Speaking at Open Source Conferences: Benefits and Barriers

Public speaking isn’t something that came naturally to me. Early in my career, I was absolutely terrified of speaking in front of other people, even in internal company meetings. But I knew that success would be out of reach if I didn’t get over my fears, so I started accepting every internal opportunity to speak or give presentations that I could find. 

My career really started taking off in 2006 and 2007 when I started blogging and speaking at events. I was lucky to have Danese Cooper in my corner, because she recruited me into several of my first panels and lightning talks at events like OSCON. Elisa Camahort Page of early BlogHer fame liked reading my blog, and she invited me onto a panel about open source at SXSW. 

This gave me the confidence to start doing my own talks at conferences, and since then, I’ve done more than a hundred talks at a wide variety of conferences. I also started organizing conferences around that same time, which included being on program selection committees. This gave me a whole new perspective on the talk selection process and why certain talks get accepted and others don’t make the cut.

Benefits of Public Speaking

Beyond developing a critical professional skill, there are many benefits of speaking at conferences that often go unnoticed.

  • Most conferences allow speakers to attend for free, and speaking is a good way to justify attending events.
  • Speakers usually get special access to the other speakers and VIPs. You get to use the speaker lounge and maybe even attend some VIP events for speakers, which gives you opportunities to network with other experts in your field. 
  • Speaking at events will help you become more well known as an expert in your field, which can help you gain credibility at your current job and make it easier to advance your career. 


While there are so many benefits, there are also some barriers that people face on their path to speaking at conferences and ways to overcome them.

  • Overcoming fear. I already mentioned my fear of public speaking, and there are a bunch of ways to face those fears. I started by taking as many public speaking classes as I could, and I started speaking up at meetings and volunteering to do presentations. It can also help to start small – present in front of a friend, the family cat or a trusted colleague. The upside of the current pandemic is that there are so many virtual events where you can take advantage of the new “virtual format” to present from the comfort of your home without seeing the audience – you can think of this as the easy button to grow your in person presentation skills.
  • Imposter syndrome. Merriam Webster says that imposter syndrome “is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.” This can make us feel like we aren’t experienced enough or aren’t worthy of being a speaker, and it can be really difficult to silence that inner voice telling us that we aren’t good enough. For me, teaming up with more experienced speakers helped me overcome this. But over the years, it still occasionally rears its ugly head when I’m thinking about doing talks that are a bit outside of my comfort zone. There is no one solution to overcoming imposter syndrome, but what helps me is confronting it head on, realizing that it’s probably just my imposter syndrome talking, and trying to remind myself that I’m successful and worthy of my success. 

By speaking at conferences, I’ve been able to travel the world and meet interesting people. Conference speaking has been amazing for my career, and it’s also been a positive personal experience for me. 

The next blog post in this two-part series talks about the 6 things you should be thinking about on your path to becoming a conference speaker. Stay tuned!


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