Martini Lab A blog by Chris Williams

You should speak at a conference!

April 3rd 2017 by

I have some thoughts recently about speakers, and who I want to speak at Front Porch Conference.

You should definitely speak at a conference. You might think that you are not qualified to get up in front of a bunch of your peers and present to them, but you totally are. It’s a misconception that you have to be a “super-elite-expert-career-presenter-twitter-celeb” in order to speak at a conference. It’s simply not true.

Full disclosure, I co-run the Front Porch Conference. The presenters at my conference have varying experience in public speaking. Some of them speak at multiple conferences every year. These folks are experts at this. They are really engaging, they have all the right gif reaction slides, their material is perfect. They are great to have speak. Then there are folks who have never presented before. They are nervous, their slides aren’t as “polished” as others, and they don’t always look at the audience that much because of nerves. But these people are also great!

At Front Porch, we’ve had a several presenters who have never spoken before. But I found their talks to be some of the best parts of the conference. They had a bunch of takeaways from their slides. They had code examples and a couple of demos for context, and the audience was busy trying to take notes and get it all on paper. They ate it up!

Speaking at a conference isn’t just about having a perfect presentation. It’s about bringing something useful to the audience. It can be a case study, a breakdown of some hot new framework, or just explaining the hard parts of our job that we aren’t very good at. Chances are that the project you are working on involves some tech that would make a great presentation.

So present it!

All that said, I thought I would share what I look for when I put out a CFP. Other organizers may be different, but that’s their conference, not mine.

1. Does the subject of the talk add value?

This isn’t too hard to answer. Front-end development is a never ending landscape of knowledge, and there is always something new to learn. It doesn’t have to be something new per se, but it should at least be something that the audience can learn from.

For example, if you have a talk on jQuery, that may not be a good fit because most developers already have knowledge of jQuery. But if your talk is about how jQuery brings robust functionality through unconventional techniques that we can use in our own code (like variable length arguments), that may be something new that the audience probably never thought about.

2. Is the subject matter a good fit with the other talks?

Okay, you are not mind reader so you won’t be able to guess the line up of other talks. But if the conference is listed on Lanyrd or other event sites, check out what kind of talks happened from past events. Can you see your talk being a part of that line up?

3. Can I understand your pitch from the title?

This is often not the case. Many proposals don’t have a good title for their talk. If I can’t understand the subject of the talk from its title, the audience won’t either.

4. Has this talk been done before?

Conferences are looking to bring unique content to their event. They want to stand out from other conferences. If your talk has been done at a bunch of other conferences, and anyone can pull it up on YouTube, you’re not bringing much value.1 This can be a challenge, because it’s easy to have a talk that has been done before. Topics like web performance, MVVM, responsive images are really important, so naturally there will be a lot of folks who want to talk about them.

The good news is that our technology is always shifting and updating. The technology in your talk will continue to update itself over several months just by the nature of our industry. So think about how your talk is unique and relevant to today.

5. Are you respectful?

Let’s talk about the things that keeps me up at night planning a conference. Will I sell enough tickets to break even? Do I have all my fees covered? What if something bad happens? Is my event safe? All that stuff and more. Even after the event, it rolls around in my head. The last thing I ever need to worry about is if the presenters are professional.

When I have a venue full of my peers who paid good money to attend, every one of them deserves to feel like they belong. So I make sure every presenter agrees to adhere to our Code of Conduct, our volunteer staff are trained to respond to situations, and our audience is told about the CoC as well.

Front Porch is proud of the diverse audience we’ve hosted, and every one of them deserves to be a part of our community. Especially you.

So that’s it. We just concluded our CFP this year and got a bunch of proposals from folks eager to be a part of this event. Again, many haven’t even presented before, but you can see their passion from what they pitched. I hope that anyone who ever thought they would like to be a part of a conference would absolutely do so. It’s okay to be new at this, it’s okay to get nervous in front on an audience too. There are resources and mentors to help you get ready for the big day.

One more thing.

Check out Ethan Marcotte’s post on speaking and what to expect from conferences, and Ken Tabor’s advice for proposals. Both are good resources for folks interested in speaking.


  1. This is much different for speakers who plan out their year based on one talk. It would be ridiculous to expect these speakers to have a unique presentation for each conference.