394: Submitting a Conference Talk Proposal from Start to Finish

Episode 394 · July 25th, 2023 · 38 mins 53 secs

About this Episode

Joël recently had a fascinating conversation with some friends about the power of celebrating and highlighting small wins in their lives. He talks about bringing this into his work life. May Stephanie interest you in a secret she learned regarding homemade pizza?

RubyConf is coming! Who's submitting talks?! It's hekkin scary. Don't fret! Joël and Stephannie are here to help. Today, they discussed submitting a conference talk proposal from start to finish.


STEPHANIE: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Bike Shed, a weekly podcast from your friends at thoughtbot about developing great software. I'm Stephanie Minn.

JOËL: And I'm Joël Quenneville. And together, we've come here to share a bit of what we've learned along the way.

STEPHANIE: So, Joël, what's new in your world?

JOËL: I've been having a really interesting conversation with some of my friends recently about the power of celebrating and highlighting small wins in our lives, both in, like, kind of sharing it with each other, like, you know, if something small happens, it's good for me to share it with my friends. But also, where it becomes really cool is where the friend group kind of gets together and celebrates that small win for one person, and how that can be, like, a small step to take, but it's just really powerful and encouraging for a friend group. And I think that applies not just among friends but in a team or other grouping in the workplace.

STEPHANIE: That's so fun. How are you celebrating these small wins, like, over text? Is that the main way you're communicating something good that happened?

JOËL: It depends on the friend group. I think, like, different friend groups will have, like, a different kind of cadence for the kind of things they do. And do they all hang out together? Do they have a group text, things like that?

One of the friend groups I'm a part of, we meet weekly to go climbing at a rock-climbing gym, so that's kind of our hang-out. And [inaudible 01:34], we're there to do stuff at the gym, but it's also a social thing. And it's an opportunity to be like, "Oh, you know, did that thing workout, you know, at work?" "You know, good for you," Or "Did you get this project accepted?" And yeah, when small wins come up, it's a great time to celebrate.

STEPHANIE: That's awesome. I think having regular time that you see people and being able to ask them about something that they had mentioned previously is so special and really important to me, like, in bonding and building the relationship.

I also love the idea of celebrating milestones. So, this is, I guess, more of a bigger win, but milestones that aren't traditionally celebrated. You know, so, yeah, we'll have, like, a party when someone graduates or someone gets married. But I also have really enjoyed celebrating when someone gets a promotion at work. And, you know, maybe that's not, like, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it's still so worthy of going out for dinner or buying them a drink.

I also will maybe, like, send my friends a little treat if I know that they did something small but hard for them, right? And sometimes that's even, like, responding to a scary email that they had sitting in their inbox for a while. Yeah, I really love that idea of supporting people, even in the small things in life that they do.

JOËL: Yeah, and that's really validating, I think when you've done something hard and then a friend or a colleague reaches out to you. And it's kind of like, hey, I saw that. Good for you.

STEPHANIE: How have you been thinking about bringing this into your work life?

JOËL: I think it's about being on the lookout for things that other people do. And I think one thing I like to do is kind of publicly calling that out. It sounds like a negative thing, right? But just giving people kind of a public shout-out when they've succeeded at something. I think we're all kind of socialized not to maybe talk too much about accomplishments, especially if they feel kind of small and mundane.

Being somebody else, I think, gives you a lot more leeway to say, "Hey, no, Stephanie, I see that you did that thing. And maybe it feels kind of like, oh no, you're just doing your job, but I think that's cool. And I want to, you know, just give you a shout-out in the company Slack channel or something." It doesn't have to be something big. You know, I'm not sending champagne to your home. But having that opportunity to just kind of celebrate something small and say, "Wait a minute, let's pause and acknowledge that you just did something cool."

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I was thinking about how that's kind of, like, amplifying the win a little bit. I've definitely done this before, too, when I see someone share a win of theirs, maybe in a smaller Slack channel or kind of a personal level, or even just to me individually. And I really want other people to know that that happened to you and that they, you know, did an awesome job. And so, I have enjoyed, you know, sharing them more publicly on their behalf if they are comfortable with it.

JOËL: And I'll say on the other end of that, I think it feels really good to be acknowledged by someone else that you've done something that they recognize. It's fun to share a win with other people because you're excited, but it's doubly fun when somebody else shares it for you.

STEPHANIE: I agree. I think one thing that you, Joël, do really well, actually, is sharing your own personal wins in a very casual way. That's something I've always admired about you is how you recognize the small wins for yourself.

JOËL: It's taken me, I think, a long time to get to that and find a way where, you know, you are sharing things that are fun for other people to see, things that might be inspiring, things that are kind of cool, and that are not just kind of, like, self-aggrandizing, like, bragging about stuff. It can be a fine line to walk. And, to a certain extent, you're a little bit marketing yourself. But yeah, I think I've kind of hit that right balance.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I think the thing that makes it work is that there's usually, like, a challenge or something that maybe you, like, went through a journey or overcame a little bit. And I think that's what is the inspiring part that makes me feel like, oh, okay, so, like, this is a realistic thing that, you know, Joël went through and, you know, he struggled with it maybe. But then, like, ultimately, you know, had some insights or came out the other side with some learnings. And I like that it's real, right? It's not just, "Hey, like, I did this, like, cool thing." It's like, "I went on this journey." And I find that really motivating when I am in that kind of situation next time.

JOËL: There's a power to stories, right? And I think especially when you can make something relatable to other people. So, it's not just like, "Hey, I did a cool thing," which, you know, is also fun. But being able to say, "Hey, I messed up," or "I, you know, had this challenging problem dropped in my lap, and here's the journey I went on to resolve it. Hopefully, it acts a little bit as like a here's a template you could follow if you're ever in that situation." But maybe also a little bit of, like, inspiration for others as well, just being like, hey, Joël, messes up sometimes.

So, Stephanie, what is new in your world?

STEPHANIE: Speaking of small wins, I have finally perfected our at-home pizza situation for making pizza at home, which I have been struggling with for so long. Because I always was excited by the idea of making pizza and, you know, sometimes we would make our own dough. And sometimes, we would buy store-bought dough, but it never ended up being as crispy and cooked well-done the way that I want it to.

It was always, like, a little bit mushy on the inside. The dough wasn't totally baked. And I would inevitably be disappointed when I had been, you know, building that excitement for pizza. And the other week, I found a new recipe to try, and I think it will be my new go-to recipe for making pizza at home.

JOËL: I don't know if I'm allowed to ask this on air, but what's the secret?

STEPHANIE: The secret? Well, okay, the first secret and/or learning that I've gathered is to not put as much sauce, cheese, and toppings as you think you want to because that's definitely what contributes to the under-doneness of the dough. But I pivoted to trying a more grandma-style crust that is kind of more like focaccia; really, you know, it involves a lot of olive oil. And you're cooking it for a while on pretty high heat to ensure the crispness and, you know, that it's cooked through.

And, I mean, I love focaccia bread, so I don't mind it as, you know, the base of my pizza. It is a bit different from, you know, other kinds of pizzas. And if we had, like, a really, you know, fancy pizza oven to do the, like, super high heat, like, Neapolitan-style deal, I would also really enjoy that. But you know what? That's just not the reality of my home kitchen.

So, I have really been enjoying this pizza recipe by Alison Roman that I will link in the show notes. But yeah, it has really changed my at-home pizza game. And I hopefully won't have any of my, you know, soggy dough bottom problems anymore.

JOËL: So, you mentioned just kind of offhand, like, oh yeah, you know, the crust is just kind of, like, how you make focaccia. It sounds like you've made focaccia yourself before.

STEPHANIE: I have made focaccia at home, and so I think applying it to Pizza was a real, like, light bulb moment for me. But, you know, it's not, like, totally effortless. But I think it's a lot more forgiving than other types of bread and, therefore, other types of pizza crust.

And the one really enjoyable thing about making focaccia is there's a step where you use your fingers, and you're kind of holding your hands like you're playing a piano. And you, like, press into the dough after it has risen a little bit to create dimples and, you know, lets the oil kind of seep into the little holes. And it's very satisfying. It's a very good feeling.

JOËL: The kind of the tactile aspect of it?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, exactly. It's very fun. [chuckles] So, yeah, it's just an added bonus to my pizza adventures.

JOËL: A win on top of a win. We'll take it.

So, there's some news in the Ruby community this week because RubyConf has just opened their CFP, their call for proposals. And so, they're asking for people to submit their ideas for conference talks, and if you're lucky, you get picked to speak at the conference.

And, Stephanie, I know that over the course of a year, you have a document where you collect conference talk ideas so that you have ideas to work on when the CFP comes around. Are you looking at any of them to potentially submit to RubyConf this year?

STEPHANIE: Joël, I have to be honest with you; so far, I only have one idea on that list. [laughs] But that is one that I suppose could eventually become a conference talk proposal.

So, when I heard the news, I definitely went down the rabbit hole of revisiting that idea and kind of starting to think about if it's something I wanted to pursue. I think the answer is yes. I definitely got a big push of motivation when I was like, oh, it's open. Like, now I can just get started if I want to. And then I was like, well, it's open for a month, so I could also just sit on it a little longer, you know, put it aside and revisit it when I have a little more time.

But yeah, I was pretty excited because I think it gave me the motivation I needed to really think a little more deeply about this idea that I have. Otherwise, I think it would have continued to sit half-baked in my document for a long time.

JOËL: And just for all of our listeners, the CFP just opened on July 12th, and it closes on August 20th. So, if you are listening and it's before August 20th, you still have a shot to submit your idea to be a speaker.

STEPHANIE: Something that I've talked about with my other friends who enjoy speaking at conferences is how they come up with proposals, and I found that we all have different approaches. And I am really interested in digging into this further with you.

But I realized that, for me, I really struggle with just, like, throwing out ideas and submitting them before I feel really confident that it's something that I have interesting things to say really, or, like, kind of adding a new perspective, or maybe approaching a topic that hasn't been approached before. I feel sometimes a bit hindered by my process, where I need to feel really confident before submitting something.

Because a friend of mine she was telling me that her approach is to submit CFP for topic ideas that she wants to explore further. So, maybe it is something that she doesn't know a lot about yet, and she's using this process to learn more and dive deeper, and that, you know, gives her a reason to do that, whereas that seems really scary to me.

JOËL: That's really interesting because it sounds like kind of an underlying motivation for your friend for submitting these talks is curiosity, exploration. And thinking back to myself, I think I usually submit ideas that have me excited or passionate, so that's kind of my underlying motivation for a talk. What would you say is maybe your underlying motivation when you're pitching an idea?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I think, for me, it is impact and, like, having an impact, especially for something that I've struggled with and wanting to share my experience and, hopefully, sharing something where other people can relate to.

It's funny you mentioned that your motivators are, you know, excitement and passion. Because another person that I kind of had this conversation with mentioned that she writes talks based on experiences that have been very aggravating [chuckles] and painful for her. So, that ends up being, you know, a big motivator because she's so frustrated. [laughs] And, you know, wants to share this journey that she went on from a point of, I guess, maybe similar to me, like, making it easier for someone else who might find themselves struggling with the same problem.

JOËL: I kind of like the idea of taking that to an extreme, and you're, like, rage submitting.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I feel like there would just be an infinite number [laughs] of topics that you could come up with in that case.

JOËL: Like, I'm so angry at this bug. It cost me a week of my life. And now, it is going to get the spotlight on it at RubyConf. And I get to share that moment with everyone, express a lot of emotions, and, hopefully, save everyone else from having to do the same thing I did.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. Or this terrible bug cost me a week of my life, and now you all get to hear about it. [laughter] Let me tell you --

JOËL: Yes.

STEPHANIE: Exactly all the problems that I had to deal with.

JOËL: And, honestly, as a narrative, it kind of works, right? There are different types of talks. Sometimes you go to a talk because you really want to learn a deep topic. Sometimes I just want to go and listen to, like, a good horror story. If someone's a good storyteller, like, yes, there are lessons I can take away from it, and I can be like, okay, this is what I can do. And I heard Stephanie talk about this bug, and so I'm going to use inspiration from that the next time I hit a bug.

But sometimes it's also just good to, like, go there and sit and be, like, yes, I've been there. Yeah, kind of following along with the story and, you know, kind of the ups and downs because it is so relatable.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. And I like that you mentioned that there are different types of talks that leave the audience, you know, with different things. Because I know some people who have been interested in speaking in the past maybe feel a bit hesitant to because they don't think they have something to say, or, like, they don't have something to share that other people might find interesting.

And to that, I really believe that everyone has something that they are knowledgeable about and something that they can bring to others that is valuable. Even if it's not for every single person at the conference if you give a talk that is meaningful to a handful of people, right? Especially because, you know, there's people of all different kinds of levels at these conferences. Those are really important too. In fact, I think it can be even more powerful because they are targeting a specific audience.

JOËL: And I think you've hit on a key point, that is, it's great when you're building the talk, but even when you're pitching the idea is, who is this talk for? Who is the audience for this talk? And if the audience is whoever shows up at the conference center, maybe you need to workshop a little bit more.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, because one thing can't really be for everyone.

JOËL: Right. You're kind of diffusing its impact at that point. You were talking about how sometimes it's difficult to take an idea, flesh it out, and submit it until you're feeling, like, 100% confident about it. I'm curious how the transition goes from kind of the earlier phase of, like, you have a document, and I assume these are, like, bullet points with, like, one sentence, or maybe even just title idea. How does it go from bullet point to multiple paragraphs that might be submittable?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, that's a good question. I think it starts as a bullet point because maybe I notice something that caused me pain or caused a teammate pain, and maybe we had, like, kind of an interesting discussion about it. And, yeah, I write it down as something to explore further as, like, is this an idea that can be a little broader in scope, can have a few more applications beyond this particular instance that sparked it?

And so, maybe from there, I will think about, like, okay, like, the pain point that I jotted down was coupling and tests, right? And let me go, you know, jog through my memory of other times where I kind of felt a similar thing or was doing some code review and also noted a similar problem.

And I think if I am able to find enough, like, supporting examples that might go along with this, for me, it's really a feeling. [laughs] Then I'll try to extract that a little further and come up with a theme, right? A theme that's a little more encompassing because what I hope to do is to be able to come up with some kind of takeaway that can be a strong thesis for a conference proposal.

JOËL: And that's kind of how conference proposals work, right? There's a few different sections you have to fill out. But the really important one is the abstract, which is usually just a few sentences. It's character limited. And that's what is got to sell your talk both to the committee, but then also, that's what's going to be publicly viewable. And so, that's what's going to get people excited to show up at your conference room.

So, my kind of secret trick for writing a proposal is to do the abstract last. Even though it's that first section on the form, I struggle to write a compelling abstract. And so, I'll go through and fill out some of the other fields that are only for the committee, and there'll be, you know, a lot of detail in there. And then, sometimes, I find that I put, like, really good compelling sentences in there, and I'll pull them out and put them in the abstract and kind of use that to start.

But those other sections, like pitch and all that I think they're a great place to start because you get to go a little bit more into detail. And you can talk about here are the themes I want to address. Here are maybe the examples I'm going to be building around. Here's the audience that I want to speak to.

STEPHANIE: Audience is interesting for me because I tend to write the kind of talks that I wish I had watched earlier or, like, what really speaks to me. In fact, one of my first conference talks was literally called The Intro to Abstraction I Wish I'd Received. [laughs] So, that is a good place for me to start, is thinking about like, well, like, who was I at the time? Like, what kind of developer was I at the time that I, like, really needed this information or really wished for this information?

And similarly, I had mentioned, you know, like, maybe my ideas are coming from conversations I've had with other people. So, I'm imagining those other people, and I'm asking myself, like, who are they? Like, where are they in their development careers? And is there a specific demographic or audience persona that kind of fits them, and, you know, usually there is, right?

And what is nice is I can kind of go to them as well and be like, "Hey, like, I have this idea. Do you think this would be helpful for you? Or is this something you would be interested in watching?" And that at least helps me ground it in an audience that is real to me as opposed to kind of trying to imagine who might show up without a clear idea, like, of what they might get a takeaway or, like, be wanting in a conference talk.

JOËL: Would it be fair to say that when you're coming up with an idea for a presentation, the audience you have in mind is you or maybe a particular version of you, so you two years ago or you five years ago?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I think that's a really compelling way for me to write these because, you know, I almost think it kind of goes back to the idea that everyone has something to say, right? It's like I have something to say to me, my past self. And I believe that other people, you know, are in that position as well. And so, that's been my approach.

But I'm curious about yours because I think the types of talks that you write are maybe less about, like, what you wished you had learned earlier and more for a different kind of audience.

JOËL: Yeah, I think they are...I start with a topic that I'm excited about. And then, sometimes, I have to find what element of it that I want to pull out because it can be kind of a whole kind of cloud of themes, and I have to pick one to commit to. Depending on the one I commit to and the approach I want to take, it will define the audience that...or vice versa. I can say, okay, this is specifically for this audience, and that will show how I want to approach it.

So, for example, I gave a talk at RailsConf this past spring on the math every programmer needs, talking a little bit about discrete math and how it's applicable in day-to-day programming. And I think I very quickly came to the realization that I wanted this talk to be for people who had never done a formal, like, discrete math class, likely people who don't have a traditional, like, CS background.

And so, once I knew this is the audience I'm speaking to, that really shaped how I pitched the talk, what elements I want to bring in, what examples I'm using, what do I want to emphasize during this talk. Finding that audience really helped that proposal come together. Even though I knew...before I found the audience, I knew I wanted to talk about discrete math and how cool and relevant it was to day-to-day programming. But that's not enough. I needed to really fit it to an audience.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I have two thoughts about this. One was that when you were writing the proposal for this talk, I remember you had shared a bunch of your different ideas about the topic to your co-workers. And it was almost kind of, like, a buffet of topics. And you were asking for feedback about, like, hey, like, what is interesting to you? Like, what would be, like, helpful for you to know? And I think that ended up really helping you focus on, like, what your audience would want.

But I'm curious, do you recall, like, how you decided that you wanted to target people who didn't have that traditional CS background? Like, why was that important to you?

JOËL: I think I'm generally most excited about taking some, like, larger technical insights and bringing them to people who maybe have some of the intuition but don't always know why the things they do work the way they do and kind of bridging a little bit of that, like, practical, theoretical gap. That's the space that I'm probably most excited about when it comes to sharing and teaching, helping people go from things that are really practical and then just throwing just enough theory at them. But keeping it really grounded so that they can kind of hit the next level of where they want to be. Because that's an area that I think I thrive in, an area that gets me most excited to share about.

And so, I think, naturally, I'm kind of moving in that direction. But also, like you said, it's talking to other people and seeing, like, what are the elements that are interesting to you? And then, like, once you start seeing some of these, it's like, okay, well, what is exciting in talking about Boolean algebra? Do I want to go really deep on some of the theory? Do I want to say, you know, if someone has a vague notion of this because they've been writing code for several years but don't know the theoreticals behind it? That interaction, I think, was more compelling to me.

STEPHANIE: Got it. It's almost like knowledge sharing at just this really high level, or, like, at a really large scale. I like that a lot.

JOËL: So, you highlighted something interesting, and that is that writing a proposal doesn't have to be a solo activity, and getting feedback on ideas can totally transform your proposal. Do you find that you reach out to a lot of people to get feedback on your proposals? And what does that look like in practice?

STEPHANIE: Oh yeah, I definitely need someone to rubber-duck an idea for me. [laughs]

JOËL: So, even at the idea stage. So, you've got that topic sentence or whatever, and then you say, "Someone, can you sit down with me, and we'll just talk through places this might go?"

STEPHANIE: Yeah. I have found that really helpful for me. Otherwise, I think I get a little too precious about it, right? If I've just been working on it by myself. And then it feels really scary to submit it and be like, okay, I don't know if this is any good. It might get rejected.

But the first time that I did a conference talk, WNB.rb, the women and non-binary Ruby group I'm in, they had organized a CFP working group channel. And so, there were, you know, a handful of people, some of them writing conference talks for the first time, some of them having done it before, just getting together and holding each other accountable, and checking in and asking for feedback.

And, yeah, I think finding other people who either have done it before. I've also, you know, reached out to people whose conference talks I loved and felt really inspired by. And if they were available, like, kind of asking them how to get started.

But also, like, peer support as well, other people doing it for the first time can be really important in just making it feel a little more manageable, a little less lonely. I think there are, like, more people out there who are interested in dipping their toe in conference speaking than one might think because it can definitely feel very overwhelming. But with a support group, I think it makes it a lot easier.

JOËL: So, you've gotten feedback. You've gotten support. You've put this idea together. You're feeling pretty confident. You hit that submit button. And now you can't take it back. [laughs] How does that feel at that point?

STEPHANIE: Terrifying. [laughter] Like, for me, I have to exercise it from my mind and not think about it, not dwell on it at all. And like, ideally, you know, when I hear back, I will have forgotten all about it so that, you know, I didn't spend the whole month or however many weeks, like, ruminating about whether or not it was accepted.

Yeah, I really struggle with that part, I think, because I, yeah, have a hard time with rejection, you know, I'm just going to say it. [laughs] And, you know, it's hard for me not to take it personally. But I think that's actually one area that I want to get better at is to feel a little less, like, personally attached. And I think working with others helps me with that because it's not just something I've, you know, like, squirreled away and feel very attached to.

Working with others and then, like, hopefully, coming up with other ideas along the way, right? Within conversations that we have that might spark ideas for the future. So, knowing that if this one doesn't end up being submitted, there's always next time. There's always another conference season. And also, you know, celebrating others when their conference talks do get accepted that is also really buoying because it helps me direct that energy into wanting to celebrate my friends and inspiring me for next time.

Joël, I know you oftentimes submit more than one proposal, and I'm wondering if that helps with those feelings of being too attached to a topic idea or, you know, worrying about whether they will be accepted.

JOËL: I think it definitely helps with the attachment thing that I've not kind of put all of my work and all of my...like, pinned all of my hopes on one topic idea. Sometimes it can hurt, you know, if you've got, like, you know, two or three and, like, you just get multiple rejection notices in a day. That kind of sucks sometimes. But I think, in some ways, yes, it does help with that feeling of rejection because you've not tied yourself emotionally so much to a single idea that has to, like, succeed or fail.

STEPHANIE: Do you then submit those ideas to other conferences?

JOËL: The ones that get rejected? Yes. I've definitely resubmitted ideas. In fact, I plan to resubmit a rejection to RubyConf this year, so we'll see how that goes. Actually, now that I think of it, that could be a really fun opening line for a talk. Like, let's say it gets accepted. And, like, you know, you're on the stage, and you open it, and you're just like, "This talk got rejected." That'd be a fun intro.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, it would be. I think, oftentimes, you know, it's not always even about the idea itself, right? It's just about maybe the theme of the conference that year, and what they were looking for, and the direction they wanted to go. And there are other conferences or other another year, right? Where maybe there isn't another talk that touches on the same, like, area. And that will be the opportunity that it is a fit for the conference.

JOËL: Yeah, definitely. It is a little bit haphazard to get in. And just because your talk gets rejected does not mean it's a bad idea. It just means that it wasn't the best fit for that conference at that time.

STEPHANIE: I actually want to plug a website, speakerline.io, where people can post all of their, you know, proposals that they've submitted, whether they were accepted or rejected. And I found that resource really helpful in, you know, just knowing that, like, very good ideas get rejected sometimes, and that's okay. As well as, you know, kind of trying to get a sense of, you know, for the ones that were accepted, okay, like, what about these proposals really stood out or, like, really shine? And how might I get some inspiration from that to incorporate next time around?

JOËL: So, you've submitted a proposal. Terrifying. You're trying to not think about it for a couple of weeks, assuming you're submitting ahead a couple of weeks, I don't know. Are you a last-minute kind of submitter?

STEPHANIE: I'm a probably two or three days before the deadline kind of submitter.

JOËL: So, you've submitted the talk two or three days to the deadline. I guess, like, a couple of weeks after that to get review. And then, you get that notification that says, you know, you've got a response on your talk from the committee. Are you the kind of person that, like, drops everything and immediately looks at it? Do you kind of, like, wait for, like, maybe a moment where you're, like, more in a good zone emotionally before you open that email to find out if you're accepted or rejected? What's your strategy?

STEPHANIE: Oh God, I don't think I have the willpower to wait until I'm, you know, in an emotionally good state. I will just click on that thing. And yeah, I think, I mean, having been on the receiving end of accepting those rejections and once waitlisted, [laughs] which was a real doozy because it's like, great, like, now I have to write a talk. But, like, I don't know if it will actually be given or not.

I think this is also where the support group really shines as well because maybe some of my other friends are also sharing the results and making it okay, like, sharing a rejection, right? And I think it's nice to just have, like, an outlet for that, whatever the outcome is, and not having to just, like, sit alone in either the sadness or the happiness, right? Like, we're talking about celebrating small wins. Like, it really is even more special when someone else can validate your success.

JOËL: Have you ever had to navigate kind of, like, slight feelings of jealousy where it's, like, another friend gets in? Or maybe somebody else gets in with, like, your topic, and their talk got picked instead of yours?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, for sure. I think it's totally natural and human. I think one nice thing, though, is that there are so many conferences all of the time. You know, this is not a once-in-a-lifetime situation, right? And maybe the next conference, you know, the people who submit will be different, the people who review will be different. And you've kind of already done the hard part of writing the thing.

I actually was just thinking about a few of my friends are writers, and the submission process for them, you know, of spinning a book proposal or short stories for, like, a magazine or something like that, it's, like, fraught with rejections. And they've really built that muscle of acceptance and, like, knowing that it's not a reflection of their value, and building the resilience to keep trying.

And so, yeah, I think definitely going through that process has helped me feel a little bit more comfortable with that, not completely, but I guess it's like exposure therapy, [laughs], isn't it?

JOËL: I think that the not helpful answer here is that it gets better when you've given more talks. When you're trying to break in and give your first talk, right? It is such a big deal. And, you know, the high of getting accepted is just, you know, mountain top. But the feelings of rejection are also similarly intense. As opposed to when you've done a few, then it's like, you know what? Win some, lose some. And it's much easier to move on.

STEPHANIE: I think another suggestion that I might have would be to maybe start smaller, right? Even giving a talk at work for your co-workers, or even the next step is giving a talk at your local meetup or then a small regional conference. There are so many in-between steps, I think, that exist that bestow the benefits of giving a conference talk, and meeting new people, and feeling good about the impact you're having beyond some of the bigger, more traditional conferences.

So, if that does seem really scary or, you know, maybe you've given it a shot and feel a little bit demoralized from trying again, there is a group out there who will benefit and be interested in hearing what you have to say.

JOËL: That's a really important reminder because just because a conference rejected your talk doesn't mean that it's a bad idea. And yes, you can shop it around and bring it to other conferences, but maybe think about other venues for the idea. You've already done the hard work of crafting a pitch, so maybe turn it into a blog post and share it that way.

Maybe turn it into a pitch to be a guest on a podcast that you enjoy. Podcasts that do weekly guests are constantly looking for interesting people to talk to. And you've kind of, like, done all the work for them, where you can say, "Hey, here's the thing I'm an expert on. Ask me questions about this." And most places will gladly bring you on.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I like to think of conference talks as really, like, a supplement of what you're learning and investing in in your career, right? You know, it is nice to be able to share all of those things in a perfectly wrapped package. But also, there are so many different ways for that to manifest. And there are people who know that speaking is not for them and really focus on writing, and that's, like, their avenue. But yeah, it's not...I don't think it's, like, a pinnacle of, like, something you have to do in your career at all. It's just something that can be fun.

JOËL: Yeah, and sharing takes many different forms. It can be a talk in a conference room, but it can just as easily turn into maybe some kind of video, some kind of written work. Like I said, it could be an interview on a podcast. There are so many different ways that you can share your ideas. And just because it didn't fit in one place, now that you've done the work to kind of polish that gem a little bit, oftentimes, it's very little additional work to just convert it to a different form.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I like what you just said about polishing a gem. Really, I think the value for me is having a channel to funnel and reflect on my experiences, and, you know, conference talks happen to be, like, one form of that for me. But I hate to say it's about the journey, not the destination, but sometimes it is. And, yeah, I think everyone kind of has to, like, figure that out for themselves.

JOËL: That being said, sometimes the destination is pretty exciting. And when you open that email that says, "Congratulations, your talk has been accepted," wow, what a rush.

STEPHANIE: On that note, shall we wrap up?

JOËL: Let's wrap up.

STEPHANIE: Show notes for this episode can be found at bikeshed.fm.

JOËL: This show has been produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

STEPHANIE: If you enjoyed listening, one really easy way to support the show is to leave us a quick rating or even a review in iTunes. It really helps other folks find the show.

JOËL: If you have any feedback for this or any of our other episodes, you can reach us @_bikeshed, or you can reach me @joelquen on Twitter.

STEPHANIE: Or reach both of us at hosts@bikeshed.fm via email.

JOËL: Thanks so much for listening to The Bike Shed, and we'll see you next week.

ALL: Byeeeeeeeee!!!!

ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at thoughtbot.com.

Support The Bike Shed