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Ask a Trainer: How Can I Become a Conference Speaker?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
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Dear Tim,

I’m reaching out to get some tips for submitting and speaking at my first learning conference. Over the years, I’ve attended the ATD International Conference & EXPO, ATD TechKnowledge, DevLearn, and a few others.

While I’ve loved attending the different conferences, with the new year here, I want to take a stab at speaking at a conference. The problem is that I’m not sure what to submit or whether I’m qualified to speak in the first place.

What tips can you offer others like me who are interested in speaking but unsure how to get started?


Happy New Year and thanks for reaching out! Speaking at a conference can be exciting and a little (okay, or a lot) scary. The first conference I ever spoke at was the Learning Solutions Conference in 2013.

At the time, I had only been working in e-learning for four short years, and I felt I had no business submitting and speaking at a conference. In fact, those feelings had a lot to do with what I chose to speak about: the 10 lessons I learned during my first year in e-learning. I figured there must be other new e-learning designers out there who could gain from what I had to share, and I didn’t need to be an expert in anything to share with them.

However, since then, I’ve spoken at hundreds of events, and I still follow the same philosophy: You don’t need to be an expert to share your experiences. People want to hear and learn from your experiences, and that’s something we all have an abundance of, including you!

So, as you think about submitting for one (or more) conferences in 2020, here are three questions you can ask yourself that will help you identify what you should talk about.

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What Are You Passionate About?

This question can be difficult to answer because you need to get specific. It’s not enough to say you’re passionate about e-learning or instructional design—you need to go deeper than that. What is it about e-learning or instructional design that you’re passionate about? For example, I’m passionate about the intersection between e-learning and visual communications, and this happens to be a topic I often talk about at conferences.

Once you can identify those topics you could spend hours talking about, you have something you could turn into a topic for a conference presentation.

What Makes You Different?

This is another question that can be hard to answer because you need to objectively look at yourself and your talents, which can be uncomfortable for some folks. What skills, talents, or experiences make you different from others within your team or industry? For example, when I look at what I’m passionate about and what I’m good at, it results in anything having to do with e-learning development and visual design for new e-learning designers.

Once you can identify what you’re really, really good at and what makes you different from everyone else, it becomes the basis for your niche.

What Do You Have to Say?

This final question is where you rely on your experiences to influence the content of your session. What opinions, experiences, lessons learned, or advice do you have to share about your topic? This is truly the meat of how your session will help others who attend.

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Don’t feel pressured to share research, facts, or statistics unless those are integral to your session and topic. Those are things people can easily Google. What most conference attendees really want is practical information that they can immediately apply when they go back to work. If you have an experience to share or something to say that can provide value to others, then most of the hard work is done.

I hope some of these tips help you figure out what you’d like to submit. Find some time to think about these questions. While the answers won’t be apparent at first, the more you think about them, the more the answers will come to you.

Best of luck!

Tim


Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to askatrainer@td.org. Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.


We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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