It’s been a while since I’ve posted a hot take. And, to be fair, this is probably a lukewarm take, at best. I’m taking a slightly aged tweet, and I’m going to react to it in a slightly oblique way.
Here’s the tweet.
Unpopular career advice: speaking at conferences is a massive waste of time
Seems cool when you’re young
But creating a new deck takes time
Talks have low recall & rarely lead to followers, subscribers, etc.
Better to focus on compounding activities: write, build something
— Brianne Kimmel (@briannekimmel) March 26, 2019
I do have opinions on this tweet, and I’ll get to those momentarily. But, as I go through this post, I’m actually going to relate it more to a different facet of the programming world. Specifically, I think this has an tangential-but-important tie-in with how we tend to fetishize skill in the tech world, in spite of it being not that important in the scheme of things.
But let’s put a pin in that.
Conference Speaking is an Content Marketing Activity
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might have seen me write about this exact topic. I titled the post, “Conference Speaking Isn’t Good for Your Career Until You Make it Good,” and that title serves nicely as a spoiler for the content.
My premise is somewhat softer than Brianne’s, in that I neither discount speaking outright, nor do I make an ad hominem implication that youth and naivete govern speakers’ decision-making. My take is less that conference speaking is pointless and more that people tend to do it quite inefficiently.
In a professional context, conference speaking is a marketing activity and, more specifically, a content marketing activity. You deliver value for free (in most cases) with the idea that investing your time and effort this way will pay off later. Other activities, including ones that Brianne mention also fall into this bucket.
- Writing blog posts
- Building FOSS utilities
- Starting a Youtube channel
- Building a social media following
And Conference Speaking is Uniquely Prone to Content Marketing Inefficiency
Now, as someone who spent years creating content inefficiently, I have plenty of perspective here. I wrote a blog like a journal, instead of an asset, and it led to all kinds of opportunities and new careers. So, I did it, and it worked, albeit less efficiently than it could have.
So against this backdrop, I’ll offer my own spin on Brianne’s comments, which I think make sense. When you miss the point with blog posts, software, social media, videos, etc, you can always rework that content into more efficient forms. You can’t do that with speaking, which is ephemeral.
In other words, while all forms of content marketing activities are prone to these inefficiencies, conference speaking makes it uniquely hard to course correct later.