Simon Willison’s Weblog

Public Speaking: Where is a good place to get started as a speaker?

My answer to Public Speaking: Where is a good place to get started as a speaker? on Quora

Start small. There are plenty of small local events around that accept (and even encourage) first-time speakers. The single most valuable thing you can do to improve as a speaker is to get as much experience as possible.

The two formats to look out for in particular are lightning talks and BarCamps/Unconferences.

Lightning talks are only 5 minutes long, which means the organisers and the audience are much more willing to take risks on new speakers—if someone completely sucks you only have to wait another few minutes for the next talk. They also force you as a speaker to get straight to the point and stay there.

Oxford Geek Night is one example of an event that has lightning talks (they call them microslots, but the concept is the same):

BarCamps/Unconferences are absolutely the best way to get started in public speaking. They tend to be two days long (usually over a weekend), and they have a policy that everyone who comes is expected to speak—and generally you can speak about any topic you like. Slots tend to be 20-30 minutes, there’s a very friendly and supportive audience and if you find the right BarCamps there’s a chance you’ll end up invited to talk at other events.

We have a list of unconferences around the world here: