To Speak or Not to Speak: The Classic Unconference Question

When it comes to unconferences one could paraphrase Shakespeare, “to speak or not to speak: that is the question.” Attending tech conferences is one thing, but speaking at one is another matter. Yet public speaking is one of the best things people can do for their careers.

One of my favorite speakers, Jessica Ivins, who also gave one of the first tech talks I attended when I moved to Philadelphia, got into public speaking to get past her fear of presenting to clients. “I was scared shitless at first, but once I started doing it, I grew to love it… especially when I realized that people wanted to hear what I had to say,” she explains. Public speaking ultimately became one of the best things she did for her career as Jessica has presented at conferences all over the country and internationally. She now also moonlights as a Girl Develop It Philadelphia instructor and advises women in the Philly tech community to follow her lead and speak as well.

“The biggest misconception people have is that they need to prepare a talk,” according to Content Camp organizer David Dylan Thomas. He insists that is not actually the case, “ some of the best sessions I’ve been to someone has simply walked in, asked an interesting question and let the group discuss it for an hour.”

You may not think you are an expert on a topic, when actually you are. “The key is to find something you’re passionate about and address it. That can mean open discussion or a polished presentation or anything in between.” David reiterates.

That’s the good thing about an unconference like Content Camp; anyone can be an expert on what they are passionate about! Take Ruth Kalinka, for example. With some encouragement the day before, she led an off-the-cuff discussion about turning random ingredients into delicious meals and growing cooking herbs in the city at BarCamp 2012. Ruth enjoyed her first talk so much that she created a sequel presentation for BarCamp 2013, this time with a slide deck of her own food photography and samples of homegrown herbs.

My first professional public speaking experience was as a member of the planning committee for LadyHacks, Philly’s first women-only hackathon. My brief lunchtime talk was about why Philly GiveCamp is such a rewarding hackathon because it unites developers, designers and non-tech people who spend the weekend building websites for nonprofits. My knees felt like they were knocking together at first and that my voice shook, but I was able to speak as an expert after having volunteered at GiveCamp two years in a row. It felt wonderful advocating for one of the best local causes I know. Perhaps some of the first time hackers would join my beloved cause next year.

Still on the fence? Keep in mind Jessica’s advice, “public speaking will open doors for you personally and professionally. It may seem daunting at first, but like anything else, it’s a skill that you can learn and refine.” For further incentive, check out this Huffington Post article, which puts public speaking in (professional) perspective and offers tips for nervousness.

So come Saturday morning, get your coffee and add your name to the session board. After all, we are all here for the content and we need you to contribute!

Will I speak on Saturday? You will have to come to Content Camp to find out.

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