Staying focused with one conference presentation per year

I recently saw Basecamp made their employee handbook available online1 and this statement stood out to me in their moonlighting guide:

Not OK

2. Go out on a regular speaking circuit tour which is going to require multiple days of travel multiple times a year. That’s too disruptive to our own work schedule and to your fellow teammates.

For this exact reason, without knowing, I created my own personal rule2 of only committing to doing one conference presentation per year.

There’s a few reasons I came up with my one presentation per year rule:

  1. Giving an original3, engaging and meaningful conference presentation takes months of preparation and attention. Attention on one thing (preparing for a presentation) is distraction from another thing (work and family) – having impact in my day to day work and family life is more important than having impact at various software conferences around the world;
  2. Having a constraint of a single conference per year allows me to focus on finding the conference that allows me to have most impact – this isn’t necessarily the conference with the most people who share my views, the most prestigious conference, or even a conference I really want to attend myself.
  3. This allows the opportunity for other less experienced practitioners to present since I am not taking all the speaking slots (conferences slots, unlike blog posts, are finite).
  4. There are other less-distracting ways to share information and inspire others – writing a blog like this, starting an AMA, or attending local community groups and having discussions.
  5. You can still practice public speaking in other ways, like doing informal brown bag presentations at work. I am a member of a local Toastmasters club which means I do public speaking at least once a fortnight without it distracting me from my work.
  6. You get used to saying no: saying no is a part of life, having focus on one thing means saying no to other things. It’s okay to say no. Saying yes to every conference means saying no to things in your job and with your teammates. It may also mean saying no to your family. 

Do you ever put constraints or rules on yourself? How do you ensure focus at work? What conference should I aim to speak at in 2018?


[1] it doesn’t seem to be the whole handbook, there seems to be stuff missing – for example, the FAQs is one question.
[2] I don’t have many ‘rules’ that I live my life by, it discourages flexible thinking, but ideally I aim to present at one conference per year, and recognize this may not always be the case.
[3] I also have a rule2 that I don’t reuse/recycle the same speeches/presentations/slides over and over again, which a lot of people do. I see this as having less impact since previous material would have been shared on social media etc. anyway. I recently saw this happen at the conference where a presenter accidentally left the name of a prior conference on their slides.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.

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