How to get to speak at KubeCon

The first rule of getting to speak at KubeCon is that there are no rules. The event has grown to such a scale that hundreds of top-quality submissions will fall through the cracks. Here's how you can stand a better chance of getting to speak.

Whilst I am a CNCF Ambassador, this advice is based upon my experience and should be considered as opinion.

A method

This post is based upon my flowchart below, with additional ideas and context along the way.

talks

Without giving the game away, speaking at an event at or around the same time as KubeCon can have just as much impact and relevance as having a talk on the main schedule.

1) Submit to the CfP

  • Keep an eye out for when the CfP opens
    There is no first-come-first-served rule, but getting organised early means that you can plan instead of rushing at the last minute.

  • KubeCon isn't just about Kubernetes
    You could be forgiven that Kubernetes is the only topic people want to hear about, but the event is usually called "KubeCon + CloudNativeCon" and is hosted by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). The CNCF represents and hosts a whole landscape of projects, tools, and vendors who are working to solve tech problems.
    This means your talk on running containerd in production at scale should be as likely to be accepted, as one on how to extend Kubernetes access control through Rust.

  • Read the general guidelines
    If you don't read the guidelines, it's possible that your paper will be rejected immediately. This includes picking the correct track for the talk. Don't submit more papers than are allowed. I find it useful to go through a dummy submission until the last page to record all the questions I need to fill out and then click back.

  • Don't submit old talks
    This may sound obvious, but it's a good way to get an instant rejection. Now I have seen some people have success with this, doing the same talk on a tour, but it's risky. Reviewers sometimes search Google and YouTube to check whether this is a repeat submission. Original content will be a safer bet.

  • Full talk or lightning talk?
    If you're not sure if you want to give a 30m talk, there are also lightning talks available which you can use to introduce a new idea or to summarise your experience in an area. Don't be fooled, less time does not mean easier. You can watch past talks for ideas.

  • Think about co-speaking
    You can co-speak with a customer, a user, a friend, a colleague, or even someone from a competing company or OSS project to make things interesting. If you decide to go this route, make sure that it's obvious what both speakers bring and avoid doing two separate 15 minute segments.

  • Start a Google Doc
    You can share this easily with almost anyone to get feedback. Write down your raw ideas and make sure you think about all the questions you saw in the submission guidelines: track, topic, how your talk could benefit the ecosystem, are you a first-time speaker?

  • Pick the right track and read the guidelines
    If you have a great talk idea, but submit to the wrong track, it may get rejected without further thought. Some reviewers have 100-200 papers to go through and rate.

  • Make the CfP easy to digest
    Your first sentence is where you can make an impact. Given how busy and rushed the reviewers are, help them. Write in bullets or short paragraphs. What is the highlight? What is the problem being solved?

If you can't think of anything to speak on, then take a look through past talks and videos for ideas. I think that end-user / production stories can be interesting in a track and that they bring balance to pure tech talks.

2) Wait to get accepted

If your talk gets accepted then many congratulations to you. You now need to practice, practice, practice. There's nothing worse than hitting the end of your slot without finishing your talk, or having a pivotal demo crash mid-flow. They say that Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, but at the same time, don't overdo it.

Something which you not have done before is promoting your talk ahead of the event. There is usually an embargo of a few days before you're allowed to share about the talk being accepted. Once past this date, you can Tweet, write a blog post like "Meet me at KubeCon" and even start to share some of the ideas and the URL to your talk. Maybe set it as your Twitter and GitHub bio link? In this time you can reach out to people you'd like to see at your event and ask them to bookmark or save it into their agenda.

Last November I was fortunate enough to speak during the week of KubeCon in San Diego. You can read up on my first-hand experiences on the OpenFaaS blog along with slides and the recordings: Our KubeCon San Diego Highlights

So if you didn't get the talk accepted, then try not to take it to heart. This is always going to be a disappointing experience and that is understandable. The competition is very tough and there are many factors at play.

3) Submit to a zero-day event

The Zero Day events happen on the day before the opening keynotes. In my opinion these special-interest events can be a better place to speak than a talk at the main event.

Here's a list of colocated-events:

https://events.linuxfoundation.org/kubecon-cloudnativecon-europe/program/colocated-events

As you can see, some have their own CfPs and are great for those who have a special interest, for instance:

  • Serverless Practioners Summit
  • ServiceMeshCon
  • Observability Summit
  • Network Service Mesh

Not all events are created equal, but they are all in competition for talk submissions and tickets, so you have a much better chance to get something accepted, and these CfPs do not count torwards your KubeCon talk count.

The CfPs generally open a couple of days after the KubeCon accept/reject emails go out, so again, be ready and prepare your Google Doc. Day Zero events are not usually free, but have a nominal fee, which is often waived for accepted speakers or organisers.

4) Still no luck?

If you're beginning to feel like a reject now, please do not. There's so many factors that can end up with great, experienced speakers, or amazing technology talks not getting into a schedule.

Try the Cloud Native Rejekts event. It is run by the folks at Kinvolk, a Linux technology company. Kinvolk started the event for the first time for KubeCon Barcelona and will be running their third event for Amsterdam in March.

Chris Kühl who organises the event with his team gave a great podcast interview on Kubernetes Weekly: Cloud Native Rejekts, with Chris Kühl

5) Wait, don't give up

If you're really determined there's still a couple of options for you.

Quite often the towns that host a KubeCon event like Austin, Amsterdam, San Diego and Barcelona have their own tech meet-up groups who would probably love to hear from you and may be running an event during the KubeCon week.

  • Google for "Amsterdam Meetup" + Kubernetes/Docker/Cloud Native
  • Try to find the organiser on Twitter, reach out and say that you'd like to be involved, share your Google Doc

Speaking at a meet-up can be a great way to connect and network with a receptive audience.

6) There's more fish in the sea

If you got to 6) and you still don't have a speaking slot, then I feel for you. It can be very frustrating whether you're starting out, or a seasoned pro. There are more fish in the sea, and maybe you can find an event that would be more receptive and appreciative of your talk.

  • Tweet about your talk idea and ask if anyone knows of a good meet-up or event you could speak at
  • Write-up the talk as a blog post to see if it has traction
  • Record your own YouTube video and share that on Hacker News / Twitter, or with the CNCF Ambassadors group

You have landed a talk, now what?

Here's my favourite book on public speaking. Now we know that this is not a TED talk, but in my experience, the lessons apply just as well.

My rules of thumb for a tech talk:

  • Practice, practice, practice - recording to time and include all your demos
  • Ask for feedback from people who will give you an honest answer
  • Always begin with some context / a story / an anecdote
  • Rule of thumb on number of slides - max 1 slide per minute
  • Deduct time for each demo you do

Making it count

  • If using statistics, call out what that means. "this project has 40k stars" sounds impressive, but is hard to visualise. What about, "this project now has 40k stars which means it's been growing at a rate of almost 1000 stars per week for the last year"?
  • Keep text on slides to an absolute minimum. Your slides do not need to speak for themselves or stand-alone, they are a communication mechanism.
  • Use lots of diagrams, draw your own with https://draw.io/ - make them clear with large text
  • Why are you showing each demo, what is the take-away? What value are you trying to demonstrate?

Wrapping up

  • Have a conclusion at the end with a practical application
  • Give a call to action showing the audience how to take things further
  • Do promote your talk and let people know that you're going to speak. People can save the session in their agenda from the moment the schedule is published. If you have friends with companies and OSS projects, they may also include your talk on their "meet us at KubeCon" blog post, if you plan ahead and ask nicely.

One final recommendation: skip the "a little bit about me" slide. Paraphrased from the book: nobody cares about you or will remember you, they are here to hear about the talk topic. In the worst case you might lose your audience from the offset. Some of you have been doing this for your whole speaking career, and haven't realised how detrimental it has been.

Signing-off

Good luck with your submissions. You can contact me on Twitter @alexellisuk. Have you got any tips you'd like to share? You don't have to give all your secrets away, but perhaps you've got one or two pointers that have worked out well for you in the past?

If you would like to get help with reviewing a submission around OpenFaaS, k3sup, inlets or any of the OSS projects I maintain for Cloud Native Rejekts, The Serverless Summit, or for ServiceMeshCon, please feel free to reach out to me directly.

I hope to see you at Amsterdam, or at a future event.

Get ideas and keep up to date

Check out the following resources for ideas and to keep up with the developments in Cloud Native.

Alex Ellis

Read more posts by this author.

Subscribe to Alex Ellis' Blog

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!