Published on Tuesday, 18 Apr, 2017
Render Conference – Being a keynote speaker and MC
Render Conference is a two day, single track conference held in the beautiful city of Oxford, which is billed as a “conference for front-end developers” but actually manages to pack in so much more.
Earlier this year, an email popped up on my screen, titled “Invitation to speak at Render Conference 2017 as our closing Keynote”. It was a lovely introduction, asking me to give a talk along the lines of one I’d done last year. This was perfect timing for me, as whilst I’m not looking to do a huge amount of speaking this year, I was looking for an excuse to put together a new talk more focused on the recent digital transformation work that I’d been doing, and what this means for our approach to web projects. It was also my first keynote invitation, which was both incredibly flattering and a great motivator to create something even better than what I’d originally planned. After a quick video chat with the organisers, I was signed up and ready to get cracking on the new talk.
A couple of months really isn’t very long for me to prepare entirely new talks – I tend to take a long time exploring all sorts of different strands before starting to pull together threads that seem to make sense. I’ll write about my process another time, but as usual this talk had its ups and downs in terms of confidence. One day I was certain that it’d be great; the next I’d be boring myself and sure that the story wasn’t strong enough.
As March approached, on top of that I was caught up in a flood of client work that I needed/wanted to be involved in, which both helped by reducing fretting time, but hindered by reducing writing time! In addition to this, we had some terrible news – four speakers now weren’t able to travel to the UK because of Stateside current events and a fear that they wouldn’t be able to be readmitted to their home countries. One of these people was set to be co-MC for the conference, and as I’d had a little bit of previous experience (MCing a day of Front-Trends in Poland last year), I was asked whether I’d be willing to co-host for two days alongside Ben Foxall.
In the spirit of embracing challenges (why I started speaking in the first place), I said yes!
The conference came around exceedingly quickly from that point on. After catching the train and being met at the station by Ben, we walked to the venue and worked on our co-chairing dynamic for the rest of the afternoon. Everything from getting comfortable with the stage, who was saying what, and how to deal with change overs was practiced, before we headed off for a quick rest (and in my case a photo walk around Oxford) before dinner.
The next two days were a flurry of learning, listening, and slowly becoming more at ease on stage. Whilst everything felt quite scary and a little bit awkward at first, by the end (and the time that I came to give my keynote) everyone in the room felt like friends. This was actually part of my plan to counter nerves, and I’ve since had several comments about how relaxed I seemed – top tip for others who are approached to do both!
You can find some information on all of the talks given here but with a schedule spanning everything from HTTP to lasers, it seemed that everyone had a different favourite. Some personal highlights included Seren Davies’ broad talk on accessibility, Umar Hansa’s ‘A modern front-end workflow’, Jess Lord’s ‘Spreadsheets, Forms and Forks’, Mina Markham’s incredible story of ‘Styling Hillary’, and of course Seb’s lasers which I thoroughly enjoyed playing at the party later that night! I also found a number of fantastic crossovers to my talk with the points that Jeremy Keith made on the first day in his talk Evaluating Technology, which was a great opener.
I really enjoyed getting to introduce some people that I really admire, and having Ben there to joke with made everything a lot more easy… and fun!
When it was finally time for me to stand on the other side of the podium and get announced by Ben, I felt ready. This talk was different to others I’d given, and was much more heavily case study-led thanks to some lovely clients giving permission. One of my goals was to be able to reference earlier points made by other speakers, and happily there were some really nice crossovers, even down to being able to chat about Seb’s NES slide in my introduction.
I’m hoping to create a written version of the talk soon, but the key themes were exploring how:
- Websites can be a starting point to uncover problems.
- We can use these to look at root causes and identifying underlying areas that could benefit us by changing.
- Web technologies and our learnings can be used much more broadly than just public websites, through updating the relationship and culture around tech.
- We can make this change happen!
The team worked exceedingly fast, and the video of the talk is now available here:
Both keynoting and MCing were a real privilege, and something that I hugely enjoyed. I was pleased with how the talk turned out, and after getting some feedback I was glad to see that so much of it has resonated with people. As always there will be a few bits that I’ll tweak for the future, but more than anything it’s great to know that people enjoyed it on the day and found it useful.
As a speaker, I can’t speak highly enough of White October Events and their AV company On Event Production who both did their parts to remove so many of the usual stresses that speakers can experience. Thanks to everyone for making it such fun to speak at, and of course to everyone who attended!
If you’d like to discuss speaking at an event, working on a digital transformation project, or any of the topics covered in the video above please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
(Header photo thanks to Katura Jensen)