The Value of Conference Speaking

Comments 0

Share to social media

Editor note: The call for speakers is open at on the Pass Data Community Summit 2024 Site, so join Jason in throwing your hat into the ring for this year’s Summit coming up in Seattle November 4-8!

My Power BI Speaking Tour: This is the Way

Over the past year, I decided I was going to submit to speak at as many SQL events that I could reasonably attend. Then the Simple-Talk editor asked me if I could put down in words if I thought it was all worth it. So, I pondered if the benefits outweighed the cost of attending the conferences.

Recently, I was asked to convey details about what I have been working on to my company management. I volunteered to create and deliver a presentation about the data projects I helped build. This is something that would have caused me great hesitation, and I probably wouldn’t have considered doing it before I started speaking at conferences. Reducing the fear of public speaking is one of the benefits I have seen from developing and delivering presentations on topics like Power BI. But that has not been the only benefit of traveling and presenting at SQL Saturday Conferences.

Goals

I made my goal to start speaking at technical conferences, mainly SQL Saturdays around the United States at the PASS Data Summit 2022. In 2024, I am hoping to broaden this to locations outside the United States (and will be speaking at SQL Bits in the UK in 2024!). Since 2023 was my first year submitting sessions, I wanted to speak wherever I was accepted. I did not submit to PASS Summit 2023 under the normal application process because I had not spoken at a major conference yet. Later I submitted sessions under the new speaker submission program.

In your case, I suggest picking all the places you would like to/can reasonably go to and submit. Will you be chosen? The only way to see is to submit. You can bolster your chances of being picked by writing a few good abstracts that tells the committees what you will teach, and finding a mentor who has spoken many times in the past to get advice on your abstracts. If you don’t get picked for two or three you submit to, ask why. More times than not it is the topic either being too popular with the speakers, or not popular enough with the committees. Then start over again.

Costs

The first thing you will notice if you want to do what I did and try to speak at conferences is that it doesn’t come for free, either monetarily or temporally either.

First and foremost, there are the travel costs. Most of the conferences have not been held close to where I live so this involved a flight to the location. For all the events we went to, we also chose to have a rental car since it give the most freedom and allowed us to explore the are after the conference. Then there is the cost of lodging such as the hotel.

After getting there and having a roof over your head handled, there are costs such as food and drinks for things not covered by the conference. There are lots of ways to minimize the total costs such as restricting the amount of time that I am at the conference city, taking public transportation, etc. Some people stay at a friend’s or family’s house and get rides to and from the conference. For each conference, there is a minimum amount that it is going to cost to attend, and it usually is going to resemble a typical weekend vacation.

All of this omits the time away from home. My wife did travel with me to events (and volunteered!) so that minimized some of that concern, but this is not something that everyone may have the luxury to do.

All in all, the costs are not going to be tiny if you want to do more than an event or more that is not in your direct area. And doing local events is the typical first step for most people is to start speaking at your local user group or presenting virtually.

I just wanted to jump in and do as many events as I could!

Benefits

While the costs are largely the same as a vacation, the benefits are very different. Speaking at conferences is generally a lot less restful but has a lot of great business benefits.

Places

As Dr Suess once said, “Oh the places you will go!” The first benefit is getting to see new places. For example, to visit a town like Denver that has a Micro Center in it. Even without any extra time in the city, the conference locations are always interesting, seeing new colleges, training centers, and places to eat. And the speaker/volunteer dinners and after-conference dinners can be at unique places where you get a taste of the local area!.

But scheduling time before or after the conference to see the sites has been great. From the COG railway in Denver, hiking in Columbus at the Hocking Hills State Park, to the Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. Even if it is just Sunday Funday before we leave out that night.

Learning From Others

Speaking at the conferences does not mean that I am not partaking in learning myself. I make it a point to attend as many conference sessions as I can (usually after I have done my presentation). Since I am going to different conferences and sessions, I am getting to attend a variety of topics and learn from speakers who may not attend other conferences. So, by traveling to their hometown, you get to see them in person.

Presenting (Or Learning About My Subject!)

Creating a presentation on a topic forces one to learn even more about the subject than I may otherwise have known. The process has taught me to work on conveying my thoughts to other people.

It is essential to learn more than the exact material you are presenting so you are prepared for anything. Each time I speak gives me more experience in presenting to an audience and learning to answer questions they may have. I am getting good at handling unplanned situations that may occur during the presentation and thinking on my feet. Preparing for demo failure is also a great driver to make sure you know what you are doing. (Because the eyes staring at you can tell if you are prepared or not!)

Getting Inspiration for Topics can be Fun

I had decided I wanted one of my topics to be on the various external tools that enhance development with Power BI like DAX Studio and Tabular Editor. These are tools that I use daily, so the topic was something I was familiar with.

Around this time, I attended a Data and Analytics conference in Orlando, FL. We visited Disney World including Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It occurred to me that it would be great to combine my interest in Power BI with my love of Star Wars. The session I came up with was a Mandalorian-themed session named Power BI and External Tools: This is the Way! My unique spin on it was who (or what tools) are you going to take on your Power BI journey. This turned out to be the topic that was chosen the most. It helps if you can pick a topic that you are familiar with and add some of your personality to it.

Speaker Perks

Speaking at conferences does have a set of perks. Such as the speaker/volunteer dinner the night before, speaker gifts such as a shirt, and lastly, some events help affray the costs for the speaker with a payment or offer free hotel nights.

Lastly, and this applies to volunteering, you make more of a connection with other speakers and the conference organizers than if you just attended the conference. This can be attributed to the increased time spent around speakers and organizers at things such as the speaker dinner or volunteering to hand out lunch. You also see some of the same speakers at multiple conferences and this helps make lasting connections.

People

Early on I was not sure if presenting was worth the monetary cost. After one of my first presentations, I had someone ask for my help with an issue they were having in Power BI. We were able to find a solution.

It was then that I remembered that this is where value is found. You have people attend your session because they are trying to better themselves and their career opportunities. You get to know the people attending the conference and make lasting connections. To see people show up on a Saturday in their personal time because they want to better themselves is inspiring.

Conclusion

There is a reason that the costs section was smaller than the benefits section. Looking back on this year there is no doubt that traveling to speak has been worth the investment. That is what it is. It is an investment in myself and more importantly, it is an investment in other people that will pay dividends later (as long as you don’t overdo it, of course.)

The skills and interests that will accumulate from this investment is hard to measure now. I anticipate in the future looking back and seeing all the ways that speaking this first year alone influenced the following couple of years. And I don’t plan to stop now.

Speaking Statistics

Here are my basic statistics for speaking last year. It was my first year doing public speaking and there are lots of possibilities out there!

2022

  • 0 conferences

2023

  • 10 Conferences
  • 6 States (CA, FL, WA, MN, OH, LA)

2024 (So far)

 

About the author

Jason Romans

See Profile

Jason Romans is a Business Intelligence engineer in Nashville, TN working with the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack. Jason started his career as a DBA and over the years moved to working in his passion of Business Intelligence and data modeling. His first computer was a Commodore 64 and he's been hooked ever since.

Jason's contributions