Should you speak at meetups or conferences?

December 6, 2021
We often hear the advice to do public speaking to boost our engineering career. Is that really helpful?

I speak at conferences and meetups from time to time. Should you?

It’s common advice that aspiring or developing engineers should speak about technical topics, either to expand their knowledge, or to improve their career prospects. But is it good advice?

Maybe.

Let me share my thoughts on the topic.

Public speaking is a lot of work. A 30-minute conference presentation can easily take up to two or three days to prepare, depending on the topic and audience. Aside from that, simply learning to give an engaging talk is also a skill that requires years of development for most people. And of course, you also need to learn about the topic before you can present it. So all in all, the investment side of the equation is fairly high.

But what about the payoff?

For some people, public speaking is just plain fun. If that describes you, then the rest of the conversation may be irrelevant!

Public speaking will help you build and engage an audience. If you’re trying to sell or promote a book, a podcast, a YouTube channel, a personal brand, or some product or service, it can be an effective long-game strategy to speak at conferences and meetups.

Public speaking will also help you get better at public speaking. D’uh.

And of course, teaching in any format, public speaking or otherwise, can be a great way to learn a technical topic.

Intentionally absent from this list is the idea of “finding a better job.” Of course there are exceptions. If you want a job as a public speaker, or any role where speaking is relevant (such as developer relations) then public speaking is a great way to go about it. And of course occasionally, you may stumble upon someone in your audience who is hiring someone with your skillset, and in your area, and at a company you want to work for. But generally speaking, public speaking won’t help you find a better job.

So where does that leave us?

My TL;DR; advice for engineers considering public speaking boils down to this:

  • Do public speaking if you love it (or want to try it to see if you love it)
  • Do public speaking if your goal is to learn to do public speaking
  • Do public speaking if you’re trying to build or promote a product or service (including a personal brand)

Otherwise, consider skipping it.

And if your goal is to learn something through the process of teaching it, you don’t need to wait for a public speaking opportunity. You can easily blog about whatever topic you’re learning. Or create a YouTube video on the topic!

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