Episode 290 | Public Speaking as a Sales Channel with Rachel Andrew

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike interviews Rachel Andrew about public speaking as a sales channel.  They discuss the advantages and disadvantages and challenges you will face as a public speaker.  Rachel also shares some of her processes and success stories of overcoming public speaking anxiety.

Items mentioned in this episode:


Mike [0:00:00.1]: In this episode of “Startups For the Rest of Us,” I’m going to be talking to Rachel Andrew about public speaking as a sales channel. This is “Startups For the Rest of Us,” episode 290.

Welcome to “Startups For the Rest of Us,” the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

Rachel [0:00:26.0]: And I’m Rachel.

Mike [0:00:26.9]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How you doing this week, Rachel?

Rachel [0:00:30.9]: I’m good. I’m back in the UK at the moment. I flew in from Boston last night, so I have no idea what time it is.

Mike [0:00:38.7]: Oh, that’s okay. I know that I caught you at a bad time, right between conferences. You just got back from one, and you’re headed out to another one tomorrow, right?

Rachel [0:00:45.3]: Yeah, I’m always in between conferences. That’s a permanent state, as you’ll discover.

Mike [0:00:49.9]: Got you. Well, speaking of conferences, I do have an announcement. Brennan Dunn is running the Double Your Freelancing conference over in Stockholm this year. And that’s next month. If you’re interested in that it’s a four-day event that is for freelancers and consultants. And it is aimed at helping them to grow their business, and essentially land more customers, make it more profitable, etc. We do have a ten percent off discount code that you can enter. Discount code is “Startups.” But we’ll link it up in the show notes with a direct link over to that. Again, this is primarily aimed at freelancers, so if you do have that type of business, or you’re a consultant, that might be a good option for you to help grow your business. But with that out of the way, Rachel, I wanted to give you a little bit of a brief intro and talk a little bit about your background; what you’re doing. You’ve been a main stage speaker at MicroConf Europe for the past couple of years. You are running a product called Perch, which you can find at grabaperch.com. It’s a CMS that is built for Web developers. You launched it back in 2009, and you work on it full-time right now. So with that background at play, I guess, expand on that a little bit, and tell the listeners who you are and what you’ve been up to.

Rachel [0:01:52.0]: So I’ve been a Web developer for a very long time; since sort of ’97. And I’ve been running my own company since 2001. And so we have Perch. My background was working really—we do consultancy and we built things for people. I eventually launched Perch, which was a sort of self-funded product; counter management system. And that’s sort of the main job really. That’s what I do, is I work on Perch; write documentation; do support for Perch. And as well as that, I do an awful lot of speaking. And much of that really came from the things as I do as, kind of, a weird sort of hobby. I’m involved with [Ready Open?] Web standards and CSS, and I’ve always been involved with that really, for as long as I’ve been a developer. So a lot of the stuff I do outside of Perch is regarding [Ready Open?] Web standards and things like that, and talking to people about that, and writing.

Mike [0:02:41.5]: I guess for a little bit more background on that, you said you do a lot of public speaking. How many speaking engagements do you do a year?

Rachel [0:02:49.4]: I think last year I did about 27 presentations, and sort of three or four full-day workshops.

Mike [0:02:56.6]: Okay. Now how big are these different presentations that you do? Are they 10, 20, 30 people? Are they more like 100, 200, 500?

Rachel [0:03:03.7]: Usually in the 100s. I also speak at meetups and things, and often what I’ll do when I’m traveling, if I’m asked sort of a bigger event that’s flown me in, I’ll then go and speak at some smaller things that are around as well. They wouldn’t be able to afford to fly in at international speaker, for instance. So typically the things that I’m speaking at are quite large events. But I’ll also do meetups, especially locally or whatever.

Mike [0:03:26.4]: Now when you’re giving these talks what is the general subject matter? I guess, how are you presenting things to the audience? What topics are they? I know you said that you are involved in Web standards. Is that the kind of stuff? Is it more technical? Is it more marketing?

Rachel [0:03:38.8]: A lot of the time. At the moment I’m speaking a lot about some very new CSS specifications that I’ve been involved with. So I’ll talk about those. So a lot of those kind of talks are really just training, essentially. It will be an instruction to a new spec, and how all that works. I often talk about business, as you know. When I came to MicroConf Europe I was talking about our experience launching Perch. So I do a fair bit of speaking about that. So it’s never directly sales related, in terms of our product, but I tend to be speaking to audiences who’d be interested in the product.

Mike [0:04:11.3]: So it’s mostly, I would say, technical presentations, if I’m understanding you correctly.

Rachel [0:04:14.9]: Yes, generally.

Mike [0:04:16.0]: Now, you said that the audience themselves, because you’re talking about this technical stuff and it kind of relates back to your business because you do have a product that is aimed at Web developers, what sort of impact have you seen from the speaking side of things on the product sales?

Rachel [0:04:31.9]: All right. It’s really, really difficult to know. The speaking kind of works on different levels. We’ve been doing Perch for about seven years, so we’ve got lots of customers. We’ve got customers worldwide. So one of the things that the speaking enables is for me to actually meet those customers. And it’s pretty normal that I’ll speak at an event and then afterwards I’ll get a bunch of people talking to me about what I spoke about. But also a bunch of people who are Perch customers. They’ll come up to me and they’ll be saying, “Oh, we use Perch, and we’ve got this feature request,” or, “Here’s a project that we’ve just used it for.” So that’s a real positive thing, and something I can see an impact from, because it means I can actually speak to our customers face-to-face, and I wouldn’t otherwise. But in terms of sales, I mean, we do get a sort of fairly steady stream of people who’ve, for instance, they’ve signed up for our online demo, and they quote, “Oh, I saw Rachel at XYZ conference.” So, it’s very difficult to actually measure the impact of this stuff.

Mike [0:05:25.7]: People that I’ve spoken with, that whole concept of attribution is somewhat difficult to directly assign, especially when you’re talking about conferences and just general awareness and visibility. But at the same time, if they hadn’t seen you would they have even sought out the product, or would they have even known about it?

Rachel [0:05:42.8]: I think there’s that, and there’s also the fact that in an industry where people need to have confidence that someone who’s creating a product like Perch, that people use Perch to do all of the projects that their business does for clients. So it’s quite a big thing to start using; to use a different CMS. And quite a lot of people have moved off, for instance, WordPress. So you’re jumping from one platform to another, and you want to know that the people behind it know what they’re talking about. So the fact that I’m there on the stage of a large industry event and seem to know what I’m talking about, I hope that then reflects positively on the product.

Mike [0:06:17.9]: Yeah. It lends credibility and trust, not just to you, but by virtue of you being the developer behind the product, it lends trust and credibility to the product. It just kind of transfers to that.

Rachel [0:06:28.0]: Yes, absolutely. And this is what developer relations people, for all sorts of products, do. A lot of the conferences I go to there’ll be quite a few people on the bill who’ve been sent there by their company. They’ll be speaking not really in a sales way, but they might be speaking about something interesting they’ve learned while developing the product. But that’s exactly why they’re there, is that reflects well on the product itself.

Mike [0:06:49.0]: So I guess you said that you did 27 speaking engagements last year. Let’s take a step back and go back in time a little bit. When was it that you first started speaking, and how did you go about finding the first speaking engagement that you ended up with?

Rachel [0:07:01.6]: It’s only in the last few years I’ve done this much speaking. For a long time I’ve — been a writer since way back when; I don’t know 2000, 2001, I think, I first sort of actually had something published in a book. And I started to be asked at that point, “Will you speak?” And there were far fewer conferences then for web developers. And I was actually really terrified of public speaking, and just wouldn’t do it. There was absolutely no way I was going to do any public speaking. And I’m not quite sure where the change happened. I think I did a panel. I was on a panel at a conference about ten years ago, and that was okay, because I’ve never minded being asked questions. So I was doing this panel, and then sort of slowly I started doing smaller things. And there is video somewhere of me absolutely shaking in my boots trying to do like a ten minute talk with absolutely no confidence, sort of, hanging on to the lectern in case I fell over. And so it was not something that I immediately thought, “This is what I wanted to be doing.” And really the change came, because in the industry being able to speak became far more important if you wanted to get something across that you had to say. And when I first started writing was, kind of, everything. I needed to follow that change really.

Mike [0:08:15.1]: When was it when you started to realize that doing some of these public speaking engagements was a viable, or a good, sales channel for you? What was it that drew you to it? It sounds to me like you started out really, really gently into it, and then over time, obviously, it’s ramped up quite a bit. But was there a turning point, or an inflection point, or something that sticks out in your mind that kind of jumped out at you and said, “This is something that I really should be doing a lot more of.”

Rachel [0:08:39.7]: I think with Perch it was we were sort of couple of years into Perch by the time I started doing a lot more speaking. And partly that was because my daughter got older and I wasn’t needed to ferry her backwards and forwards to things. It was easier for me to be away for a while. But then I’d start to see those comments. You know, people signing up for the demo and saying, “I saw Rachel on stage.” and I just started to realize that this is a valuable thing to do. It’s something that I’m quite good at. By that point I was a lot more confident. It’s something that I enjoyed. I’m quite introverted, but I find that when I’ve gone out there and spoken on stage that gives people a reason to come and talk to me. I don’t have to start those conversations. And so it makes it a lot easier for me to chat to people and find out what they’re interested in, and what they’ve been doing with Perch if they’re customers. It’s a combination of things that really made me realize this is important. And also just the fact that being at these events I get to see what’s important in the industry, and what people care about, and that’s vital for the development of Perch.

Mike [0:09:38.3]: It’s interesting that you say that you’re an introvert, because most people when they think of public speakers they say, “I could never do that because I am an introvert, and I just do not want to be up on stage and I don’t want to be the center of attention.” And I kind of, am the same way – to be perfectly honest – but at the same time I feel the same way as you do, and I’ve talked to other people who also have encountered this. They’re introverts and they don’t mind being up on stage, because they are comfortable talking about the things that they know about. But then it gives other people excuses to come up to talk to them, so that they don’t have to go out and seek them while they’re at the conference.

Rachel [0:10:11.3]: Absolutely. If I attend a conference I’ll not speak to anyone. I’ll hide in the corner with my laptop. So, actually as a speaker then, I speak, and then afterwards I know people will come and talk to me, and that’s great. And I enjoy that. It’s, kind of, like I’ve started the conversation on stage, and then for the rest of the conference I’m able to continue that conversation individually with people.

Mike [0:10:32.4]: That makes a lot of sense. So over the years has it gotten easier for you to find speaking engagements? I would imagine that in the early days it might be very difficult, because you’re trying to get your first break, or you’re trying to get noticed by people who either run meetups or conferences or just many events. Have you found it easier to get more speaking engagements over time?

Rachel [0:10:52.7]: Yes. It definitely gets easier, because I think people see a talk that you’ve done somewhere and think, “Oh, I’d like to have that person come and speak at my event.” And so it naturally sort of builds on one on the other. I’ve found that, certainly in the early days, pretty much every speaking engagement I was directly asked to do was because of something I’d written. So I’d write a blog post somewhere that someone would be interested in, and they’d say, “This would make a great talk. Have you thought about making this into a talk?” So that tended to be where people would approach me from. But particularly in the early days I just applied for these call for papers. There were sites you can go and you can find which conferences have got open call for papers. And the good ones will tell you exactly what they offer; if they’ll cover you’re travel or if there’s a fee, all the information about it. And you can just put together a proposal for a talk you’d like to give and post it there, and see if it’s interesting. Initially that’s what I was doing a lot of. I do far less of that now because, to be honest, this year I’ve turned down more requests for me to go and speak than I’ve actually accepted, because there’s so many conferences and they’re all at the same time and there’s only one of me. As you do more of it you’ll get more people actually saying, “We want you to come and talk about this subject.” At the beginning you kind of have to put yourself out there and find things.

Mike [0:12:07.8]: You mentioned calls for papers. There’s a couple of links that you gave to me before we got on the podcast. So we’ll link those up in the show notes. But there’s the Weekly CFP, there’s Tinyletter.com, and then there’s Lanyard. There’s also other places that you’re aware of for resources. Can you talk a little bit about what the process is for those call to papers? How in depth are some of the proposals that you need to give? Is it something that you can put together in 15 to 20 minutes, or do you have to essentially build like your entire talk before you even get to the point where you’re making a proposal?

Rachel [0:12:37.2]: Most call for papers just want a sort of abstract. So, kind of, a couple of paragraphs explaining: what the talk is going to be about, what the attendees will learn from it, the level it is. Because obviously – particularly if it’s technical stuff – it could be for beginners, or it could be something really advanced. So it’s useful to outline that. You certainly don’t need to worry if you’ve got a beginner’s talk, because a lot of conferences want talks for beginners. People think, “I’ve got to be an amazing expert in my topic to be able to speak at the conference.” And that isn’t true at all. There’s lots and lots of conference that wants things that are for newcomers to the subject, because they’re the people who are being sent along to the conference. So usually it’s a couple of paragraphs. And absolutely you can write the abstract before you’ve written the talk, and most people do that. You think, “This would be a great fit for this conference.”, and if it gets accepted then you go and write the full talk.

Mike [0:13:28.5]: So when you go through the process, and you have gotten to the point where you are going to be speaking at a conference, what are the general logistics of speaking at some of these conferences? Are they paid engagements? Are they unpaid? Do you get compensated for travel only? How does some of that work, or does it vary greatly between one type of conference or event and another?

Rachel [0:13:48.5]: It does vary. It varies between industries and so on. I, as a person who’s self-employed, I’m not funded by a big employer, so I won’t go and speak anywhere unless my traveling expenses are covered. Unless it’s literally down the road and I can just walk down there, they need to cover my expenses. Typically, I’m paid these days. I think you have to balance that with how valuable something is for your business; how much you want to be at the conference. Because, obviously, if you’re getting your expenses paid and it’s a conference you really want to be at anyway, and you’re getting a ticket for it too, then you might be happy to speak for free in order to get that. That’s fine. But as you go along you tend to find that if you’re doing quite well as a speaker you’ll get more requests than you could ever do. And it kind of becomes part of your income. Which for me it now is. I mean, actually speaking at conferences and doing workshops is a reasonable chunk of my income. Just that’s how it’s turned out. It was never something I aimed to do. But obviously anytime I’m spending speaking I’m not actually working in the business so I have to balance the two.

Mike [0:14:50.1]: I was just about to ask that, because you do do a lot of speaking. So how is it that you’re able to balance that? Even if you’re getting paid to speak at a conference, you’re generally getting paid for going there and delivering your talk and some of the prep time for your talk beforehand. But at the same time, depending on where that conference is—like for me, if I were to fly out to Las Vegas it’s an entire day for me. I mean, it’s a six hour flight and then on the way back it’s going to be nine, because of the three hour time zone difference, plus an hour or two at the airport each time. It adds up. And for me, something like that’s an entire day. How is it that you’re able to balance this? Are you getting a fair amount of work done while you’re on the road, or in the air?

Rachel [0:15:29.9]: Yes. I work everywhere. I’m very able to do that, and I don’ think everybody is. My husband Drew, he really can’t work on planes, whereas as soon as that seatbelt light goes off I’ve got my laptop out and I will work for an eight hour flight. I will work from the minute that light goes off to the minute they’re telling you to put your laptop away in your bag. And I’ll get a ton of stuff done. I’m very organized. For flights, in most of the flights from the UK to the states, there’s no Wi-Fi. So you’re going to be offline. And so I just make sure that I’ve got absolutely everything I need for whatever bit of work it is that I’m intending to do, sort of, all ready. So I’m not being frustrated and thinking, “I can’t do this because I’m not online.” I get into hotel rooms. I set myself up. I’ve got a little stand for my laptop, and a separate keyboard, and trap pad, and I sort of get myself set up so I can actually sit down and do full day’s work in hotel rooms. And I do that all the time. You, kind of, need to have the work you can do like that. Obviously I can code or write documentation or do support very easily from a hotel room. And you need to be the sort of person who can work on the road, and I don’t think everybody is. That’s just a sort of personality type. But you do get better at it as you go along.

Mike [0:16:35.4]: Yeah. It gives new meaning to the word “road warrior.”

Rachel [0:16:37.6]: Yes.[laughter] You just have to be really organized if you want to be able to get a lot of stuff done. Which I am, just as a person. So that makes it, I think, a lot easier.

Mike [0:16:47.2]: What’s changed from when you first started speaking, to now, in terms of the preparation you have to do in advance of a talk? Are you reusing a lot of your previous talks, or is that very heavily dependent upon the speaking engagements that you accept?

Rachel [0:17:01.4]: Yes, it does depend. At the moment I’m speaking a lot about CSS specification now, being involved with CSS grid layout. So I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of slides and information, examples, and bits of code and things, around this subject now. So if someone says, “Can you come and talk about grid layout and performance, or something,” I can pull together the right set of slides. If they say, “We need a real instruction for absolute beginners, they’ve never heard of this before,” I can pull together a bunch of slides. So there is somethings that I can very quickly put what looks like a new talk together, but it’s essentially just repurposing things. And then there are events where I’m going to have to write something brand new, and that is going to reflect in whether I say yes or no. Because if I think “Yes, I could write this talk, and then I could use it for another event.” then that’s more useful than something completely unique.

Mike [0:17:53.0]: Now, one of the challenges that I’ve run into, in terms of putting together a talk, is the fact that you don’t realize it up front, but making your presentation look good actually matters to some extent. And you don’t realize how much effort and work that takes upfront. Are you reusing the basic template that you have every time? I mean, obviously the slides themselves and all the information on them will change, but do you have a template that you use from one talk to the next? Or one conference to the next?

Rachel [0:18:20.2]: I have a couple of things; I’ve got a keynote template that a designer friend of mine did for me when she redesigned my web site. A lady called Laura Kalbag. She made me a keynote template that matched my site, which I use for some things. And it’s got some really good slides in there for showing code. The other thing I use is an application called Deckset app, which is an application that creates slides from a markdown document. And it has a bunch of very nice themes that you can’t really modify. You just use one of their themes. For the sort of talk where I’m not showing code, and it’s just like a bunch of points and quotes and images and things, Deckset works really, really nicely. So you can just sit there and write your talk in markdown, and then it kind of makes it look cool, and it’s very easy to use. You don’t have a lot of customization, but, to be honest, I’m not a designer, so that’s quite good.

Mike [0:19:11.7]: Yeah. I’ve found there’s definitely resources out there where you can just go out and you can buy a template for PowerPoint or Keynote, or whatever. Then use that template. And sometimes they’re really difficult to modify after the fact, but if you find one that has enough page layouts, then you can usually make your talk fit into those. And even most of them will come with a black page so that that way you don’t have to worry as much about it.

Rachel [0:19:34.5]: I think it’s making them clear so people can sort of understand what you’re getting across without being distracted by awful clipart, or things like that. I speak at design conferences and I’m not a designer, so I always sit there and look at everybody else’s slides and think, “Oh, they’ve got these beautiful slides and mine are all code.” But I think a lot of it is just making them clear, and not objectionable to look at.

Mike [0:19:58.9]: Taking another step back, when we talk about going out and doing public speaking, and using that as something as a sales channel for your product, is this an approach that you think can work for anyone? Or are there significant challenges that people are going to need to overcome?

Rachel [0:20:12.8]: It depends on the industry that you’re in. I mean the web design and development scene has a big, big conference scene. There are masses and masses of conferences every week. And so that’s an opportunity. If you’ve got a product which is for those type of people, and you’re able to speak, you’re able to come up with interesting things that people in that audience are going to want to hear about, then that can be a great channel. But that’s not going to map to every industry that every product is aimed at. If they don’t have a big scene of conferences and so on, it’s going to be much harder to find places to speak about things that are related that then link back to your product. So I’m quite fortunate. But I can imagine that quite a lot of people listening to this podcast have things that are of interest to designers and developers and people who freelance in those kind of industries.

Mike [0:21:02.1]: That brings up a really good point, which is that if you’re looking at this as a potential sales channel for your product then make sure that there is a critical mass, so to speak, of these types of conferences, or events, that you can go to and speak at. Whether it’s either locally or regionally, or even across the country or around the world. Because if you can’t get enough speaking engagements then you’re probably going to spend a lore more time doing the preparation than it’s worth. Because I think in your position you’re doing so many of these speaking engagements, and you’ve amassed such a wealth of previous slides that you can reuse, that you’re probably in a position where to do another speaking engagement isn’t so much about building the presentation and doing the set up and the preparation for it, so much as it is getting there and still being productive while you’re getting there.

Rachel [0:21:51.2]: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Mike [0:21:52.2]: So if you were to go back and do this over again, what advice would you have given yourself when you were first starting out and doing public speaking?

Rachel [0:21:59.4]: Just to get on and do it. I spent an awful lot of time being this person who was scared of doing this. And so every time I did any public speaking I would, kind of, lose three days before because I was so nervous. And then I would be stressed about it afterwards, like, “Did this go okay?”, or I was shaking, and, kind of, really overthinking the whole thing. And I do think to some extent you have to do it in order to get over that. But I think I’ve never really seen anyone, even the most nervous of people, go down that badly; nothing like as badly as you ever think you are. And so it’s really not to stress so much, because if you’ve got something useful for the audience then they’re really with you. They want you to succeed. They want you to get your information across. And generally, it’s an enjoyable experience presenting, once you can get past getting on stage for the first time. So I think I’d tell past Rachel not to worry so much about it and just get on with it. And the more you relax into it the more your personality starts to shine through, and you’re able to really hone your presentation skills as opposed to just trying not to fall over.

Mike [0:23:05.9]: Sure. even from the audience perspective, nobody wants a given speaker to go down in flames, because really what they’re there for is to learn and be educated about a particular topic. Nobody’s going to go to a session if they’re like, “I hope this person fails miserably, or falls off the stage and breaks something.” But at the same time there’s probably some major drawbacks or challenges that somebody might need to overcome. What types of things would somebody run into when they’re starting down this path of public speaking?

Rachel [0:23:31.0]: I think just the general logistics of it. Coping with the amount of travel, because there is a lot of travel. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling about, and making sure that that doesn’t then negatively affect the rest of your business. That’s quite difficult. And I think, as I mentioned, I’m very organized. And you do need to be to do that. I think a lot of people end up doing an awful lot of this and essentially just burn out. Because if you’re a good speaker you will get masses and masses of requests in certain industries. As I say, I’ve turned down more than I’ve taken on, and I’m doing a huge amount of speaking this year. So it’s very easy to end up essentially just burning out. And I see that quite a lot. You see people start speaking, they’re really great, they get loads of invites, and then suddenly they drop off the scene because they’ve just become exhausted. So I think a lot of it is learning how to manage this stuff, and to not get so excited that, “Oh yeah, people want me to speak.” that you make decisions that aren’t sensible, either financially or just for your own health.

Mike [0:24:27.0]: Or you just overcommit yourself. I can see a situation coming up where somebody doesn’t want to disappoint a particular conference organizer, and they say yes to a speaking engagement when they have something that was just the day before, or ending, and the schedules conflict a little bit, and then they show up late or they miss a flight or something like that. And it can really impact the conference coordinator’s schedules.

Rachel [0:24:49.6]: I’m really sort of obsessive about planning these things. And I’ll sometimes pay for an extra night in a hotel just to make sure that I don’t have connection problems with flights and so on. Because I’m really, really concerned about doing things that are last minute. But that’s very much my nature. I’m not a last minute sort of person. I think you have to take care of yourself like with everything. And it can be a really great way to promote your business. It can be a very nice life if you enjoy traveling, which I do. But you do have to also be sensible around it, and work out how to protect yourself when you’re doing this. Because these events come with a whole load of stuff. You know, speak at dinners, and people who want to go out for drinks every night, and all this stuff, and just all the time shifting with travel. So you have to take care of your own health as well.

Mike [0:25:36.9]: One of the things that I can imagine might be a little difficult is dealing with feedback, especially in the early days when you’re not really used to, or comfortable with, public speaking. Do you get a lot of feedback from people, either positive or negative when you’re speaking? And does that contrast differently between when you first started out?

Rachel [0:25:53.7]: Yes, you do get feedback. You get feedback in all sorts of ways. Often the events have an official route for feedback, so you might get PDFs of scanned handwritten forms that they’ve handed out, or they might just send you the votes and things. I really don’t like the sort of feedback where it’s like, “Did you like this presentation, yes or no?” Because you never quite know why they didn’t like it, if they didn’t like it. And if you’re presenting on a controversial topic you probably expect 50 percent of the audience to disagree with you. And then, well do they vote, “I didn’t like this presentation because I disagreed.” or because they thought you were a terrible presenter. You never know. If they’re going to do official feedback, I like it if it’s a bit more broken down into the different aspects of the talk, because then it becomes useful. You get people who come and want to tell you all sorts of strange things after you’ve spoken. It’s a well-known fact among female speakers particularly that there’s always a man racing up to you afterwards to tell you off about something which was totally not really to do with your presentation, but they feel they’ve got to have something to tell you. That happens after almost every talk. You get used to smiling and nodding at that. Feedback is often really useful. You hear from people who say, “That slide, it wasn’t very clear.” or, “I couldn’t quite see your code examples on this projector.” and you’re like, “Yeah. I need to shift the contrast of those.” So it’s always useful stuff.

Mike [0:27:14.7]: One of the issues that we’ve run into with MicroConf is creating a balance in our surveys to people after the conference. You addressed this a little, or talked about it, but when you’re asking about a speaker, one of the things we have in mind when we’re requesting the people rate the speakers, is their rating based on how applicable the talk was to their business, or was it their impression of the person on stage. And those are two extremely different issues, and having just one score for somebody can really screw that up.

Rachel [0:27:46.1]: Exactly. I think for other conference organizers, I think that’s the thing is breaking this stuff down. Because someone could be a fantastic speaker, but they’re speaking about a controversial issue. And then it looks like they’ve got a very low score because people disagreed with them, but it was important to voice that, for instance. So, as you say, the content might not be relevant to a good chunk of the audience, if it’s a single track conference. But that’s okay, because sometimes you’re going to have to sit through things that aren’t relevant to you. The next talk might be. So it’s useful to have them a bit more broken down, because I’ve got a fairly thick skin at this point, but if you just get what looks like a bad mark and you’ve got no way of ascertaining what that was about, well it’s not helpful. You might as well have not been given that.

Mike [0:28:26.4]: Right. I think that if you look at scores in aggregate across the spectrum – like let’s say you only asked for one number from the audience for a particular speaker – when you’re looking at the numbers – let’s say that there’s a 100 of them, a 100 ratings – you, kind of, have to not just look at what the average of those ratings is, but also the distribution of it. Because if you’re given a controversial talk, you’re going to end up with some that are much higher and then much lower, versus if they’re all clustered in a particular region. So if they’re all between four and six, for example, then it’s very different than if you got a bunch of twos and threes, and then you got a bunch of nines and tens.

Rachel [0:29:02.3]: Exactly. And I think as well, there are some speakers who are so good at just presenting, that they really could come and present the phone book and people would give them a high rating because they’re just talented presenters. I don’t think I’m that person. I’m a good trainer. I’m good at teaching stuff and making things clear to people, but I’m not the inspirational speaker type. And it’s those types people leave going, “Wow, that was a fantastic talk!” I hope that people leave going, “I learned something there.” And that’s really where I am with speaking. I’m trying to pass on information; stuff I’ve learned.

Mike [0:29:36.5]: Right. And that’s actually something else to talk a little bit about, which is making sure that you know what your goals are going into these. Because it’s one thing to accept a speaking engagement. It’s another to figure out what it is that you’re actually going to be getting out of it. Whether it’s just stage time, or getting in front of your customers, or even just being able to put yourself out there so that you can leverage that in the future.

Rachel [0:30:00.4]: Yeah. I think it’s worth thinking about why you’re doing it. Particularly if it’s taking time away from your business and your family. Why are you actually doing this particular event? And certainly as I get busier and I get more requests, I have to think, “Well it’d be really nice to go there.” because I do love travel and I think, “Oh, if I got an invite to somewhere I’ve not been before.” there’s always a little bit of me thinking, “That’d be nice, I can go there.” But I have to think, “Is this sensible for the business?” Because even though I’m good at working on the road, it’s obviously taking me out of the office. And it’s going to have some impact, going and doing that event.

Mike [0:30:30.7]: So, we’ve talked a little bit about some of the downsides, and what the different challenges are that you need to overcome. Why don’t we end this on what are the advantages to becoming a public speaker?

Rachel [0:30:40.5]: I think I’ve learned a lot more confidence, generally, by doing this. As I say, I was really nervous of speaking, and now I’m able to talk really to anyone about our product. I can present things a lot more clearly from doing this. Whereas before I was always very much into writing things, and not so much into actually being able to voice them, which I’m a lot better at now. I mean, there’s just personal things. As I say, I never got a chance to travel when I was younger. I had my daughter very young, so I didn’t have the time in my 20s or whatever where I went traveling and did that sort of stuff. On a personal level I enjoy seeing parts of the world. I enjoy meeting people from different cultures and finding out about how they work and how their lives are. So that’s a personal good thing. And, as I say, it helps me to learn what people in my industry are interested in at the moment. Because that is vital to the future development for Perch. We could build as many features as we like, but if they’re not what people are currently needing, who are building Web sites, then we’re not doing our job. As well as people finding out about what I do, I get to find out what they do. And that really is probably the biggest benefit.

Mike [0:31:50.4]: I can definitely say that if you’re sitting in your basement or in your living room coding all day and you don’t get out of the house, then long-term effects are probably not very beneficial. But it does get you, not just the opportunity, but an excuse to get out there and talk to other people who are either doing similar things, or are in your target customer audience. Or maybe you’re part of their audience as well. So it’s nice to be able to just have those conversations and learn about people and their different perspectives.

Rachel [0:32:17.4]: Absolutely. And it does give you a platform for things you care about. And there’s a whole bunch of stuff outside of Perch. As I mentioned, things like the web standards stuff that I’ve done. These are things that I really, really care about, and have done for a long time. And so the speaking has given me a platform to talk about some of the things to do with the Web that I think are very important, and that need people speaking about them. So that’s a real sort of benefit that I get a chance to push; a bit of an agenda that I have in terms of things on the Web that I care about. So that’s cool.

Mike [0:32:48.4]: Excellent. Well, I just wanted to say thank you very much for coming on the show. If people want to learn more about you, or maybe see where you’re speaking, where can people find you?

Rachel [0:32:56.1]: I’m Twitter @Rachelandrew where I’m normally complaining about airplanes or something else. My web site is Rachelandrew.co.uk. And Perch is at grabaperch.com. And you can also find me on Lanyard, which is where all my speaking stuff is. And on Rachelandrew.co.uk/presentations is a repository of all my past presentations and slide decks and things. So you can see the sort of stuff I’ve spoken on in the past.

Mike [0:33:21.0]: Very cool. We’ll link all those up in the show notes. You also have a book, I believe. Is that correct?

Rachel [0:33:25.2]: Yes, I’ve got a number of books. The one most relevant to this audience is The Profitable Side Project Handbook, which I wrote really about how we got Perch to market with no money and without any real idea about how to launch a product when we started.

Mike [0:33:38.8]: Well you’ll have to send me over the link for that and we’ll link that up in the show notes as well. But I just wanted to say thanks for your time and really appreciate you coming on the show.

Rachel [0:33:44.5]: Thanks. It’s been fun.

Mike [0:33:45.7]: Well, I think that about wraps us up. If you have a question for us you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690. Or you can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups. And visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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