Blog 2023 06 28 My way to get into conferences

My way to get into conferences

In this article, I’ll share with you my journey to become a “regular” conference speaker. I’ll also explain what regular means in my case. Don’t expect any magic from the article, I cannot offer you anything that would work in the short term. It took me years to get where I am, but I’m sure that if getting into conferences is a major goal for you, you can achieve it faster.

Going to or speaking at conferences?

A few years ago, after having completed most of the internal trainings at my job, I started to see conferences both as a perk and a replacement for regular trainings. I thought that conferences are a great way to learn about trends, technologies, and methodologies. I wanted to go to conferences and not only to smaller local events. One of my former bosses who could go to CppCon told me that he’d help me if I asked for his help. So did I.

His boss also helped me.

I remember that a Friday afternoon my senior manager rushed to my desk really excited saying there are very few people who could go that year due to budget cuts, but I’ll be one of them. Expect the mail! The mail arrived and I didn’t understand it.

We were talking about a week in Colorado, but the mail was about a one-day conference in Paris. Was it in addition? Was it by mistake?

No. It was a budget cut.

There were two outcomes of it:

  • I had a great time at CPPP, where my trip report was among the two best ones according to the organizers.
  • I understood something I had been already suspecting. If I wanted to go to a conference without paying for it, I rather go as a speaker. So I doubled down on my efforts.

How to prove that you’re ready to speak?

I had two problems at that point. I had no credibility as a speaker and in addition, I had nothing to speak about.

Not an optimal situation when you want to speak at conferences.

In this section, I’ll delve into the first problem. A bit earlier, in 2017, I attended my first IT conference, RivieraDev. Each year, RivieraDev has a special track called “we are not just coders”. On this track, you’ll find presentations both by non-dev people (usually there are 1-2 gastronomic ones) and non-IT-related presentations by developers. You might learn about multi-day hikes with very light backpacks or about lockpicking.

There I realized that you don’t have to be “special” to talk at a conference.

This track gives you a nice opportunity to speak at a conference and get some real-life experience. The next time you apply, you can mention that as a previous experience at a conference. Even though many conferences specifically mention that they welcome new speakers, experience doesn’t hurt.

I only needed some compelling topics. So I spoke about things that not everyone does (well) and something I had been passionate about.

In my first year, I spoke about how to organize your holidays. The second year I spoke about sourdough baking where I also brought some freshly baked bread and pastries.

I had some speaking engagements that I could mention in my applications and I definitely proved to myself that I was ready.

At that point, I needed good topics.

What makes a good topic?

I think we can agree that holiday organisation and sourdough baking are interesting and fun, but probably not the topics you’d call compelling at a developer conference.

Ideally, you should find a topic that meets 3 requirements:

  • would be accepted by the organizers / attendees
  • something you will be able to present
  • something that interests you

The first requirement is obvious. If the organizers wouldn’t accept it, if nobody would come to your talk, then you have no talk.

At the same time, an accepted submission is worth nothing if you won’t be able to present at the conference. It will even ruin your credibility. Mind the future tense. I don’t think you have to be able to present a topic at the moment of submission.

I don’t mean that you don’t have the slides ready. Of course, you don’t. I mean that you know close to nothing about a topic. In my opinion, it’s not a problem. At the moment, you only have to know enough to write a compelling abstract and outline. By being able to do so, you probably understand if that topic isn’t too complex for the current you.

I knew close to nothing about undefined behaviour when I submitted a proposal in 2020. I also knew that I shouldn’t submit anything about SFINAE because I was (and am) clearly not there yet to talk about it. To meet this criteria you need some humility.

You might think that I’m crazy, but this is an extremely motivating way to learn about a topic. As such I have a very hard deadline to finish my research, I have a reason that kicks me out of bed every single morning earlier than the rest of my family.

It’s not enough that you have a topic you will be able to speak about and that it would be acceptable to the organizers. That topic must be interesting for you. You’ll have to prepare a lot. Maybe a little bit every day. You’ll have to speak about it to others and most probably not only during your talk but during coffee breaks, at breakfast, at the pub, etc. Talk about something that you like, something that you find interesting. It’ll be better for you and for the attendees too.

How to know what the organizers want?

The second and third criteria are only up to you. But what about the first one? How could you know what the programme committee would like?

“I cannot read others’ minds!” - you might object. That’s right, but you can do your homework!

You can read the programs of earlier years and of other similar conferences. You can study what were topics that got accepted, what were popular topics and what topics people barely spoke about. You can more or less understand which conferences like to have some talks on softer topics such as clean code, and where that most probably wouldn’t be accepted. You might also identify certain patterns for abstracts that people use.

You have to accept that especially as a fresh speaker you’ll have to face lots of rejections. That’s fine. Maybe you won’t even get into any conference the first year. That’s fine. However, there is a fair chance that you’ll be invited to program committees where you’ll have the chance to review other submissions. That’s a great opportunity to learn about trending topics and the quality of submitted proposals.

Remember, when you get into a program committee, don’t only review others’ topics, but also analyze them! What do they want to talk about? How deep, how well structured their abstracts are? What kind of comments do they get from other reviewers? Take some notes and compare them later with the line-ups to understand where the bar is and draw your conclusions for the next year.

On certain evaluation platforms, you’ll get feedback. Take them into account. Maybe you can improve your submission for next year.

If you really care about the learning opportunity, find user groups or local events that would give you an opportunity to present your ideas. You’ll learn a lot, you might engage in deep technical discussions with experts and you can improve your content so that next year you might come back with an enhanced proposal that has higher chances to get accepted.

But does this actually work?

For me, it worked and I’m more than grateful both to the organizers and my employers for the several opportunities they granted me. I have to mention my employers too because while it’s often difficult to get money to travel and to buy a conference ticket, it’s much easier to convince your bosses to give you the time to speak at a conference.

In the beginning, I applied for almost anything locally. I wanted to get experience and build up credibility. As I mentioned I talked about sourdough baking and travel organization at RivieraDev. My first breakthrough was in 2019 when I got the chance to talk at an international conference 200 km away from my home, at DevOps D-Day in Marseille, I talked about Coding guidelines and decision fatigue. An important topic to me.

2020 was a big shock for most of us. I got accepted for C++ On Sea, the first time for a C++ conference. No, that’s what shocked most of us. It was that Covid came, restrictions came and I stayed home. Nevertheless, the conference was held online and it still was a big experience.

In the coming one and a half years, I spoke at several online events, at CPPP, MeetingC++, CppNow, CppCon… I presented probably about 4 different topics. And in 2022, finally I got to an in-person C++ Conference, C++ On Sea 2022 and this year (in 2023) once again I can go to C++ On Sea.

Thanks to the restrictions I had several opportunities. I needed less time and no travel budget. Since most conferences are luckily in-person once again, I apply for less. But that’s another story. My point is that what I explained above really worked for me and I’m sure that if that’s what you’re looking for you can use the above pieces of advice.


In this article, I covered one way that can help you get closer not only to attend but to speak at conferences. In my opinion, this is way better than just attending, because often (most of) your costs will be covered, you’ll learn way more and build more connections. Not to mention that it’s easier to convince your boss to let you speak at a conference than to buy you a ticket.

If you start from zero, make sure that you practice enough and that you build up some credibility by speaking at smaller events. Even if you give some non-technical talks. Once you’re confident and you have some experience, start applying for bigger events with more technical talks. Grab all the opportunities to study successful proposals and use the findings to make yours better.

Once you got accepted, make sure that you prepare well and you live up to the expectations and you don’t waste your time. But that’s another story.

Good luck!

Connect deeper

If you liked this article, please

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.