An interview with Aspiring Speaker, Carly Richmond

Carly Richmond

As part of our recent sponsorship of the Aspiring Women Speakers group from Turntabl.io, we are investing time in speaking to our current members to see the journeys they have been on since starting their speaking journey with the Aspiring Women Speakers.

I spoke to Carly recently who gave her first lightning talks to our group but went on to speak at a conference as well as other user groups. I asked Carly what made her get started, what her journey has been like and what she has learned.

Remind me, why did you get started?

Speaking had been on my mind for a while but I had never had the nerve! I never thought I had anything interesting or novel to say. But after having my son and transitioning back to work I decided I wanted to do something for myself, and speaking was a natural choice. I went to a global CFP day literally the weekend before going back to work. Although that day helped with writing CFPs I still thought it would be difficult to get into. But I also worried about juggling talking with going back to work and being a Mum.

I work in the same company as Jim Gough and knew he was a conference speaker, so I set up a time to chat. And he was awesome! Talking to him and his experiences, as well as him speaking about other female speakers who managed to juggle work and home, made it seem more accessible to me. It no longer seemed like an opportunity reserved for elite technical geniuses.

He’s been a great sounding board for talk ideas. He actually helped me with my first talk CFP and watched a dry run for me which was a massive help. He also got me into the LJC and the Aspiring Speaker's group where I met loads of others and gained confidence and loads of help and feedback to make my talking better.

Where did you start, what was your first experience?

Jim recommended the LJC and Aspiring Speaker’s group along with the Lightning Talks session as a safe forum to get started. Even though I’m not a Java developer by background! He helped me flesh out a couple of talk ideas, and select my first topic. Drawing from my recent work break I selected the topic of tech learning through life events, drawing on my struggles of keeping up to date while on leave.

I still wasn’t too sure I was ready. After Jim watched a dry run of the talk he gave me the gentle nudge I needed to get a slot on the LJC Lightning Talks.

I was an absolute bundle of nerves when giving my first talk. But one thing people don’t emphasise enough is the feeling of accomplishment that you get after giving a talk. It was great to get positive and constructive feedback in a safe forum on not just the topic, but my presenting style. It was that moment that I realised I wanted to speak more and that my ideas were worth sharing to help others.

Can you walk us through any key points in your journey?

After that first talk, I found out I had been accepted at Lean Agile Exchange for a slot on Obstacle Boards. I was really excited, and absolutely terrified at the same time! But the Aspiring Speaker group was there to help me prepare. I did another couple of lightning talks on the learning topic to get some practice. But I also got some great help from Mag who I met in the speaker group to give me great feedback on the talk, and watched some dry run recordings that I did as preparation. That slot went really well, and I even gave the same talk at the LJC as a community talk to give the information back.

Following those initial talk experiences in 2020, I wanted to try my hand at sharing some of my frontend development experiences with others. Delving into talking about that domain was just as daunting as my first lightning talk. But the Aspiring Speaker group was there, and attending a new speaker workshop was a great support for the new nerves I had about talking through code. Since then I’ve fleshed out a 5 minute lightning talk on BDD and e2e testing into a full 25 minute talk, which I’ve given to the Front Endgineers meetup.

Where are you now?

I would definitely say I’ve caught the speaking bug! I’ve recently been accepted for another conference slot in July 2021, and am working on that talk as well as an accompanying experience report. I’m also on the hunt for new conferences to speak about frontend topics and submitting where I can.

Speaking has definitely had a positive effect on my personal development. I’ve met loads of great people through the LJC and the Aspiring Speaker group and learned a lot. It’s been great to chat about different topics offline with other members and learn from them.

It’s also opened new opportunities for me, both outside work and within my organisation. Through my first speaking slot I managed to publish my first article on InfoQ. I never thought I would say I have an article published on a prominent tech site! I also transitioned to a new role a couple of months ago. The realisation that I wanted to get back into technical delivery was greatly helped by speaking. It’s a great outlet for figuring out your true passion!

Where do you want to go next with it?

I would like to say my speaking journey is just beginning since I’m actively looking for more opportunities to speak. I’ve set myself the daunting target of speaking at 2 conferences this year and at least 3 meetup slots. Currently, I’m halfway there since I got accepted for a slot in the summer. But it would be great to do more if possible, and even speak in person once conferences switch from online back in to in-person again.

Even though it’s just the start of the journey I would say speaking definitely opened up a few doors for me. I would not have got a new role in the same company in March 2021 if it wasn’t for speaking, which gave me the confidence to seek it out. It has shown that advocacy and learning are very important to me and are things that I enjoy, and therefore need to be part of any role I take on. I’ve made loads of great connections over the past year and learned from others my attending others lightning talks, speaking to them offline, as well as gaining their feedback on my own lightning talks.

One final question — what have you learned since you got started? What would you tell a more junior version of yourself?

I’ve learned that it’s not just being an expert or being able to talk through complicated code examples that makes for an interesting talk, but the experiences of the speaker. My experiences are valuable to others, and not too trivial to share. I’ve learned that the nerves of public speaking never lessen, it’s just that you become comfortable putting yourself out there in spite of them. Finally, I’ve also learned that technical speaking is actually a lot of fun, and something that opens up so many opportunities to you that you may not have actively sought out yourself.

I would definitely tell junior Carly starting out in technology, or even a few years into working “You can do this!”. I would reassure her that people want to listen to what I have to say, and are not out to ask awkward questions or give feedback to tear you down. And I would tell her, and my future self continuing on this path, to enjoy the journey!

If you’d like to follow in Carly’s footsteps, please get in touch. Gain confidence, a network and valuable skills, all in a comfortable and friendly environment.

The Aspiring Women Speakers group is one of 14 tech communities founded and organised by tech recruitment company RecWorks under the #ByRecWorks brand. For a full list of those communities check out our page here.

Founder of RecWorks (Tech Recruitment), Tech Career Hacker, Java User Group Founder (LJC), London CTOs Organiser, Mentor Match-Maker