Conference speakers, come out of your towers

I'm not a great speaker. Heck, out of the hundred or so that I've seen since I started speaking at conferences I'm not sure I would even rate myself in the top 80. But I have noticed a few things that speakers could do to improve the conference experience for both attendees and speakers. After all, conferences are (well, they should be) about the attendees, not the speakers.

Most speakers do a pretty good job of interacting with attendees that come up and talk to the after their session, or in the hallway track later. But that's about all of the interaction the general public gets.

That's not enough.

Many speakers are friends. They may be friends that only hang out with each other at conferences, but they look forward to seeing each other. They may have not seen each other since the previous conference, so they understandably want to catch up. So they sit together at meals, they group together in other sessions, and disappear into the speakers' lounge to talk privately.

That robs attendees of the chance to get access to you. The speakers' dinner, which most conferences have, is your chance to catch up. The rest of the time, speakers should work to make themselves available to attendees.

I pick random tables at lunch to sit at. The conversations are almost always as interesting as the ones going on at the speakers' tables (if not more so), but with new people.


  1. As a regular on the speaker circuit for 5 years now, I can attest that we speakers DO tend to do this. But I just want to remind those who aren't speakers WHY this happens. It's not because we're in some "ivory tower" or that we don't want to mix with the common folk. It's because most of us suffer from a bit (or a lot!) of "impostor syndrome", mixed in with some paradoxical shyness or introversion. Some of us became public speakers purely because we're not so great at socializing in public.

    This is why you observe that speakers are great when they're approached. We mostly like to be approached, but we can be terrified to approach others. Sometimes we're paranoid like "did they like what I said" and other times it's more subtle, like "I don't want to be over-bearing with my ideas, I already gave a whole talk".

    We *do* need to be better at it. But I just wanted to provide some color as to why we aren't so good at it. I don't find that it's usually exclusivity that drives these things, but social nerves.

    Well, I guess I really should only be "speaking" for myself. My impostor syndrome is kicking in now, and I have no idea if any other speakers would agree with my sentiments. :)

    1. You're absolutely right on most points. But I would like to point out that the fact that you have impostor syndrome (as most speakers I've talked to do) is something that helps attendees decide to start speaking at conferences. They want to know that it's normal to feel that way.

      Years ago I emailed a coworker from another office that was speaking at Zendcon. I asked if he wanted to meet up while he was in town. He invited me out with all of the speakers, where I learned that they weren't particularly "special" compared to me. They were just willing to get over their impostor syndrome and shyness to speak at conferences. Had that particular speaker not introduced me to the speakers, I probably never would have started speaking myself.

      And (more in reference to Twitter than to your comment) I'm not implying that people that have serious anxiety issues should *have* to interact with the public or they shouldn't be allowed to speak.