Speaking of Speaking - Ohio Linux Fest and other Conferences


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jun 25, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall


There are a growing number of local and regional FOSS conferences happening around the world, and one of the oldest of them, the Ohio Linux Fest, asked me to comment on why people should consider submitting and giving a talk a conference such as theirs.


The first reason, is the concept of “sharing”. You have developed an idea, a project or a piece of code on which you have expended time and effort, and talking about it at one of these events gives that work visibility so that others may benefit from it. From this visibility you may get additional volunteers to help you with the project, or even just additional users of your project.


The second reason is “feedback”. You have some ideas that you are considering for your project, and having the time to present those ideas in a concrete way, and get real-time feedback on those ideas is often very useful. Yes, in the days of blogs, forums and other on-line feedback mechanisms you can often reach a much wider and larger audience than in a local or regional conference, but the ability to interact with the “extremely high volume, low latency” of face-to-face communication is still useful. And quantity is not always “quality”. Conferences often attract people knowledgable about the topic.


The third reason is to organize your thoughts, perhaps for a more formal paper later. Often when we are planning something we overlook some aspect of the planning. Giving a talk allows us to make a checklist of items that have not been considered, presented in enough detail to be clear, or lack consideration of suitable alternatives. Audiences often can steer you in the right direction as you do the review of these considerations.


In the early days of Linux a kernel developer gave a talk at a USENIX conference about their work with malloc(2), a kernel routine for allocating memory. After they had finished their talk a long-time USENIX attendee stood up and congratulated them for doing the work, coming up with the same answers that the USENIX people had arrived at twenty years before, and (at that time) was better documented. The audience member did not say this to be mean or irritating, but was pointing the speaker to a large body of existing knowledge of which the speaker was completely unaware.


After you give a talk to several different groups, incorporating feedback each time, you may then turn that material into a more formal written presentation on the subject.


While I utilize a lot of the same material in various talks, I constantly change the talks to meet the audience profile, to update the information, to incorporate audience feedback. I can honestly say that I have never given exactly the same talk twice. So giving a talk will allow you to perfect the ideas you wish to communicate.


A fourth reason for doing a talk is simply the practice. Sooner or later in life you will be required to stand up and give some type of presentation to a group of people. It may be at work, school, or at your child's wedding. That will not the time to realize you have no ability to do that task. Practice makes perfect, and the more talks you give at conferences, whether it be to a local user group or a regional conference, you will be more prepared to speak later in life.


A fifth reason is personal visibility. Many times giving a talk at even a small conference will give you personal visibility to people who either share your passion or may need to hire someone of your skills. I have known attendees to fly to a conference from half a continent away just to hear a single talk, because they saw the abstract in the announcement of the event, and they realized that this was what they wanted to learn about, and that they wanted to meet the person doing the talk.


Or someone may see the abstract in the event guide, attend the talk out of curiosity, and become an ardent fan of the topic. Stranger things have happened. Or you may gain some visibility inside your work or school organization by speaking at a conference. Or a press person may single you out for an interview to be published in a newspaper, magazine or blog.


A sixth reason is that sometimes (not all the time, but often) speakers get free admission to the conference, or even (more rarely) free transportation and hotel for the conference. This can roll up to a considerable savings if you were going to attend the conference anyway, and you join that elite group of people who get the special “speaker” badge. You will probably be invited to all of the pre and post event parties, be able to use the (often) plus speaker facilities with tasty munchies, and get some “quality time” with the other speakers.


Finally, giving a talk is often fun. It may not seem that way as you battle to put your ideas into slides, or try to get just the right flow on the screen, but for the most part it is fun to do the presentation, answer the questions and receive the applause.


For those people who might want to speak at the Ohio Linux Fest in Columbus Ohio, the call for papers closes June 30th. All you need to do at this time is to submit a 500 character (about 50 word) description of what you wish to present, and your contact information. Then if your talk is selected, you can create the presentation.


Carpe Diem!



  • meeting people

    Maddog's spot-on on the "or may need to hire someone of your skills" bit. I spoke at Ohio LinuxFest 2008 and got a job offer that night.
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