public speaking that might more directly affect members of underrepresented groups, like getting a really aggressive audience member, or codes of conduct, or unique fears that relate to getting doxxed, or having people judge you on your voice or your body or how you're dressed. So, I really wanted to write something that was inclusive and could apply to anybody out there, and I also really wanted to focus it on that fears thing, because my number one fear with public speaking is about tripping and falling as I get up on stage.

[00:05:02.27] SY: Oh no! I've never thought of that, but now I'm really scared of that too.

[00:05:06.12] LH: Sorry! But I realize that that's not everybody's number-one fear, so I put a survey out on Twitter, an anonymous survey with a google form, and I said, cool, what's your biggest fear when it comes to public speaking? And I got the spectrum of responses. There was a whole subset of stuff that had to do with being misunderstood, or saying the wrong thing - what if I get up there and I'm an imposter and I realize that halfway through that everything I'm saying is wrong? And there's a whole other subset about things about being judged. The audience thinks they know more about the topic than I do, or people judge me more on me being fat than on the contents of what I'm saying, or I get this aggressive audience member. So I really wanted to write a book that covered the spectrum of fears, and how people feel a little bit more equipped as they inch their way up to the stage. The book is my attempt at doing that.

[00:06:00.02] SY: Were there any fears that surprised you?

[00:06:03.19] LH: I had never thought about needing to pee. I've never thought, like, what if I'm on stage and all of a sudden I need to run off the stage and use the restroom. But that is a lot of people's fears. Yeah.

[00:06:15.28] SY: My first talk I got my period during the talk. That's happened twice. That's happened two times. It was the worst.

[00:06:25.02] LH: The question is, did that give you the full confidence - like, I am woman, I am up here, I am braver than you all, I am stronger than you all, look at this spirit strength to power through, or did it have a different effect?

[00:06:38.13] SY: (Laughs). Oh my god, I wish I thought of it that way, that's so funny. So the thing is, so ok, so first of all, I was terrified for so many reasons. It was my first tech conference, I had been coding for I think two, three months by the time I actually got a chance to give this talk, the talk was at RailsConf, which was already a really big deal, I heard all these terrible things that happened to women at tech conferences, so I brought my husband as my bodyguard to protect me, there was so many level of anxiety that happened. And on top of that, I was PMSing terribly, I had terrible pain, and I just feel weird, and everything feels gross, just physical, emotional, societal, just all kinds of levels of anxiety, and I said to myself, just don't have your period during the talk. Just wait, just wait 'till it's over. And you know, my body didn't listen to me. Didn't listen to me at all.

[00:07:34.20] LH: Oh no!

[00:07:35.10] SY: So, one of the things that I found - because I think I've given, I give probably ten talks a year for the last couple years, so I do a lot of speaking, a lot of traveling, and it really doesn't matter how often I do it, I'm still terrified and shaking right before. So one thing that I found that really helps, is I'll tweet out and I'll say, five minutes to go, we're giving this talk in thirty minutes, and I get a lot of "Good luck! You're going to kill it today!" and all that positivity just really, really helps, having that Twitter community supporting me right as I go in, that's one of the best ways I help manage that nervousness and that fear.

[00:08:12.07] LH: That is such a good idea. I wish I had asked you before I wrote that book.

[00:08:15.14] SY: Yeah! Oh man, my Twitter family is - uh, that's a huge part of my support system. So, tell us about your first speaking incident. How did that first talk go?

[00:08:24.18] LH: So I, ok, I was invited to come give this talk at a conference in D.C. - it was like a Drupal conference. I didn't write any Drupal, and I wasn't really sure why they invited me to come speak. They wanted me to come talk about web performance, and I was like, yeah, this could be fun. Let's do this. Three days before the conference, I took a look at the website - it was like a multi-track conference, so I thought I was in a small room, and people would choose to come and see my talk - nope, it was in the keynote slot on the first day.

[00:08:51.13] SY: Oh boy.

[00:08:51.22] LH: So, I get to the conference, and I'm standing by the side of the stage and the organizer is introducing me, and they're reading my bio, and I have this horrible realization that they're introducing someone who's not me. But they read my name. And I was like, oh no, they thought I was someone else. They legitimately invited me and they thought I was some other person, and they got it wrong, and now I have to get up here realizing, I'm not meant to be up here. This is going to go horribly off the rails. Like I was literally an imposter. They forgot to turn down the lights, so no one could - and I didn't know at the time that you can't read white text on black slides if the lights are really far up, so no one could read the text, the organizer was in a fight with the venue so they couldn't bring me water, they couldn't provide any water to anybody -

[00:09:44.16] SY: No!

[00:09:46.02] LH: One person asked a question about gifts during the audience Q&A session, and I like laughed at them because I thought it was a joke, but it wasn't a joke, so I straight-up laughed at this person. Also, I had gotten into a huge fight with my boyfriend the night before, so I knew that right after that talk I was going to have to go home and break up with him. It was just a nightmare, it was a nightmare of a day. 

[00:10:07.27] SY: So once you realized it was the wrong person, what did you do? How did you deal with that?

[00:10:14.16] LH: So, ok. One of the things that's weird about me, I'm really good at emergency situations. Emergency situations, I'm like this is my moment, I'm here to do a great job. And it was half a lie, and half a what other option do I have? (Laughs).

[00:10:36.02] SY: So, how did the audience react? Were they - because obviously, it wasn't a fun time for you, but were they generally into it, or -

[00:10:43.29] LH: It was mediocre at best. Yeah.

[00:10:46.24] SY: So, after - I've watched a few of your talks, and you are so polished and you're so - you're confident in a really relatable way. There are certain speakers who I absolutely love- Scott Hanselman is one of my favorite speakers, but you watch Scott, and it's like, I could never do that. I could never be that charismatic and that funny and have that good timing - there's so much performance that goes into how he executes his talk, so it's beautiful to watch but it's also like, if that's what it takes to be a good speaker, those are just outside of my wheelhouse. But when you give a talk, it makes me feel like I could do that. It's good, it's polished, you speak with such confidence - but in a way that makes me feel like it's just me and you, sitting at a table, and you're explaining something to me, but I watch your talk and I think like, if I just work hard enough and I prepare hard enough, I could get to that level.

[00:11:47.16] LH: Thank you for those very kind words. I can tell you that not everybody feels that way about my style.

[00:11:52.01] SY: Really?

[00:11:52.14] LH: Oh my goodness, yeah. One time I had to follow Scott Hanselman, at a 2,000-person keynote, and I racked up so ready. This is a bucket-list moment for me, it's the Velocity conference, which was my big - it was my people, it was performance people. And actually, both Scott and I were power-posing backstage together before - he'd never power posed before, and I got to show him what power-posing is. I get up there, and I feel really good about the talk that I gave. I feel like it's polished, I feel like I was poised, I think I delivered really helpful content, and actually the star rating for my talk afterwards was one of the highest, if not the highest, rating for the conference. I felt really good about it. But, I got the most gendered feedback from individuals after that talk for the full rest of the day. I had strangers, all white men, coming up to me and saying, "I loved the content of your talk, or I appreciated the content of your talk. But I have some feedback for you on your tone." And there's a couple of dynamics at play. One, I was wearing a dress and heels, and I looked, again, polished and put together. Another element is, Scott's style is incredible. He's a comedian, he's the most professional comedian I've ever watched. I could not pull off Scott's style. I have a very different style, and that style is trying to clearly articulate a bunch of information in what I hope is the most helpful way. And a handful of people - a handful of outspoken people - told me it didn't work. It really took the wind out of my sails for a long time, which is why I wrote about it and I tried to share this story with other people. This is what I tried to write the book about - everybody should think about what gifts they bring, what are their strengths, and channel those into giving the most informative presentation that still keep their audience's attention and doesn't distract them.

[00:13:41.05] SY: Absolutely. So, I feel like I've personally given a lot of advice and feedback on people's talks and their talk proposals, which is generally the first step to getting to speak, you have to propose your talk idea. And I'm always surprised at the disconnect between the things that I encourage people to do, and the fact that they think they did that but totally did not do that. And it kind of makes me feel that, maybe there's a conversation we can have around common things that people get wrong or people miss. Or - what does a - I won't say a bad talk - but what does a needs improvement talk look like, or needs improvement talk proposal look like, that people can avoid?

[00:14:28.19] LH: So, I think that one thing that people often miss is, they might know inside themselves what the audience is going to walk away with, whether that's learning a new tool or technique or learning something that's going to help them in their day jobs tomorrow or help them get inspired by this or motivated to do something differently. But often people don't say what that thing is in their proposal -

[00:14:54.10] SY: Yes!

[00:14:54.19] LH: What they expect the audience will walk away with. Also, I think people don't realize, companies are paying by and large to send their designers and engineers and whoever else, to these conferences, so it is critical to explain what that person is going to walk away with at the end of the conference. Otherwise, companies are not going to pay to send their people to come see you speak. So even if it's not for the conference organizers to know what the audience is going to walk away with, it's probably at the end of the day critical for your audience to make this pitch that they should go to this event at all.

[00:15:25.18] SY: Absolutely, and that's one of the things that - I've been a reviewer of talks, and I've read tons and tons of CFP's, and I'm always surprised at how a lot of proposals sound like click-bait - come to this talk and hear the things that I learned. But I'm like - what did you learn? How can I properly assess this talk and know if it's a good fit if you don't tell me the thing that you're going to talk about.

[00:15:52.05] LH: Totally - what do we get out of this? What's the audience going to get out of this? Yeah, it's impossible to judge those things otherwise. I think that the other thing too is like, your solution may have worked for you, do you understand why it uniquely worked for you? Are you able to talk about what trade-offs you made, or what someone in a different situation may have done differently? Without that information, there's no way you can guarantee that that talk will be accessible to an audience, and that's what an event/meet-up/conference is - it's an organization of a spectrum of people.

[00:16:22.05] SY: And I think that one issue that I see, especially in our community, in the CodeNewbie community, is that people feel like they don't have any ideas that are worth sharing, or they just can't think of an idea specifically for a talk. How do you generally come up with ideas?

[00:16:41.06] LH: This is the number one thing I hear. I'm not an expert in this thing, why would I give a talk on this thing? There are plenty of other people out there that are more qualified than I am to give this talk, or better, there are plenty of people out there that are already giving this talk. The first thing I like to tell people is that my number one talk is web performance 101. You better believe there are a lot more experts out there giving this talk, there are a lot more people who are hands-on, actually doing performance work today. I'm not doing performance work today! But frankly, my 101 talks are easily the most accessible to a wide group of people, the most informative, the stuff that people walk away with - with actionable stuff they can do tomorrow. I promise, 80% of your audience - this is insulting, but 80% of your audience has no idea the stuff that you are taking for granted. And that's the cool part, is you're sharing this with a larger group. If you're ever worried about it, go talk to a meet-up organizer. Go talk to that conference organizer and say hey, I've got this really intro-level, 101 level talk idea - do you think your audience might benefit from it? Let them say no. Don't take yourself out of the running.

[00:17:52.04] SY: Yes.

[00:17:52.20] LH: So, right. How do you come up with a talk topic? Think about the stuff that you're working on the most right now, that's most interesting and juicy to you right now. I like to recommend people start to think about the most meaty project that they've tackled recently, because recently, a project is made up of really interesting technical challenges, and really interesting people challenges. And we all know that a good technical challenge is not only a technical challenge - it will always include some people stuff. And so I find that some of the best ways to get inspiration for talk topics is like, cool, what about that was challenging. What about that surprised you. What about that would you have done differently if you could know what you know now. And talking about those thing helps you develop an idea, a nugget of a talk idea, that might resonate with a broader group of people.

[00:18:36.21] SY: And I feel like when people think about giving a talk, or just think about speakers, I feel like they assume the speaker is supposed to be a professional, like a lecturer, someone who comes in who's been studying and researching things for a million years and are there to share their gems and their unique perspective and knowledge with the world. But I think that if we shift our idea of a speaker to simply a storyteller, that makes it feel way, way more accessible.

[00:19:07.05] LH: Totally. And the other thing I like to tell people about this particular problem is like, no matter how deeply you care about a topic, no matter how much of an expert on a topic, there will still be things you don't know or you don't have the answer to. So part of the beauty of giving talks is getting comfortable with being like, oh wow, that's a great question. I have no idea. And either I'll look it up after and get back to you, or does someone else in the audience know the answer to this question, go talk to that person after this is done. Don't let the knowledge that you don't know everything there is to know about a topic prevent you from getting up on a stage and talking about it. Because you're not supposed to know everything, but you are supposed to help people level up their game. And you can definitely do that with a prepared talk.

[00:19:47.07] SY: I think one of the things that also makes giving a talk scary is our own expectations for how good the talk needs to be. I think we can all agree that most at conferences are just not that good. I'm sorry but it's a very low bar. And for me, one of the very motivating things is watching talks that aren't very good, that still have thousands of views or are given at prestigious conferences, and looking at that and going, I can do better than that.

[00:20:18.03] LH: The audience is rooting for you. Let's say you mess up the words, or you forget your place, or you get asked that aggressive audience member question. The audience - they're probably not sociopaths. Probably. 'Cause we've all been at that talk where someone's messed up, and you feel so good when that speaker regains their composure, or remembers what they were going to say, or bounces back from a fumble -

[00:20:43.03] SY: Yes, the best!

[00:20:43.08] LH: We all have that warm feeling, and I promise if you mess up, your audience is totally rooting for you.

[00:20:48.05] SY: So one thing that I want to appreciate is - I do a lot of speaking, go to a lot of conferences, and for me, it's really changed my life. It's introduced me to so many amazing people, so many opportunities, I've gotten jobs from speaking, I've gotten paid to speak. But I always wonder - is that normal? Is it just kind of me being really biased with how awesome speaking has been to me? Or do you see speaking as something that actually matters when you're trying to build a career in tech?

[00:21:18.09] LH: Oh my word. It matters so much. So there are three ways that I kind of think of giving back to our communities, generally speaking, includes writing - books, blog posts, etc. Open sourcing stuff - so contributing to open source projects, or open sourcing something yourself. And speaking. And those three avenues to giving back to our communities has changed a lot over the past few years, and the safety of doing those things has also changed a lot. Back in the day, you could probably post something anonymously and get away with it. These days, if you contribute to open source and you have a very female-looking name or picture, you might experience some discrimination, for example. When you're speaking, same. I've received some gendered feedback, and definitely this is true, compounds for a lot of kinds of marginalization. So, I am extremely privileged as a white woman, and there are plenty of speakers with whom I've spoken who just experience miles and miles and miles more discrimination. I feel very privileged to be able to speak and not worry. As much as I am gaining a lot from speaking, I don't know if I would gain as much if I was just starting out, or if I was a person of color. So, yeah, I want to answer yes to your question, like totally. There's so much to be gained from speaking, but I also want to acknowledge that I'm a privileged person with some name recognition, and I can imagine that there are additional risks to think about, additional things that can detract from all of the amazing gain from the privilege of public speaking, too.

[00:22:50.06] SY: So, what advice do you have for people who are interested in speaking and still really nervous and not sure if it's a good fit for them, and trying to get over that anxiety. How can we help them do that?

[00:23:04.08] LH: The first thing I would say is, even the most experienced speakers feel nervous. And it sounds so cliche to say, but like, I can tell you how nervous Scott Hanselman was when we were power posing, like, it's still a scary thing. So, first of all, you're not alone, and it's not an indicator of your newness if you're nervous. I promise. The second thing is, there are plenty of tactics to help you overcome or at least challenge the nerves that you have in yourself and where they're coming from. I guess, the last thing I would say on it, if you're nervous, it probably means that you care a lot about the thing that you want to go and do. That's the whole point.

[00:23:37.26] SY: Yes! Yes. Absolutely. I do much better when I'm nervous. When I'm really freaking out before, when I'm feeling shaky and slightly nauseous, that's when I give my best talks, always, one hundred percent. What is your process for preparing for a talk? Specifically, for like a new idea.

[00:23:59.29] LH: So for a new idea, I usually do a lot of writing about it first. So, like, I'm giving a brand-new talk in a couple of weeks about mentorship and sponsorship - it came out of a blog post that I wrote and a bunch of little advice-giving or emails or other pieces of writing that I've done since then about the difference between mentors and sponsors and the impact they can have in your career. So, I use writing to help me articulate my ideas better, to kind of develop a better thesis statement, develop better arguments that support it, and usually I'll give the same talk a lot. I'll also iterate on it by seeing what kinds of questions people ask afterwards. So, when I was first giving my performance talk, and people were asking a lot of questions about how to get people to care about doing performance work in your company, I was like oh yeah, I should change this talk and include a section specifically on how to gain empathy through people around you, to get their buy-in so you can do this work.

[00:24:53.08] SY: So, how can people read this book?

[00:24:55.21] LH: Yes! So, visit, you'll find the book De-Mystifying Public Speaking on there, and if you use the code NEWBIE, just especially for you listeners, you can get ten percent off of this book, both the print book and the e-book version. Awesome, awesome. Thank you so much for that. Really, really excited about this book. Coming up, we kick it over to Kelsey Hightower, for a different perspective on speaking. He breaks down his personal speaking style, which is almost entirely made of live demos. He's very brave. He also shares some common mistakes he sees in talk proposals, and how you can avoid them. After this.

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[00:27:28.04] SY: (Music). So, you also, outside of your work at Google, you also are the co-chair of OSCON, which I think is officially the largest open-source conference - is that fair?

[00:27:40.25] KH: Yes, OSCON is iconic for being one of the first open-source conferences that just focus purely on open-source. Is it still the biggest? Probably.

[00:27:50.11] SY: So you were the co-chair there, you do a ton, a ton of speaking as well, and you also co-chair a few other conferences. So, I want to get your opinion on speaking, specifically speaking as a first-time speaker. So, as a co-chair, first tell us what you do, what is that role.

[00:28:07.09] KH: So, a co-chair for OSCON, which is a conference by O'Reilly, so they do O'Reilly media, publishing, the O'Reilly books with the animals on their front, they're also notoriously known for their tech conferences, such as Velocity, OSCON, full show, grand stages - those are pretty big events. As a program chair, you need to make sure that the program matches the quality of the whole thing. You need to make sure that the program reflects what people, as a community, want to see, but also make sure that people are getting their money's worth and it's a full experience, not just talks. Make sure that you have the right mix of diversity of content, people, everything. To make sure that we're given a program that represents the entire community. So that's what I do for OSCON.

[00:28:57.27] SY: It's interesting, because it's like UX, but for attendees, it's like AX. So when you design the program and you're thinking about what topics to cover or what kind of speakers you want, what are you optimizing for?

[00:29:12.27] KH: As a program chair, it's about the program, so you want to make sure that the content is spot-on. TensorFlow is hot, machine learning is hot, lots of people want to know more about these things, so as a program chair, you may end up deciding that hey, we need a TensorFlow day, or a TensorFlow track. So then we got to go and make sure that when we put that CFP out, we can attract the right speakers that can actually make great content for our attendees.

[00:29:41.13] SY: How do you define great content, so besides the topics that you hope are covered and looking at industry and what's hot right now and what people want to know about, how do you decide what talk submission for that topic is actually going to deliver and be good at the conference?

[00:29:59.19] KH: So, since we know that, say a TensorFlow track at OSCON needs to have introductory talks, we'll say, ok, let's look through these submissions. Sometimes it's easy - Intro to TensorFlow. Hey, we're off to a good start when I see that. So then you got to dig a little deeper though - you look at the abstract, you look at what the reviewers' feedback was, we may even look up the person's previous talk, even watch the previous talk and say, ok, why is this person the right person to give the intro to TensorFlow talk? And a lot of people believe that we just look for the names, like, oh, this person is the founder of TensorFlow, but really what we look for is like, does this person have the right lens to do this? Now, people may say what, that is a core contributor to TensorFlow, but do you know what? They're where the user is, and they know how to explain it, and they're actually doing it. That's like the perfect person to give one kind of intro talk, and maybe you get more of an expert to do more of a deeper dive.

[00:31:03.05] SY: So one issue that I've had personally as a reviewer - and I was actually a reviewer for OSCON for two years, and I've been a reviewer for Rails Con as well, one of the issues I ran into trying to judge CFPs, is that the fields are, they're so open, so the field of abstract - what is an abstract? So, what advice do you have for people who are filling out those forms for the first time?

[00:31:29.19] KH: Yeah, and this is why I think it's on us, people who organize these events or help organize, we got to give examples because what you just said, is just, man we're just losing, who knows how many possible speakers. We're not helping anyone that way. So that's step one. Step two, I also think - if you're going to do this, and it's your first time, solicit either the organizers, the chairs, or reviewers, or anyone you can find associated with the conference, and say, can I get some help with this CFP? Have someone review it. Get it to the point where you look at it and you're like, I would go to this talk, or go to these other sites where you've gone to a conference for and look at the abstracts that pulled you in. And ask yourself - does my abstract pull them in? Two strong paragraphs, and you can get someone like, oh, I'm going to that talk? Then you know you're on to the right track, so ask for help, iterate, and go and compare yourself to, what drew me into other talks, and am I doing that at least for myself when I submit mine.

[00:32:34.12] SY: So, when you look at CFPs, are there any things that, specifically beginners, first-time speakers, might do wrong that feels very obvious to you, that might not be so obvious to them?

[00:32:47.14] KH: I think some people try to show off in the CFP with buzzwords, like you'll look at the CFP or the abstract and they're just like, my target's going to cover DevOps with an agile process on top of Kubernetes with containers and serverless with Ruby, the new version - and I'm like, what's all these buzzwords? I still don't know what you're talking about. So I see that as like - and I'm not saying that's something just new people do. Lots of speakers go with the buzzword bingo and try to just win on that alone.

[00:33:19.25] SY: I've also seen that people set up the premise of the talk without actually saying what the talk is. How do I know what the solution, if the solution that you're going to present actually makes sense of if it's good, they give us all the set-up, the whole reason why, but they don't actually say what they're going to talk about.

[00:33:40.22] KH: And I can tell you that CFP, if you show that to just anybody else, they'll be like, what, what're you going to talk about? If you start to describe with a bunch of words that are not in the CFP, then you know you got another round of editing to do to the CFP before you submit it. You can do that sometimes where you're like, TensorFlow is new, you might just win on default, especially if no one else submitted that kind of thing. I've seen that work in some cases, because sometimes you're like the only one. I know when Kubernetes first started, I'm pretty sure at some point, I was probably the only one brave enough to give a talk on Kubernetes, because it was like don't use it mode, this is experimental.

[00:34:29.19] SY: Yeah. So we talked about the CFP process. Tell me about the actual speaking itself. What makes a good speaker?

[00:34:37.17] KH: The way I started to speak was, you know when you're starting to code and you're learning something new, let's say you're learning Ruby, and you download Ruby and you discover Rails, and you're like whoa, I just made a website in five minutes, just like the website says. Ok? And you want to go show someone else, maybe they're using a different way of doing things, and it takes them thirty minutes. Think about how you go and introduce your discovery to them. You're not going to go make a slidedeck first - that's not how you think about it. And then the way you move, when you're talking to them. What I've started to do onstage is like, I use slides, not for bullet points, but maybe to show you the big picture. Transition people from this is where we are, this is where we need to be. Go back, go forward. Ok, you guys with me? And you're looking up and the whole time, you say, how many people go this, and people raise their hands and you're like, stop lying. You ain't got that, that's why you're here. Be ok with just like being excited when you want to be excited. I ain't got no speaker notes, I ain't got no slides, the demo - I just happen to know all the commands, so if it breaks, we're going to recover live on stage, and I come up on and say, alright, I think I got the narrative I want, it's show time. And let's just see what happens. I can't repeat my talks, I don't even know what I say half the time unless I go watch the video. As a speaker, figure out who you are. And go all in on that style, because as an attendee, you want to see a different collection, or flavor, of speakers, and you appreciate them all in their own ways. Don't try to be like everybody else, just do you.

[00:36:21.09] SY: So has that ever burned you? The whole - I don't have speaker notes, I don't know exactly what I'm going to say, but I know enough about the content to deliver. Has that ever gotten you in trouble?

[00:36:30.17] KH: Every time. Because every conference, I'm like - what am I going to do this time? Sometimes I just want to do a talk that I did already, and I know people like, naw man, Kelsey always pulls some wow card out. So I feel this pressure now that I can't just relax, and people love that timeliness, where it's fresh, it feels like it's mixed just for this event, so I think I put some unnecessary pressure on myself to outdo myself every time.

[00:37:02.28] SY: Well, that is awesome for attendees, because that means we're just getting really good stuff from you every time. So, what advice do you have for a first-time speaker, for someone who's getting onstage for the first time, isn't really used to the shiny lights, and the people on their phones, what advice do you have for them?

[00:37:19.02] KH: I say, do what's comfortable for you. And what I mean by that is, let's say you're a first-time speaker. And you get a thirty minute speaking slot, but all you got is a good eighteen minutes. Do your eighteen, and stop. Don't try to stretch it out to thirty. And then maybe do a little bit of Q&A. During the Q&A, be prepared to say I don't know. Don't feel like you have to have an answer for everything. You can just say, I don't know, and here's the way I would go about finding out, so you can actually be a little bit vulnerable.

[00:37:53.23] SY: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the harder parts of speaking for our community, specifically, is just that oftentimes we feel so new that we can't possibly have anything interesting to say, or anything to contribute to a conference. So that idea generation step is really challenging for us. How do you get your ideas, and how do you recommend newer people get ideas that they want to submit a talk?

[00:38:19.27] KH: So, I personally try to stay away from the, let me find a good idea to talk about. I usually try to say, I'm willing to talk about anything that I'm currently learning or working on. If I'm learning about let's say, a new project called Istio, it's a kind of network automation tool that's like one step above Kubernetes. And when I started to really dig into that project, I was like, ok. I've proved to myself why I'm excited about it. And at that point, I have my intro talk. So anything that you're currently learning, that's your idea, because whatever pushed you in that direction, is what's going to make you motivated to give a great talk.

[00:39:00.28] SY: Yeah, that's really good advice.

[00:39:02.15] KH: Yeah, and don't forget the boring stuff. I watch all these people like aw, I don't have anything to talk about. And then they're using Bundler, they're using all of these things - they're thinking, everyone uses Bundler. Why would I talk about it? Trust me, there's people coming into this field every day, and what you have the opportunity to do is, guess what, some of this boring stuff? You're actually an expert on but you think no one cares. Man, you bring out some of those things about how to reliably build your Ruby application using Bundler, and for someone that's just getting into the game, they're going to be like, yes, I just learned about Bundler at code school, that's why I'm at this conference, and you've been using it for like a year, so you're like really confident with it. That's interesting. So there's always a new person - don't overlook that effect.

[00:39:53.07] SY: Yes. So have you ever had a bad speaking experience?

[00:39:58.10] KH: I went to China. I missed my first flight because the airline was delayed, and I had to go through Seoul, South Korea, then to China. So I'm traveling for almost a day and as soon as I get out the airplane in Beijing, they drive me in the emergency lane to the conference, to go straight onstage.

[00:40:21.10] SY: Wow.

[00:40:21.19] KH: I don't remember a lot. I don't remember a lot about that talk. I'm looking at the people, and I'm being translated, from English to Chinese, so you have to speak half speed, so that kind of talk is very vague. I don't know that I got the audience response that I wanted. So I was like, I don't know how this went. So many people, of course, said great things afterwards, but I'm my own biggest critic. And I know for a fact that is not the way I would like to go into a talk. It's just not the right set-up.

[00:40:52.21] SY: Props to you for that. Because that sounds - that doesn't sound like fun at all.

[00:40:55.14] KH: Brutal.

[00:40:58.02] SY: And that's the end of our fourth episode of Season Two. We are halfway through this season, oh my goodness how time flies! So let me know what you think. Tweet us @CodeNewbies, or send me email, If you're in D.C. or Philly check out our local CodeNewbie meetup groups, we've got community coding sessions and awesome events every month, so if you're looking for real-life human coding interaction, check us out on For more info on the podcast, check out, and join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We've got our Wednesday chats at 9 PM ET and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 PM ET. Thanks for listening, see you next week. (Music).

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