Getting Started In Public Speaking: Global Diversity CFP Day

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Rachel Andrew is a web developer, writer and speaker. She is the author of a number of books, including The New CSS Layout. She is one of the people behind the … More about Rachel ↬

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The recent Global Diversity CFP Day aimed to help more people submit their ideas to conferences and get into public speaking. To help encourage people to write and submit to CFPs, Global Diversity CFP Day aims to help underrepresented people submit proposals to speak at conferences. In this article, Rachel Andrew rounds up some of the best takeaways along with other useful resources for new speakers.

A CFP, or Call For Proposals (sometimes also known as a Call For Papers), is a request for speakers to send their proposed talk ideas to a conference. The conference will review the proposals and decide who to ask to speak. Popular conferences can receive hundreds of proposals for a handful of speaking slots, therefore creating a great proposal is an important skill to learn as a speaker. To help encourage people to write and submit to CFPs, Global Diversity CFP Day aims to help underrepresented people submit proposals to speak at conferences. The events are based on successful workshops held by ScotlandCSS and ScotlandJS in advance of their 2016 conference; it is amazing to see how far the idea has spread.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to mentor at the workshop in Bristol, UK. Like the other events worldwide, a small group of mentors worked with a group of people who were keen to speak at conferences. Some of the attendees hadn’t presented at all; others had some experience of presenting to colleagues or at meetups but were wanting to take the next step and submit to larger conferences.

A group photo of attendees and mentors
The Bristol attendees and mentors — photo from organizer Jaycee Cheong on Twitter

As a mentor, I felt that the day was nicely structured; there were videos which were shown at all of the events and activities based around coming up with ideas, writing the abstract, and also writing the all-important biography. Some events had brought in a photographer to take headshots, which was a great idea. Most events had mentors who were experienced speakers, or conference organizers, who could give practical advice based on their own experiences.

“This was such a great initiative to be involved with. As a woman in tech, when I began speaking I really struggled to know if it was OK for someone like me to be on the stage. To meet the voices of the future and be able to give them a little bit of reassurance taking their first steps was amazing!”

— Lorna Mitchell, organizer of the Leeds event

Thinking About Inclusivity

“Good sessions at #gdcfpday on caring for your audience: inclusive language and content warnings. Great to be thinking about diversity in the audience as well as the speakers”

Fiona Tweedie

The diversity part of Global Diversity CFP Day was not just about the diversity of the workshop participants; the theme was carried through into suggestions for proposal and talk content. One of the activities involved looking at inclusive and exclusive terminology we might use in our talks. I confessed to having had some success at removing my use of “guys” when talking about mixed groups, but that I still found myself using ableist language — such as “crazy.” In our group, we talked about how this is an ongoing process, changing the language you have used for 40 years is hard! However, I keep trying to do so and being aware of any potentially exclusive behavior, and terminology is the first step. We also tried to come up with words or phrases that can be used as a replacement for the exclusive words.

Sticky notes on a table
Notes from the inclusive language session at Bristol

We also talked about non-obvious exclusive behavior. One example would be making the assumption that everyone in the room was a Star Wars geek and basing a talk around Star Wars. This would mean that all of the analogies were obscure to someone who hadn’t seen the film and could make them feel not part of the community because everyone else is laughing and enjoying the talk.

Reports From Around The Globe

Group photo of attendees
NY event attendees, see the Twitter Moment for more from this event

With 53 workshops happening worldwide, those in Australia had come to an end before I headed out to our event in Bristol, and people were still taking part on the West Coast of the USA as I was thinking about heading to bed. There were plenty of tweets and write-ups from those events. Jo Franchetti was a mentor in London, and wrote about her experiences:

“As a mentor, I was endlessly impressed by the topics that the attendees presented and their personal journeys to this point in their tech careers. They each had a unique and fascinating view into their own area of expertise and suggested talk ideas that had me eager to hear more. These weren’t people who needed help writing a CFP; they just needed the encouragement and confidence boost to get their CFPs out of their heads and into application forms.”

— Jo Franchetti, London event

Katie K was involved with the event in Seattle, USA, and wrote a blog post answering some of the questions that were asked at her event. I liked this suggestion to speak at meetups.

“… meetup organizers need to have a few talks each and every month of the year, so they are very likely to accept your talk. You can get very helpful feedback from attendees (What did they take away from the talk? What was confusing?) after giving a meetup talk.”

— Katie K, Seattle event

Ida Aalen was a mentor in Berlin and has also published a blog post with some tips, including advice from Florian Gilcher, who shared the criteria used at their conference when assessing proposals. I loved this advice on what to do if you forget what you were going to say next. It is completely true that you are likely to be the only person who notices. Take a pause, perhaps grab a drink of water and move on.

“If you forget what you were going to say, just take a pause, and move on to the next part that you do remember. Most people won’t notice that the transition was a little weird, and if they do notice, they will probably think that it was because they themselves weren’t paying attention!”

— Ida Aalen, Berlin event

Several members of the IBM Developer Advocates team were at events, and have published a blog post about their experiences.

“One of my favorite takeaways from the event was the reassurance that beginners — who make up a decent percentage of conference attendees — love talks from people not much more experienced than they are. A speaker who’s closer in experience level to their audience is often in a better position to explain concepts in a comprehensible way than someone more experienced might be.”

— Teri Chadbourne, Boston event

There were plenty of tweets throughout the day from attendees on the #gdcfpday hashtag. Many people used the hashtag to post their own tips and tricks, or link to ongoing CFPs too.

“Came up with a great title and abstract for a conference talk thanks to #gdcfpday Such an inspiring event, learned heaps and met super interesting people.”

— Karen Geerts
“Fantastic way to kick off the weekend with #gdcfpday Melbourne — interesting and passionate bunch of people, there's gonna be some great new talks coming soon”

Michele Playfair

The day has already proved successful for at least one speaker, with Jennifer Shehane accepted to speak at We RISE Tech Conference in Atlanta. In addition, some locations are planning more regular meetups to help new speakers, such as the SF Tech Talk Diversity Meetup.


I’ve rounded up as many public speaking resources as I could find, including those shared by other groups taking part in Global Diversity CFP Day. Add to the comments any additional resources that you know of.

Videos Shown During The Global Diversity CFP Day Events

These videos are a great place to start if you want to learn the things that our workshop attendees discovered.

  • CFP Advice,” Raquel Vélez and Sarah Mei, ScotlandJS
    Advice on putting together your first tech conference proposal.
  • Crafting Your Biography,” Danielle Barnes, ScotlandJS
  • Your Perfect Tech Talk,” Saron Yitbarek, Codeland Conference In this video, Saron Yitbarek presents strategies and techniques for giving a great tech talk. She also answers questions on the subject submitted by our live chat audience.
  • The Art of Slide Design,” Melinda Seckington
    The choices you make in your slide design directly influences what impact your story has on your audience. Melinda Seckington shares some advice.
  • Intro to Public Speaking: The day of your talk,” Jessica Rose, Global Diversity CFP
    In this video, Jessica Rose walks you through what you can expect on the day of your talk.

In addition, the DC event recorded a talk and panel from their workshop.

Writing A CFP And Coming Up With Good Ideas

At the Global Diversity CFP Day workshops, we helped attendees shape an idea and begin the process of writing the abstract they would submit. I’ve collected some additional resources to help speakers create a submission that will get noticed.

Where To Find Conferences And Meetups To Submit To

If there are conferences you really would like to speak at, follow them on Twitter or see if they have a newsletter signup. They will be sure to advertise their CfP. Some good places to look for upcoming calls are:

Remember that local meetups often won’t advertise they are looking for speakers, but pretty much every tech meetup is always looking for speakers. You’ll be doing them a favor if you propose a talk. Go along to your local events, and have a chat with the organizer afterwards or send them an email about your talk idea.

Writing Presentations

Every presenter has their own method. If you are new to writing talks then try different approaches, you will find what works for you.

Designing Slides

I am not a designer; I also tend to write talks that are heavy on code examples. I am t make my slides clear and readable, and I’ve learned to worry less about making them beautiful as time has gone on. My top tip is to come up with a slide theme, with a few different slide options, and then use it. It’s possible to burn up a huge amount of time better spent rehearsing your material, messing about with slides!

Public Speaking Advice

There is plenty of advice out there, read it, find the things that work for you and don’t be afraid to discard the things that don’t.

  • You Should Speak,” Emily Dunham, LinuxConfAu 2018
    A video of a talk by Emily Dunham given at LinuxConfAU 2018 demystifying the process of writing a talk and submitting it to the right calls for papers.
  • Leading by Speaking,” Lara Hogan, The Lead Developer UK 2017
    A video of a talk by Lara Hogan who walks through the spectrum of public speaking fears provides tips on how to feel more confident and equipped to step into the spotlight.
  • Public Speaking For The (Formerly) Terrified,” Rachel Andrew
    I speak at well over 30 events a year, but I used to say I could never be a public speaker. In this post from 2012, I explain how I made the change.
  • On Collecting No’s,” Katie McLaughlin
    Advice from Katie McLaughlin for when your talk isn’t accepted.
  • “Why I Speak,” Tiffani Jones Brown, Ladies in Tech
    Tiffani Jones Brown explains what she gets out of public speaking.
  • Demystifying Public Speaking,” Lara Hogan, A List Apart
    An excerpt from Chapter One of Lara Hogan’s book. Here Lara addresses being nervous, and what to do about it.
  • Speaker Notes,” Rebecca Murphey, Medium
    Advice from experienced tech speaker Rebecca Murphey.
  • Public Speaking Resources
    Another collection of helpful resources.
    A speaking resource site from Zach Holman.

Payment And Expenses

When you first start out, you may find yourself speaking at local meetups, or for community events that have little budget. However, if a conference is expecting you to travel, or you need to stay in a hotel there should be a budget to cover those costs. Always ask! It is sadly common for events to have a budget for these things but to only mention it when speakers ask, this puts new speakers at a disadvantage as they may not realize they should be having their costs covered.

Many events to pay or offer some kind of honorarium to speakers, my personal rule is that if the event is making money, they should be paying speakers. I try and do community events where possible, often by offering to go along and speak at a local meetup when I’m in a location for another event.


I have read and would recommend all of these books on speaking.

Over To You!

If speaking at a conference or event is something you would love to do, make a start today. It’s a great time of year for conference proposals with events looking to fill their speaker lineups for the rest of 2018. I hope that Global Diversity CFP Day runs again next year. It would be especially wonderful to see some of the attendees come back as mentors — to share what happened when their proposals were accepted, and they presented for the first time.

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (il, mrn)