Speakers, Take Care of Yourselves

By Raquel Vélez

From my experience, “conference season” seems to come twice a year: spring and fall (or fall and spring, if you’re in the southern hemisphere). It’s the perfect time of year to have a conference: the weather is generally the best it’s going to be (not too hot, not too cold), there aren’t too many major holidays, and flights and hotels are at the best prices of the year. Perfect!

As a member of the JavaScript community, I have seen the larger, global conferences give way to smaller, local conferences. As a result, especially during conference season, you’ve got these great little conferences happening all over the world, all at the same time.

Case in point: In September and October of 2013, the JS community will be seeing these JS-specific and related conferences: NodeConf EU, JSConf EU, LxJS, JingJS, JSConf Colombia, BlendConf, Web Directions South, and RuPy. Add in a slew of meetups, and if you really made an effort, you could hypothetically be giving a talk every few days for two straight months.

During the first conference season of 2013, I spoke at four events (Converge SE, JSConf US, jQuery Conference, and NodeConf US), three of which were within six weeks of each other. Let me be clear: They were incredible, and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to share the stage with many of my idols. A couple of those conferences were truly life-changing, and I learned how much I love speaking.

But let me also point out: They were exhausting. If I had to do it over again, I would have said no to at least one, maybe two. The decision would not have been an easy one, but it would have been a necessary one — it’s simply far too draining to do all of the conferences. In fact, after NodeConf, I had to take a week off from work so that I could recuperate after finally catching the “conf cold” — that ugly bug spread through hundreds of people from all over the world sharing the same oxygen.

So, now I have decisions to make. The second conference season is approaching. I’ve been invited to more conferences than I ever imagined I would be. Unless human cloning is perfected in the next two months, I can only be in one place at one time. Add to that the fact that I have a family I adore as well as a job that allows me to apply the things I learn and build things that I can share at future conferences, and I simply cannot go to every conference to which I’ve been invited.

I am still working on the art of saying “no.” As I mentioned already, it’s a true honor to be selected to speak on stage, and there are just so many cool conferences out there. But I have to be honest with myself. Fortunately, with the assistance of my family, I have come up with the following general guidelines (none of which are set in stone, of course, but serve as a general primer for decision-making):

  • Only one conference a month, if that
  • No consecutive trips that involve more than three hours of flying in one direction
  • Prioritize countries to which I haven’t yet been
  • More leeway given to repeat-talks; brand new talks need more preparation time and thus need to be spaced out more
  • Focus on conferences where my talk will have more of an impact on either my career or the community as a whole (this doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest conferences get higher priority)

I’d like to note that only you, the speaker, can fully determine how much is too much for you. I have friends who use speaking at conferences as their primary means for recruiting talent or clients — as such, they spend more time on the road instead of paying third parties to do it for them. I also have friends who are evangelists; speaking is actually their job. And then there are the friends who speak at maybe a conference or two a year, because they are in management and being away from the office will actually hurt their teams from building better products. Or they find that they need more time alone or with their families. Whatever your situation, make sure that your speaking schedule fits it. I also have a couple of friends who started their careers speaking at all the conferences, and have gotten so burned out that they don’t want to speak ever again, even though they are some of the best speakers out there.

Take care of yourselves, speakers. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting invitations or applying to every conference under the sun; be aware of what you need. Whether you’re a seasoned vet or are preparing for your first talk at your local meetup, your ability to speak well and have a great impact are directly proportional to your health and sanity.

3 thoughts on “Speakers, Take Care of Yourselves

  1. Jenn Lukas

    Great advice on a tricky topic! It’s so great to be in a field that we love. That we can make hobbies out of and speak about, but then the problem becomes the time! Never enough time! I’d love to know the best way to politely decline invitations if faced with any of the situations above or if you already have an engagement.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Rachel Nabors on How Speaking Can Help and Hurt Your Business | Ladies in Tech

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