Being a keynote speaker


I wasn’t born a good speaker. I didn’t even start public speaking until very late. And the beginning was rough.

My first attempts at public speaking were very scary experiences. I literally couldn’t speak for the first 5 minutes. Luckily, Maria had a trick upon her sleeve:  she would pair speak with me and always go first. This way, my panic vanished and I could start babbling something on the stage.

Fortunately, after a lot of public speaking in communities and at conferences, I got over my stage fright. I think the turning moment was Agile Lean Europe Bucharest, in 2013. I pushed myself towards doing all the public speaking I could: a normal talk, taking over a cancelled speaker’s session and a lightning talk. After this experience, public speaking doesn’t scary me any more.

It was time for me to face the next challenge: being a keynote speaker.

As part of a team that organizes conferences, I know how important the keynote can be.

Part of it is drawing more people to the event – although this is less the case in technical conferences than in showbiz or sports. Developers rarely have “stars” and “fans” – except maybe 4 people in the world.

But keynotes are very important. It’s a well-known psychological fact that people tend to remember mostly the beginning and the end of an event. Therefore, opening keynotes set the mood and the stage for the event, while closing keynotes largely decide how events will be remembered.  Of course, the content of the conference matters immensely – but good keynotes can enhance everyone’s experience, from speakers to participants and even organizers.

My first keynote experience was last year at I TAKE Unconference. It was a tough challenge. Since I’m part of the organizing team, it was very important to me to prove that I was picked based on merit. I believe that as a 40 years old programmer, I have a lot of interesting things to share about software design. But how do you pick 45′ of content from everything you know about such a vast topic? It took me weeks of work and three whiteboards to carefully pick the most interesting and useful ideas.

And I did it!

It was a good run, and I was ready for more. So when Java Day Istanbul offered me the opportunity to be a keynote, I was ready.

Since I became interesting as a keynote speaker, I started thinking what I can bring to events.  I’m definitely not one of the few people who can bring audiences just because of my presence. I have my fans, but their numbers are small. However, I can promote events on social media and that might help the organizers.

I can help however with setting the mood of the event. The reason is that I have years of practice in community events, coderetreats, and coaching. I’ve learned how to involve the audience (you can see one in the video above). I’ve learned how to frame problems so that people really listen to them. I can make people laugh. I can direct their minds to thoughtfulness. And I can talk about a long list of topics (check my eventrix profile for details).

Needless to say, I trust myself as a keynote. Not because I was born one, but because I practised and worked really hard to get here.

And so should you, if you’re an event organizer :). But to make things clear, I decided to clarify what I will do for events who invite me as keynote. I adeptly named it …

Alex’s commitments to conferences where he’s keynote

I commit to the following when you invite me to speak at your conference:

  1. I will discuss with you to understand the event profile & your specific needs
  2. If needed and if time allows, I will prepare a special talk or version of the talk better suited for your event. You can check my eventrix portfolio for details.
  3. I will promote your event through social media and my blog
  4. I will be prepared for technical issues as much as possible (i.e. I’ll have a backup for slides, I’ll check the sound and lights before the talk etc.)
  5. I will be as low maintenance as possible while I’m at the event (I know from experience the organizers have many things to do during a conference, and under normal conditions I don’t need much attention anyway)

In exchange, I expect:

  1. Full coverage for travel and accommodation. I will not ask for a speaking fee, but I won’t refuse one if you have the budget 🙂
  2. Opportunities to meet and discuss with the community, with the organizers and with the other speakers
  3. Professional behaviour and support from the organizers.

What do you think? Would you be interested in having me as a keynote? 🙂

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