I'd planned to write some private mail on the subject of preparing and delivering conference talks. However, each time I try to write that mail, I've managed to somehow contrive to lose it. So I thought I'd try as a blog post instead, to break the curse.

The first aspect I wanted to write about is the pre-planning phase, or, the bit where you decide to give a talk in the first place. But first a bit about me.

I don't talk all that regularly. I think I'm averaging one talk a year. I don't consider myself to be a natural talk-giver: I don't particularly enjoy it and I still get quite nervous. So the first question is: why do it?

One motivation is that you want to attend a particular conference, and presenting at it makes it much easier to get institutional support for doing so (i.e., travel and accommodation covered). At the moment, I've written some talk proposals for FOSDEM because I want to attend, and it increases my chances if I'm delivering a talk.

Another reason, pertinent to academia, is you wish to have a paper published. Last year I attended a conference in Portland that I had a paper accepted to. A condition of the paper being accepted is you attend and do a presentation about it. Obviously, the presentation itself is a useful form of dissemination for your work, but the paper has the potential to reach more people.

You may wish to promote what you're talking about: academic work, but perhaps a piece of open source software that would benefit from wider awareness, more adoption, more bug reports, testing, and patches.

You may wish to support the venue. There are a some of small-scale conferences that I enjoy participating in which don't receive a lot of submissions and so I tend to send one or more in order to help make sure there are enough possible talks to keep the whole thing viable.

Finally, you may wish to promote yourself: certainly, some Software Engineers I've met seem to spend as much time on talks and travelling as writing software. It's a good way to see a lot of the world, and might be a good way to get your name known and increase your employment prospects. I feel lucky I haven't had to rely on this.