Meetups are great! The best ones provide a sense of community where the curious and the enthusiastic can engage together to create a great experience that draws people in and keeps them coming back.
Since my primary experience with meetups are those related to programming and technology (as of this writing I organise the Elixir Sydney, GraphQL Sydney, and Elm Sydney meetups, and have previously organised the Ruby on Rails Oceania Sydney meetup), this post will focus on meetups where there is typically a roster of talks on software/technical topics, and a good deal of socialising.
Why Give a Talk?
If you are a developer, at any stage of your career or training, you should strongly consider finding a local meetup group (on Meetup most likely), and do a talk on something you have worked on, or have learned.
Develop a New Skill
Presenting at a meetup is a win/win situation.
You, the speaker, get to practise public speaking, a skill that may not be exercised much in your day to day activities, and your audience gets to leverage your knowledge to learn new things that can potentially help them in their own activities.
You may be apprehensive toward public speaking, particularly if you have previously had negative experiences with it.
However, I posit that since technical meetups are typically attended by people who lean more towards identifying as introverts than extroverts, and hence viscerally understand the courage that it takes to deliver a talk in front of your peers, you will find them to be a sympathetic audience who want you to succeed. Pre-talk nerves will never go away, but they can feel less debilitating when you feel that your audience has your back.
Also, if you have ever thought that you would like to present at a big conference, then a meetup audience is a great start point to get practice and hone your skills.
Add to your Portfolio
Doing a meetup talk provides takeaway artefacts of “soft skills”, which are becoming ever more important in development teams (which makes me feel they should be re-branded as “essential skills”).
You can take your talk/slide deck and essentially open source it on a wide variety of platforms, much like you would with your open source code (eg Speaker Deck, SlideShare, or even Github if your presentation is written in Markdown).
COVID-19 has pushed many meetups out of meatspace and into online platforms like Zoom (hopefully only temporarily…), allowing your talk to be recorded easily. Check and see if your target meetup records talks, and hopefully they have a space to publish content, like a YouTube channel.
These artefacts, in their various forms, can provide a great addition to your resume, or maybe even ammunition you can take in to your next pay-rise negotiations.
Show Something Off
Meetups provide you with a captive audience to directly promote and show off something awesome you have built lately, or maybe pose a question or problems that you’d like input and/or discussion around.
Discussion about any thought-provoking issues have often continued after the meetup ends, and you get to take the credit for being the catalyst!
If you are up to the challenge, doing a talk can be a catalyst to practise demoing something in front of an audience, which is significantly different to just showing someone else what is currently on your screen.
Being able to effectively demo, and recover from any issues that occur during them (and unless you have adequately appeased the demo gods, they will happen), is a highly sought after developer (and presales) superpower.
Become an Expert
Doing a talk can have the pleasant side effect of making you known in your community as an expert on something, even if don’t consider yourself one!
If you teach someone something that they did not know before, then, to them, you are an expert.
Furthermore, the questions that you get from others about what you know can lead down extra knowledge-gathering paths to further refine your abilities, to the point where even you must acknowledge your own expertise. Not a bad self-fulfilling prophecy!
Your Perspective is Unique
Even if you think the content of your talk must have been covered in a previous meetup, or is just too obvious to talk about, your perspective on it (and the way you present it) is unique to you, so never let that stop you from giving a talk.
People love to hear presentations about things they already know because it makes them feel smart about understanding something worth presenting.
If you are the one presenting it, you unconsciously join the league of experts about that subject in your audience’s mind, and I will bet anything that even those experienced in the topic you present will learn something from your take.
Land a Job
I have friends who have received offers to go and interview at organisations, and consequently get jobs there, based solely on having done a talk at a meetup, and impressing their future peers in the audience.
This scenario obviously does not play out at every meetup, but it goes to show you that you never know who could be in your audience, and what opportunities sharing your knowledge could provide you.
This “making your own luck” scenario is one of the primary reasons I like to specifically appeal to junior developers to do meetup talks. A successful talk delivered to your peers (and they are your peers), can help your job application shine a bit brighter from the pack
Speaking from experience, meetup organisers are always hungry for new content. Finding talks is easily the most difficult and time-consuming part of technical meetup organisation.
If you are willing to freely spend time and effort creating content for a meetup, then meetup organisers will very likely be happy to act as a sounding board for your talk content and provide feedback before you present (I certainly do, with pleasure!).
They will have seen a lot of talks, have likely delivered some themselves, and will be invested in making your talk come out great. Good talks make for good meetups, which then attracts more good talks in a virtuous circle, so your success is their success!
Leap of Faith
Deciding to take on delivering a technical talk is a hard first step to take, but remember, it is good to throw yourself out of your comfort zone and try something different.
Who knows, you might even end up liking it and wanting to do more, which could lead to all manner of new doors opening for you. Take that first step and find out!