So you want to speak at a jQuery conference?

As I write this, I'm sitting in a Boston coffee shop recovering from the fantastic jQuery conference that was held there last weekend. Like at this year's event in San Francisco, I was a speaker and based on a couple of discussions I had with various members of the jQuery community, I decided to write about the process of becoming a speaker at one of their events which is an experience I highly recommend.

When you look at this year's speaker lists in Boston and San Francisco you might think that unless you are a jQuery team member or an influential JavaScript developer it's very difficult to become a speaker at these events. As someone who used to think the same I can't blame you and as someone who is an obvious exception to this "rule" I thought it would be a good idea to set the record straight. I'd like to tell you about becoming a speaker, how the process works and what you can expect if you are chosen as a speaker at one of these events.

Becoming a speaker

After talking with a number of visitors of last weekend's event it became clear that even if they had wanted to speak, they had no idea about when and where to apply and when they were explained how the process works the general response was "yeah, but the odds of actually being selected must be very small". As I will explain later, chances are better than you think. First, however, I'll explain the process.

As soon as a jQuery event is announced, via Twitter or the jQuery blog, a call for speakers form is opened. Through this form, you can enter your contact details, the title and a 150 word abstract of your presentation. If you're wondering what such an abstract should look like, the talk abstracts on past event websites are a pretty good indication. You can submit as many proposals as you like.

After the deadline passes, a selection process is started during which all proposals are considered. Contrary to what you might think, the jQuery team members go through the exact same process. From what I've heard of John Resig and the other team members the most important aspect they're looking for is diversity. They want unique angles and ideas so they can create an event with plenty of variation. A direct link to jQuery is definitely nice but by no means required. When the selection process is completed, all submitters receive an email about whether or not they have been selected.

Did I say the chances of being selected are not as small as you'd might think? You'd probably be as surprised as I was to hear that for the Boston event a little less than half of all submissions were accepted.

Being a speaker

The following will be my personal reflection on what it's like to be a speaker but many other speakers have expressed to me feeling exactly the same. For me, receiving the congratulations, you've been accepted email released feelings of tremendous excitement combined with a general sense of OMGWTF because I realized I would have to go through with it now. I was expected to go up on a stage and talk for 45 minutes to a room full of people I never met so I better make sure I have something to say and I know what I'm talking about. It is now time for some serious preparation.

Preparation

If there's anything I want to share with you about this phase it is that preparing for a presentation sucks. Really, it is no fun at all. Depending on what you might be presenting about, there's a presentation document to prepare, there's demos to write and plenty of rehearsing to do. For pretty much every speaker I've encountered this continues until right before the actual presentation and the closer it gets the worse it feels. You will be nervous and it will feel horrible. Take comfort in this, however: as soon as you get up on the stage, the crowd becomes quiet and you begin speaking the nervousness will almost completely disappear.

Being selected

If you're selected you are expected to make your travel arrangements. The hotel and most meals are taken care of by the jQuery organisation. Speakers don't get paid but do get travel costs reimbursed up to about $400. You'll be added to a mailing list for speakers where you can ask any question you have. For the San Francisco conference I used this mailing list to bum a ride from the airport to the hotel from Rick Waldron.

During the event you'll realize how nice the jQuery team is. The people involved are very approachable and do their best to really make you feel a part of it all. You'll have a chance to interact with some of the most influential people in JavaScript development so make the most of it. Being a speaker at these events may involve a lot of effort and stress, but the reward is substantial. This year's events were easily the two highlights of 2010 for me and I cannot recommend trying it once highly enough. If you are interested feel free to drop me a line.

Coincidentally, Garann Means, a fellow speaker in Boston decided to write about her experiences in being a first-time speaker.

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