I’m not a big believer in granular (New Year’s) resolutions. Instead, similar to the approach I follow in product development, I like to follow overall themes to pursue.
While I have been writing personal reviews for the past couple of years already, I never set up those themes for the year ahead publicly. This changed for 2017 and I tweeted out my three themes for the 12 months to come:
👪 Further work on family quality time
🎤 Getting (back) into public speaking
💪 Maximize outcome of swim/bike/run workouts
— Tim Herbig (@herbigt) 31. Dezember 2016
I saw public speaking as a professional development measure for me and not just a shiny addition to my portfolio.
So, let’s take a look at how I approached this public speaking thing (the other topics are not relevant to this blog) and what I learned from it.
Coming up with a topic and picking submissions
As I lacked the track record for public speaking like, let’s say, Jeff Gothelf or Des Traynor, have, it was clear from the beginning that speaking opportunities wouldn’t just arrive at my desk just because I defined it as a professional priority for me in 2017. Instead, I knew that I had to work hard to earn my spots on (at least three) stages.
When you’re not carrying a big company brand (like, e.g., Netflix or Facebook) or are a well-known celebrity in the product world, you have to be prepared to convince organizers to accept your submission with your topic, not just your name.
This is why I started tackling this challenge with defining a topic I would feel comfortable speaking about and for which I had the track record to at least make it sound like I knew what I was doing.
Here are some of the criteria I established as guiding principle for defining a topic:
- I wanted to provide hands-on guidance, not high-level thinking to start out with (love to do that in the future)
- I had to be passionate about the topic I wanted to speak about
- I had to have solved a challenge applying this guidance within the last 12 Months myself
- I wouldn’t be able to find a talk or blog post to close to what I wanted to talk about
- I didn’t just want to repeat existing messages
Whether I was able to stay true to those criteria is more up to the conference organizers, attendees and ultimately you. So, here’s the final headline (and ultimately whole talk) I ended up defining:
I sparred the headline with product people close to me to fine tune it. The next step was to write a short excerpt of the overall content. This was particularly difficult as I wanted to keep the whole effort as lean as possible until the first confirmed opportunity. Meaning: I simply didn’t talk. But it was a helpful guideline for working on the actual slides later on.
Next up, it was about submitting my proposal to the conferences. The events section in this very blog was a good starting point to visit some call for speakers section.
The idea was to stay in Europe definitely and to start out with a smaller conference (ideally within my neighborhood) for practicing my skills first before eventually making it onto bigger stages. I submitted proposals for Working Products 2017 in Hamburg, La Product Conf 2017 in Paris, Productized 2017 in Lisbon and Product Management Festival 2017 in Zurich.
While a lot of approval processes take some time, I ended up with three incredible speaking opportunities across Europe and tons of positive feedback from the attendees and on Social Media.
Iterating the Talk
As I mentioned, the idea was to start out with a set of slides for my first engagements and see what would be necessary to let the talk evolve for improving it even further.
After delivering my first talk at Working Product 2017, I was pleasantly surprised how well the slides already worked out for the message I delivered. So, I only wanted to rework my off-slide commenting and dictionary on using.
In hindsight, I should have added a small practice session (at a local meetup or something) between my appearances at Working Products and Productized. I noticed how confident I felt before talking at PMF due to the short break between my appearances in Lisbon and Zurich. While I felt like giving this talk for the first time before speaking at Productized.
Summarized Advice for getting into public speaking
- Settle on a practical hands-on topic instead of lofty meta messages. Especially if you don’t have a proven track record yet. This will attract way more audiences and might even be able to outperform ‘big name’ talks.
- Don’t work out the talk until you have one confirmed engagement. Work with the headline until then.
- Don’t carry a speaking theme for more than one year aka one speaking season…
- …but make the most of that period during which the content is still fresh. Use it on multiple occasions, slice it into blog posts or podcasts and try to get your hands on the video recordings as early as possible.
- Be clear about why you want to get into it. Otherwise, you’ll at some point start to doubt the necessary effort.
- Try not to have a gap longer than four weeks between talks to carry over a confident attitude. If your gap becomes more substantial, try to fill it with dry runs in front of colleagues or speaking a local meetup.
- Build up your gigs gradually. You probably won’t be able to deliver an excellent speaking performance (in a foreign language) on a big stage right from the get-go.