The Year of Being Visible

Jeero vs. Danbo Setup
Credit: Flickr / JD Hancock

When I decided it was time to leave my corporate tech job, I made an 18 month plan. One key item on it: speaking at conferences.

I prepped one talk (building it off some of my more popular blog posts), and submitted it to a number of places, hoping it would be accepted at one of them. Actually it was accepted everywhere I submitted it, and I got invited to give it as well.

Honestly, it was shockingly easy. Way easier than I expected it to be. Terrifying. But I survived. Even thrived.

But here’s something it wasn’t: cheap. I had pretty low expectations for myself and wasn’t sure of my value, so I submitted to places that didn’t cover travel costs and had to pay them myself. Because the company I worked for wasn’t generally supportive of giving external talks (other than Token Women talks), I took vacation days. I also got speaker coaching, which I used to improve my narrative and my confidence.

I thought this would be the kind of thing that would be interesting to track, so made a spreadsheet. As a result, I have a total cost of what I called “The Year of Being Visible”. This is travel and hotels not covered by conferences, speaker coaching, and extra haircuts.

Here it is: GBP 2528.14. USD 3767 at the current exchange rate.

What is not included: vacation days taken. Food (I figured I was going to be eating anyway). Some flights (twice I was able to get part way there on flights covered by work things). Time.

Things I Learned

The biggest thing I learned over the course of the year of being visible, was that I could totally be a public speaker. That I could give talks that people loved. That I could use this to see more of the world.

Because where I used to work was very insular, I had rarely attended conferences. I discovered that attending these conferences was one of the biggest perks of speaking – I learned so much from other talks, met so many great people and really felt a lot better about the tech community and particularly men in the tech community. In part I think this is because of the abundance mentality – if I do a great talk, it doesn’t take away from anyone else’s. Also I felt safer in conferences with Code of Conducts (especially when I had seen them be enforced) than I used to at work.

I learned how to ask for things that officially aren’t covered, and started negotiating more.

I got a lot better at taking notes!

Your Year of Being Visible

My main tip is to find your story, the one that only you can tell. Maybe something you’ve already been tweeting or writing about that is already resonating with people.

Submit it everywhere that it might fit. Rejection therapy!

Get help. If I was to redo this on a budget, speaker coaching is the one thing I wouldn’t cut completely. There are people kind enough to offer free office hours for this, and conference organisers who are willing work with potential speakers to help them submit. I’d replace further flung trips with local meet-ups instead.

My friend Chiu-Ki has a similar story (see her resolution from 2012), and together we have a newsletter that might help.

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