Lessons I Learned Speaking in Front of 800 Developers at Laracon EU 2018

The part of conference speaking that's usually left unsaid.

Conference Speaking: Laracon EU

You can imagine how exciting it was to learn that I’ll be speaking at the Laracon EU conference! Overall, it was an unforgettable experience. I made amazing new friendships and had some cool takeaways about the Laravel ecosystem. Attending the conference was an awesome experience on its own. Yet, being on stage brought a whole different level of awe and overwhelm.

The conference was amazing – it probably deserves a blog post of its own. However, this time I’d like to focus on the part “behind the scenes of public speaking”. The one that takes place before the actual conference talk. More precisely, coping with all the pressure.

I’m not really an extrovert. Speaking to a crowd of more than 5 has always been a challenge for me, no matter how informal it was. So, getting accepted to speak at Laracon EU was super exciting and terrifying at the same time! How would I stand in front of 800 developers and share my experience with them?

Being in software engineering for over 6 years, I’ve had the chance to work with companies from early-stage startups to Fortune 500. No matter how different their organizational structure is, companies tend to think they’ll speed up the development process if they cut on the code design time. The reality, though, is quite the opposite.

So, I’ve accepted this challenge as an opportunity to contribute to cleaner code and better software architecture. It was amazing to speak about good design practices in front of so many brilliant developers who share the same passion as I do.

For those of you who have accepted a similar challenge (or think about doing so) here are some tips that helped me go through with it.

Become More Confident by Practicing Your Speech

Some people are comfortable with public speaking. They’re either so experienced that they don’t sweat it anymore or they’re extroverts and good at improvising. If you’re none of the two, you’ll need this more than anything.

Switching from the comfortable world of software development to the public exposure of conference speaking would be impossible for me without the practice. As developers, I’m sure most of you share the same struggle when it comes to public speaking. Facing the challenge prepared is what will give you control over it.

Katerina Trajchevska - Laracon EU Conference

What I usually do before giving a speech (no matter how small it is), I outline the topic, write it down in a narrative, create the slides and then trim it down until it’s good to go. I need a couple of back and forths in my head before it resonates well. Once I’m comfortable with the topic, I start to practice the speech while thinking about the time slot I have available. Always aim to finish 5 minutes earlier to count for any unpredictabilities.

Ask Your Friends for Feedback on Your Speech

Before the conference, try rehearsing your speech in front of an audience in order to get some feedback. Speaking at a local meetup or just gathering your friends or colleagues for a short knowledge sharing session can boost your confidence and prepare you for the topic. Make sure to ask them for a sincere feedback and apply their advice when iterating through your presentation.

At Adeva, we have the practice of organizing such internal knowledge sharing sessions. It seems odd, but with this conference speech, I was much more nervous the first time I had to present in front of my colleagues than I was when I actually stepped on stage. Most of the time, you’re consciously putting the pressure on yourself and this practice can help you release it.

Meet New People and Get Familiar with the Conference Environment

If you’re the one to break the ice at the conference, you probably have the best slot. Everyone is super excited at the beginning and eager to listen to you. All you need at this point is to be confident and explain your ideas the best you can. Then, you have the whole conference left to enjoy. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

I had the last slot at the conference, right before Taylor announced Laravel news. You can argue it’s the worst because you can’t really enjoy the event. You compare your speech to others, fear it’s not at the appropriate level for all the attendees and catch yourself practicing your intro while listening to the other speeches. Yet, all of this can also have a silver lining. I had a lot of time to meet people, understand what resonates with them and improve my slides at the very last minute.

Laracon EU Conference Audience

If you have time to talk to other attendees, getting some feedback on their experience with your speech can be extremely helpful. When the conference tracks are not separated by experience, thinking whether your presentation is on the right level to appeal to everyone can be overwhelming. It was for me. So, I started talking to people and getting feedback on their experience with the SOLID design principles. Not only it creates a sense of familiarity when you talk to them later, but meeting your audience beforehand can also help you improve your messaging and how you present things in your speech.

If you don’t have time to meet people, try to get familiar with the venue before getting on stage. Walk around and look for friendly faces. Additionally, once you start talking it always helps to get a positive feedback. So, if you notice someone in the audience nodding at what you say – fix your sight on them and it will quickly make you feel better.

Learn from the Other Speakers at the Conference

The other speakers are human, too. More often than not, they also have butterflies in their stomach before hitting the stage. So, talking to them can help a lot. At least you’ll realize you’re not alone in this.

Conferences usually organize speaker dinners before the event. Use this occasion to meet the rest of the speakers and share experiences. At our table, everyone was nervous about their speech – no matter if it was their first or fifth Laracon. Whether it was the impostor syndrome, or just an inexplicable public exposure phobia, discussing it helped us realize it happens to everyone. We all shared our personal experience and approach to overcoming the pressure. I left that dinner much more confident and ready for what was coming.

To Sum Up: How to Overcome the Pressure of Public Speaking

  1. Become more confident by practicing your speech.
  2. Ask your friends for feedback on your speech.
  3. Meet new people and get familiar with the conference environment.
  4. Learn from the other speakers at the conference.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone who’s attending the conference chose to be there. They had the chance to decide up front whether they want to hear your talk based on your abstract. So, you’re safe to assume that everyone who’s in the audience is there because they think they can learn something new from you. And you should do your best to grant them that.

Doing things you’re not comfortable with is how you grow and improve. All you have to do to go from the person you are to the person you want to be is push your boundaries. Just one tiny step at a time. Hope you’ll find some motivation in the above to keep doing so.

Thanks to everyone who attended Laracon EU and shared their feedback. And a huge thanks to the organizers for having me. It’s an amazing community what Laravel has!

Katerina Trajchevska
CEO and Senior Software Engineer