This week I was fortunate enough to present my first major conference talk - the 2018 Lead Developer conference at Austin TX. Wanted to jot down my reflections and notes for future talks.

Lead Developer Austin - Vishal Bardoloi

Applying to Speak

The biggest step was the leap of faith in submitting. At the point of submitting, I only started with a germ of an idea. It was a mentor who helped pick a catchy title, and articulate the idea better in the summary. This early feedback was crucial.

The selection process

Why did I get selected? To be honest I’m still not sure. Maybe the topic was good, but the cynical part of me doesn’t want to believe that. It keeps saying it had to do with company sponsorship. Frankly, even if that’s true I still don’t quite care. It’s one of the reasons I joined ThoughtWorks, to get those opportunities, so I’ll take the opportunities provided.

Preparing the Talk

Narrative structure. Shortening from 1 hour to 30 mins to 10 mins (get to the point!)

Listening to videos of other speakers.

Feedback. Over and over. Clarity of idea, narrative flow, originality, even things like readability of slides, the color combination of your deck, all matter.

Practice practice practice. Till you can give it without even having slides.

How do you say something original on a topic that so many people have already spoken about? Focus on authenticity, not authority. Speak to what you know best.

Presenting the Talk

Be a good citizen. Always come in under time. To do this - don’t speed up; give up slides. Find ways to tighten your narrative.


I’m hooked! Conference speaking was an exhilarating experience, and I’m now looking for opportunities to do it again!

Also made so many friends, met some amazing people, and felt like I belonged.

General reflections

  • Intellectual v/s Emotional talks: my style was well suited to the intellectual, analytical nature of the topic. There are other tricks I learnt from others: in emotional topics, speak with more urgency. Higher pitch, and/or higher volume can help. “I wish we had more time to talk” tells your audience there’s a lot more where that came from.
  • Intellectual talks are well and good, but emotional talks resonate
  • Present sound bytes. Quotable quotes. Words were literally being quoted verbatim on social media, pictures were being taken, of slides that had some profundity.
  • One point, made well with a great story, makes more impact than 10 great points sprinkled throughout the talk.
Topic Speaker Length
Levelling Up: The Way of the Lead Developer Patrick Kua 30 mins
Building Tech for the Non-Technical Laurie Barth 10 min
The Team-Changing Magic of 1:1s Adrienne Lowe 30 min
Building Engineering Teams Under Pressure Julia Grace 30 min
Tackling the Big, Impossible Project Michele Titolo 10 min
Your Customers Don’t Care About Five-Nines Reliability;
They Care About Five-Nines Customer Service
Kishore Jalleda 30 min
5 Ways You Can Hire Better VM Brasseur 10 min
Leadership Through the Underground Railroad Anjuan Simmons 30 min
====Lunch==== ==== ====
Do the Most Good Mina Markham 30 min
Reclaiming the Spirit of Agile yours truly 10 min
The Death of Data: Retention, Rot, and Risk Heidi Waterhouse 30 min
Vault and Security as a Service Patrick Shields 10 min
True Tales of Building Microservices Karl Hughes 10 min
I’m Lazy So I Write Tests Jaime Lopez 10 min
Who Destroyed Three Mile Island? Nickolas Means 30 min