My Speaking Journey
Singapore workshop organiser
Thursday 22nd November 2018
I started attending conferences in 2015, and my first one was Form, Function, Class 5 in Manila, quickly followed by CSSConf.Asia 2015 back in Singapore. The conferences were great, with inspiring and informative talks, plus the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people. As much as I enjoyed the experience, the matter of fact was that around Southeast Asia, there simply aren’t that many web conferences, unlike Europe or the United States. And I definitely couldn’t afford to get to those under normal circumstances.
This comes in really handy when submitting CFPs. The first CFP of mine that ever got accepted was for piterCSS, a frontend conference out of Saint Petersburg, Russia, by Vadim Makeev. I also got invited to speak at Webconf.asia in Hong Kong, by Charis Rooda. Both conference organisers took a chance on me for their inaugural conferences, and essentially kickstarted my conference speaking journey.
One thing I realised is that local developers from Southeast Asia don’t often appear on international conference stages. Though there are plenty of speakers from Europe and the United States who come over here to speak. So when I was asked to speak on a panel at last year’s global diversity CFP day workshop, I immediately said yes.
The workshop included an introduction by JSConf.Asia organiser, Thomas Gorrisen, who provided helpful tips on what organisers look out for when they sift through hundreds of CFPs, and the panel covered advice on public speaking and preparing for the talk. After which participants worked together in groups to put any ideas they had onto paper, or refine any talk proposals they already had in mind.
In general, developers from our region tend to be less vocal and expressive when compared to our Western counterparts. And initiatives like global diversity CFP day are beneficial to the effort to increase the variance of perspectives within the tech industry and encourage local developers to share their knowledge and experiences with the world.
My experience organizing Global Diversity CFP Day Boston
Wednesday 21st November 2018
Global Diversity CFP Day (CFP = Call for Proposals) is a worldwide workshop for members of underrepresented groups in tech to learn about how to become a tech conference speaker. The workshop series started as an offshoot of a workshop at the ScotlandJS conference, and in its first full year, 2018, GDCFP happened in 52 cities, plus one remote workshop!
I was on the organizing team for Boston with some awesome teammates, Anna Nagy and Eddie Kay, and as a team we managed to get a fun, informative workshop off the ground in just under a month. GDCFP is looking to get new workshops into more cities for our 2019 series. So if you’re interested in organizing or mentoring in your town and promoting more diversity on the 🎤 at conferences, even if you’ve never run a workshop before, read on to hear about how Boston got ours!
What does a GDCFP workshop teach?
Global Diversity CFP Day teaches about all areas of tech public speaking, with a special focus on the process of getting a talk ready for a tech conference. Some of these things include figuring out a topic for your talk, writing a talk proposal that catches the conference organizers’ eyes, and a “crafting your bio” workshop, where attendees pair up to write and present each other’s bios. Another great section of the workshop was the Caring for your Audience discussion, where mentors and attendees brainstorm exclusionary language in tech talks and come up with more inclusive alternatives, such as “blacklist/whitelist” => “blocklist/safelist”, “so easy my grandma could do this” => “straightforward to use”.
Peter Aitken, the head of GDCFP, encouraged organizers to make sure the workshop is not all just talks from the mentors. So for our event, most of the sections we had ended up being roundtable discussions, making for a very conversational style that really let everyone participate and share knowledge. The official schedule does include videos to show as well, but organizers are allowed to take artistic license on that. So instead of showing the video on slides, Sean Kelly, an experienced conference speaker, gave a live-demo of how he writes slides for his talk to make them easy and enjoyable to read, and Mark Bates, founder of papercall.io, a site for submitting your talk proposals, gave a presentation showing the designs of winning tech talk proposals that get into events.
You can find the official version of the schedule here.
How Boston got our workshop off the ground
For 2018, the Boston team had to work really fast because we didn’t actually form until near the end of December, giving us just a month before February 3rd to get this thing up and running! I spent the second half of the fall posting on Twitter to recruit a co-organizer, and in December, I got a comment on my post from Anna Nagy asking if I was still planning on running this event, followed a few days after by Eddie Kay. Then at the Caffe Nero in Brookline, the team formed! It turned out that Eddie had been involved a lot with CFP workshops on the job at athenahealth, and Anna has been both a conference speaker and organizer, and I had experience as an organizer for Boston Golang. We prepared a Trello board of things to get done, ideas for parts of the event, and groups to contact to find attendees and mentors, and then we began preparing.
The first thing to get done was finding a venue, and we had a few options planned out. On such short notice, we were incredibly lucky to get a venue on our first try. David Chase from Google, who runs the space when Boston Go holds our meetups, helped us to get space and food at Google Cambridge for the workshop. I had also already recruited Mark Bates as well as two of my Boston Go co-organizers as mentors, and Eddie helped us get more great mentors from athenahealth.
To find attendees, we tweeted a ton about the event, but additionally, we reached out to diversity-focused tech groups we knew about or had contact with, and used our EventBrite ticket page to find out who needed special accommodations, as well as a Google Survey to figure out what people were most interested in hearing about at roundtables. This year, with much more time to get the event started, we are also planning on adding to our outreach by doing more networking, as well as holding preseason events like informal breakfasts. That way attendees and mentors can meet before the big event and we can really form a Boston GDCFP community. Unfortunately, we don’t have any analytics from last event on which parts of our outreach were the most effective, but in general, I think contacts with people who the organizing team already knew were the most effective, so if you’re organizing a workshop for 2019, keep on networking!
Finally, for getting the event going, we gathered material to write an intro packet for the event. We wrote up a schedule and description of the event, added the code of conduct, plus we gathered lists of conferences with open CFPs, local meetups, and public speaking resources (Anna opened a Twitter thread and loads of speakers shared more resources than we could fit on the packet!). You can see the Boston event’s final product here. One recommendation for writing an intro packet, though, you should look for a printing sponsor; to get the material printed for 25 attendees and 10 mentors, the price came to a hefty $140, even with the code of conduct printed separately so it could be in black and white!
At the event
On February 3rd, the workshop happened! As I mentioned before, a lot of the workshop we had roundtable discussions on each topic, which the Google space lent really well to, with lots of rooms and lounges to use as breakout spaces. Additionally we had presentations and used a couple of the videos that the official GDCFP website provided. The place where the freeform style really shined, in my opinion, was the Caring for your Audience discussion. While the original intent was talking about how to make your own talks welcoming to more people, there also was some cool discussion on ways to make conferences themselves more inclusive, like having quiet rooms for people to recharge, keeping exclusionary language and tropes out of conference swag, and reserving the front rows for people with disabilities to make it easier for them to enjoy the talks. The presentations were also highlights since people could hear about strategies to get proposals accepted, and about making your slides both easier to read and part of your personal brand.
The venue itself also was really conducive to a GDCFP-style workshop. In addition to spaces for discussion, there were single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms, elevators that people in wheelchairs could use, easy access to public transportation, and red badge clips for people who don’t want to be photographed. Additionally, although she couldn’t make it to the event, one attendee had a baby, and David even managed to help us get a babysitter!
One thing I think could’ve gone better with this workshop, though, was just having more time to throw together this event. The organizing team did an excellent job running this and we had a great space, but one thing that stood out was that we got a good number of non-engineer attendees, such as people working in product and even in history, so with more time to prepare, we could have recruited more mentors outside of engineering. Additionally, having more time to prepare the event would allow us to engage with attendees more beforehand and build more of a speaker community. However, overall I think the workshop was still great and provided a lot of useful knowledge on speaking (which I also used myself to get my first conference talk in at the end of October)!
Boston Family Photo
I hope that this all has gotten you interested in running a Global Diversity CFP Day event for 2019, or if you were planning on it, I hope it has given you some idea of what the work organizing looks like. If you have questions about organizing and running this event, I am happy to answer them, and you can send them to me in a tweet or a Twitter DM at @AndyHaskell2013.
Global Diversity CFP Day 2018
53 workshops 🌍
by Peter Aitken
Thursday 15th February 2018
On Friday the 2nd of February the clock was ticking ever closer to 11pm (GMT).
11pm, here in the UK, is 10am Saturday in Australia when the Sydney and Melbourne workshops started the first Global Diversity CFP Day!
It was an incredible feeling of anticipation and excitement that an event, more than a year in the planning, was so close to starting.
This anticipation also came with a very surreal feeling. Having spent a great deal of time organising a worldwide event, it is starting on the other side of the planet and I'm not there. Had all the planning been a dream? Was it really happening?
Then pictures started arriving.
Venue's were set up.
Then people, yes real people, were arriving having tea, coffee and breakfast!
Kris Howard opening Global Diversity CFP Day in Sydney, Australia.
Amanda Dean opening Global Diversity CFP Day in Melbourne, Australia.
A lump formed in my throat and a few tears too. IT REALLY IS HAPPENING!
Then the wave started
Then Perth, Australia
Then Mumbai, India
Then New Dehli, India
Then Kathmandu, Nepal
Then Sylhet, Bangladesh
Then Cape Town, South Africa
Then Accra, Ghana
Having never paid much attention to timezones as New Year is celebrated at different times around the world I was paying A LOT of attention to timezones now!
Sydney Family Photo
After a quick nap some workshops had already finished, while others kept opening in Brussel, Berlin, A Coruña, Santiago, then 8 more in the UK.
Then we travelled over the Atlantic with 17 workshops in the USA and São Paulo and Santiago ready to go too!
Where did all of this come from?
We thought "Wouldn't it be good to have one in London, there are lots of people there?" That'd be great. Everyone we asked for help said "Yes!".
Then Dublin, Sheffield and Berlin quickly joined in too!
These workshops had a HUGE impact on the diversity of the CFP applicants, the final speaking line-up and also the attendees. The full write-up can be found here.
If these workshops had such a great impact in encouraging people to participate and apply to speak why not share it with all tech communities everywhere?
And so began an 18 month journey in which everyone kept saying "Yes" to helping make this incredibly positive movement a reality!
What has happened since Global Diversity CFP Day?
Over a 1000 participants worldwide have already started applying to speak at conferences.
Currently three Brisbane workshop attendees have already spoken at meetups!
Thank you ALL!
Thank you to all the 200+ people who worked incredibly hard and gave up their free time to organise and mentor at workshops around the world. Everyone had a shared vision of supporting people from underrepresented and marginalized groups in tech 💛
Thank you to the many companies that sponsored workshops by providing venues, food and drinks 💛
Finally thank you to all of the 1000+ attendees that participated in Global Diversity CFP Day. We hope to have played a small part in you having the confidence to raise your voice and share your perspective on a tech conference stage soon and would love to hear more about your journey 💛
Hopefully we'll see you next time!
Senior Web Developer, BBC Education
Diversity CFP Workshop attendee
Monday 22nd January 2018
I had been to a couple of tech conferences and found them an inspiring and energising experience. I wanted to go to more and I knew speaking would be a way to get my employer to let me do so! Plus being a presenter would give people a reason to come up and start a conversation and save me from awkwardly hanging around by the biscuits at coffee time.
I quite fancied being up on the stage, I just didn’t know what I wanted to talk about or how to get started. So when I was thinking about asking if I could go to ScotlandJS and I saw the workshop advertised on their website I thought it would be a great idea to go along (not to mention it would give me a reason to get out of the house on a winter weekend).
I didn’t know what to expect, but the workshop was super relaxed and friendly. First I chatted with the mentors and other attendees then we watched a video about the applications process, which was really informative. It was great to get sage advice from people who have a lot of experience of both writing and sifting through conference submissions.
Then we got to discussing what we might like to talk about. This was the most useful part of the session for me. I had a vague idea that I might like to talk about accessibility as I’d been learning a lot about it lately and had been surprised to discover that I had soon become the team expert on it at work. Clearly there was a big knowledge gap in the industry and I thought I could help to fill it. However, I’d got it into my head that since there had been a session on accessibility at the previous year’s conference then nobody would want to hear about it again this year.
The workshop facilitator soon banished that self-doubt. He pointed out that most of the people at the conference would not have been the previous year, and the topic is so big that I was very unlikely to come up with exactly the same idea for a twenty minute talk. The mentors assured me that they all felt they needed to know more about it and gave some ideas on particular aspects they were curious about.
I was also worried that I wasn’t really an expert in the subject, just somebody with a bit more knowledge than her peers. Again, the mentors set this fear to rest with the sage advice that often a beginner in a subject is much better at communicating it to other novices than an expert who assumes too much prior knowledge from the audience.
Buoyed up by the enthusiasm people at the workshop had shown for my talk and armed with all the great advice about how to ace the conference submissions process, I wrote up my proposal and applied to speak at ScotlandJS. When I got accepted of course I was absolutely thrilled! People had voted for my talk! Then I was a little terrified: now I had to write it. Thankfully I’d also had loads of great advice about preparing to speak at a conference.
When the day came, I was pretty nervous. I had presented informal talks at work and to small meetup groups where I knew everyone, but standing up in front of 300 people was a different matter entirely. However, I knew I was well prepared for many different eventualities. I had even recorded videos of all my demos to avoid the curse of live coding, and included the screen reader subtitles in case I had any issues with audio playback.
As it turned out, this came in handy! I’d be lying if I said my first conference talk went perfectly. There were plenty of things I wanted to do better next time and one or two carefully rehearsed things that I entirely forgot to say. But the main thing was, I wanted there to be a next time!
I had great fun at the conference, I amazed myself by actually getting on stage in front of 300 people and afterwards my confidence soared. If I could do that, what else could I do? And yes, I did get chatting to people instead of pretending to be really fascinated by the snacks, and found out that a lot of people learned something useful from my talk, which felt fantastic.
Backend software developer
Diversity CFP Workshop attendee
Monday 15th January 2018
Ever since I first started attending technical conferences I had the goal of (eventually) becoming a conference speaker. It seemed to be something I would like to do, researching a topic in depth and then presenting it - what an awesome learning opportunity!
I found out about this wonderful website full of resources and encouragement for turning yourself into a speaker, that helped me decide this was really something achievable for me (and for everyone, really, because “We Are All Awesome”).
It took me some time to get started. Well, there is the small matter of public speaking being something I stress inducing for me (still today), and that I feel uncomfortable doing. I am by no means a natural at this!
A turning point for me was hearing about the ScotlandCSS + ScotlandJS Diversity CFP workshop, organized in 2016 in several different locations. I immediately jumped and enrolled in it, as something like this was just the incentive that I needed, and it came just at the right time.
I attended the Berlin workshop. At first, I was not sure what to expect. Maybe some presentations on how to be an effective conference speaker, which we started with - and these were really informative, addressing all my concerns on anxiety in public speaking. But what really made the difference was the encouragement that I got, and above all the practical help in getting together an abstract, first starting with a general template with the whole structure and then assembling the pieces in a coherent text.
I already had some ideas that I could work with, but somehow translating them into a coherent abstract that made the topic seem interesting seemed to be hard to achieve. Having a background both in computer science and psychology, I wanted to speak about topics that bring together both areas of knowledge. And I picked the topic of cognitive bias in software programming.
And so it happened that at the end of the workshop I had an almost complete abstract for a conference talk! Which is something I had never expected to have at the end of the day!!!
A week or two after this, I decided to submit the resulting abstract to ScotlandJS, as the breadth of topics covered by them is wide - and in the end was accepted, so it feels like going full circle.
Even today I still refer to my notes from this workshop, and still use the methodology I learned there to put together an abstract. What I learned there has given me the push I needed to meet the goal of being a conference speaker, and for this I will be always grateful to all the organizers!