What is community? A quick look at the Wikipedia defines community as “a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment” and I think that pretty much nails it. In this column, I talk about the developer community as a whole and highlight some people, organizations and events I think you should check out.

This month is a continuation in spirit of my previous column on Code Camps. This time, I’m talking about the other side of the coin (it’s one of those special three sided coins really, but I figure you don’t need me to tell you how to attend a Code Camp). I’m talking about speaking at Code Camps and other community events like user groups, conferences, etc.

How Do I Become a Speaker?

There are many ways to get involved in speaking at tech events. If you have a specific topic that interests you and you have knowledge you want to share, then you’re already halfway there.

Start by attending a few events in your area. Talk to the user group leaders and Code Camp organizers and see what they are looking for. If you’re new to speaking, you can often get paired up with a more experienced speaker to help get your feet wet.

If your end goal is speaking at a big show like Tech Ed, DevConnections or HDC, it’s crucial to have a credible list of speaking engagements at smaller events first. It’s not enough to just know your topic. You have to know how to talk to a crowd… more on that in a bit.

In addition to pounding the pavement (or burning up your inbox) looking for speaking gigs, there is another way to get matched up with people looking for speakers. The INETA Community Speakers Program offers a free service for event organizers to find speakers in their area.

How does it Work?

As a speaker, all you have to do is visit the INETA website (www.INETA.org) and go to the Community Speakers section. There is a short form for your location, contact info and the topics you are interested in speaking about. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Event organizers can hit the site and search for speakers either by specific topic or all topics. Speakers in the same region are listed first and then speakers from farther away are listed.

Organizers (actually anyone) can view the profile of a prospective speaker and if it looks like a good match for their event, they can go ahead and make a request.

At this point, the speaker is notified of a pending speaker request and has the option to accept or decline. Once the event is scheduled, the speaker shows up and does his or her talk and the event organizer provides feedback after the event.

If the speaker was outside of the local community, INETA even sends a little gas money to the speaker as a thank you for the extra time and money they spent helping the community.

Wait, Anyone Can Do This?

Yep. INETA isn’t in the business of deciding who should (or shouldn’t be) a community speaker. Their charter is to help the developer community and this is one of the ways they do that.

Part of the process involves feedback from the event organizer. It’s subjective and not perfect, but it’s about as simple as it can get.

You get a “thumbs up” if the organizer felt your session went well and you get a “thumbs down” if it didn’t. Optionally, the organizer can leave a comment as well. Everybody has the occasional bad night, so one or two bad marks aren’t going to kill your career as a speaker, but consistently receiving them might be an indication that public speaking isn’t for you.

On the other hand, speakers who consistently do well will bubble to the top and get more requests.

I Just Show Up and Talk, Right?

No. Regardless of how well you know your subject, practice is important. If you’ve never given a talk before then try and find someone to sit through a dry run.

Time yourself. Try and leave room for questions. Figure out what you will say when someone asks you a question you can’t answer (either because you don’t know or because you do know but the answer is under NDA.)

Also remember, humor is subjective. I’ve seen some really good speakers completely fail to deliver their intended message because they offended some (or all) of the crowd with inappropriate or ill-timed humor.

You Mentioned Money…

Yes, this is an important subject and one that can be easily misunderstood. INETA does not pay speakers to go to events. There is no honorarium, no expense report, no airfare or hotel arrangements. For those of you familiar with the INETA Speakers Bureau of years past, that’s gone.

This is how it works currently:

  • INETA will help you find events in your local area by offering organizers a way to find and select you.
  • If you travel between 121 - 240 miles round trip, INETA will send you a check for $50. Call it gas money, a nice dinner, whatever… it’s your money to use however you like.
  • If you travel between 241 - 360 miles round trip (effectively 2-3 hours each way) you will get a check for $100.
  • If you travel more than 360 miles round trip, you get a check for $200.

Obviously there is nothing stopping you from traveling as far as you like, but the system caps at $200. This is deliberate. The point of the Community Speakers Program is to foster growth in the developer community at the local level.

There are some finer points around this system, such as organizing a multi-stop speaking tour, or visiting a group while traveling on other business, etc., that would be handled on a case-by-case basis, but you get the idea.

Nobody Does Events Near Me

You can still be a speaker. It just means you may have to drive a little further.

Alternatively, if there are no events in your area, it may be time to consider starting one of your own. It’s not as hard as you might think, and before long you’ll have speakers asking to come to YOUR event.

Check out previous editions of this column for tips on starting a user group or Code Camp in your area.

That’s it for this month. Got an event coming up? Drop me a line and tell me all about it.