Photo of Christoph Rumpel

My Ultimate Laracon Online Speaker Experience

Ever wondered what it is like speaking at a big online conference? I have no idea what that's like for others, but this is my story. I want to take you on a rollercoaster ride through my emotions before, in-between, and after my Laracon Online 2020 talk.

Christoph while his Laracon Online talk

Laracon Online is an online conference for Laravel. You probably have guessed that already by the name :-) It means this conference is available for everyone who has access to the Internet. This is quite different from all the other Laravel conferences where you have to pay much more in order to attend. I was lucky to be able to join many Laravel conferences in the last years, but there are a lot of developers out there who weren't. This makes this online conference so unique. It is a great chance to bring Laravel developers from all over the world together. I love it!

In the last years, we have been doing a party in Vienna to watch the talks together with our local meetup. But this year was different for me.

A Special Invitation

For most conferences, you can apply to give a talk. The organizers will look through each submission and decide who they want to speak. With Laracon Online, it is different. You cannot apply to speak. Ian Landsman, the organizer, will invite you to speak.

On the 6th of January, I got a little Twitter message from Ian, asking me if I would be interested in speaking this year. đŸ˜² I had to read it a few times to make sure it is real. I felt super honored! I was speaking at multiple Laracons last year already, but getting invited without a submission feels very special.

After the first minutes of excitement, some other feelings joined the party. How many people will watch me? Probably over a thousand, right? What do I even talk about? I immediately felt the nervousness and pressure coming with that offer. I knew I had to agree, no matter how hard it will be. So, of course, I accepted this invitation immediately.

I Need A Topic

In 2019 almost all the talks I gave where about Laravel's core. There are also already some videos of my talks online available. This also meant I had to talk about something else. But what? In the past, I covered chatbots several times, but this topic is not that interesting anymore, and I needed something more tailored to Laravel. Ian left this decision up to me, and I should contact him when I knew more.

A talk topic is not something can you can create out of the box. It has to be something you know pretty well, and you are passionate about. Depending on what you are currently working on, you might already have some current solved challenges to share, but I felt like there was nothing I could talk about at that time. I did what all responsible people would do; I ignored it for a week.

But with the date of the conference getting closer, also the pressure increased. So I sat down and did some brainstorming. The good thing about brainstorming is that you just write everything down that comes to your mind. You don't judge it right away. Because with judging, your list will probably stay empty.

After an hour, the result looked like this:

Brainstorming screenshot of the results

When I looked at it, I still felt there was nothing I could speak a full hour about. Also, not everything was Laravel related. So I asked my dev friends about these topics, and this is where I always get surprised. Even if you think nothing is exciting you could share, there still is something. My friends thought that some of the topics might be doable.

Screenshot of chat conversation devs discussing my topics

I decided to dig deeper into the PhpStorm & Laravel and factories topic and tried to come up with a basic summary of them. Ian was fine with both of them but preferred the factories talk. In the back of my head, I felt the same. So factories it was!

My Preparations

Since most Laravel developers know about the basic factory's features, it was clear; I needed to provide much more to make that talk interesting. It is also not easy to talk about something for 60 minutes. But of course, you start at the beginning and think about what to cover.

Then I put myself on the speaker list for the next Laravel Vienna meetup. Till this event, I wanted to be prepared to give a 30min talk about my topic. It helped me by putting a little more pressure on myself. I often need this pressure to get things done, and I hate that it never changes. Additionally, I also recorded a screencast, showed it to friends, and asked for feedback. Especially with a new talk, it is crucial to get some help. Things that are clear for you are not for others.

For me, always, the shown examples are critical, and I want them to feel real so people can relate to them. I hate when a speaker says, "This is not a good example, but you get the point.". If it is not a good example, leave it!

For my factories talk, I built a little recipe platform as my demo application. I knew the overall plan, but I struggled a lot with the details of what I wanted to show. Sunday before the conference, the talk was still not finished. I had planned to finish it at least one week before Laracon Online so that I have enough time to practice it: the content, my live coding, my voice, and of course, my English. I felt miserable—that kind of miserable when you just want to go to bed and hide from all your responsibilities. To be honest, that was precisely what I did. I was lying in my bed for an hour and thought about how easy my life could be if I wouldn't do public speaking. A thought that comes back regularly :-) Why wasn't I able to prepare it in time?

But I also knew there was no way out. This is when I tell myself that I can only improve as a person if I push myself to my borders and outside my comfort zone. This feeling tells me this exact moment is important and that I'm up for something big. The only way out is through!

After my little crises, I felt awake again and full of adrenalin. I wanted this talk to be excellent and to show the world, and particular myself, that I can do that.

Monday and Tuesday, I spent the whole day just for my talk. Luckily I'm self-employed and could just take the time "off" to prepare my presentation. Monday, I was able to practice the whole speech in one piece for the first time. Tuesday, I practiced it three more times. When you think about it, four times is not that much for such a significant opportunity. Still, it takes a lot of time when the talk is 60 minutes long, and you need to prepare and set it up every time. It is super exhausting every time.

The Day Of Laracon Online

Wednesday morning, I felt quite good. I was happy I managed to get the talk done. I was satisfied with the content and with my rehearsals. I wasn't able to work more on my words and my English at all. But I accepted that because I couldn't change it. I was also looking forward to the other talks a lot. I practiced my presentation one last time right before the conference started at 03:00 PM my time.

The next hours I just watched all the other talks and enjoyed this wonderful conference. Everyone was so good. I took some notes from time to time if I saw something that would help my presentation. My friend Nuno Maduro opened up a Telegram chat, and we were having a great time there with over 200 other developers from all over the world. It was a lot of fun!

When Freek started his presentation one hour before mine, I became really nervous. I have already checked my microphone, my camera, my office background, my outfit several times this day. But I did it another time. I wasn't able to sit still anymore. Like with every talk, the minutes right before it are the worst. They feel like an hour, and it stresses my whole body. It is the same every time. When I saw Ian Landsman calling me, my hurt was bumping like hell. I'm always afraid people will see that through my shirt. Not sure if this is even possible.

I started my talk, and I wasn't able to think about all these other unnecessary things anymore. That's amazing. You are focused, and you deliver. All your preparations helped you to get there. You are working now on autopilot like a machine. It is also the time when I start enjoying the moment. There are so many years and experiences that lead to this exact moment. I'm a lucky and grateful man.

After my talk, I was exhausted. All the pressure from the last days fell off, and I was done. I went to my wife, kissed her. I grabbed a beer and enjoyed the rest of the talks.

The One Thing You Hope Never Happens During A Talk

If you have seen my talk, You will probably know what I mean. In the middle of the talk, I ran into an error.

Note: All talks are already online available and you can watch them. You just need to have a ticket which you can still buy.
Screenshot of my talk with an error I run into

It was this one:

Namespace declaration statement has to be the very first statement or after any declare call in the script

I have seen quite a few errors during my rehearsals, but this was not one of them. I also don't think I have ever seen it before. These are the moments you are afraid of: Running into an error you cannot handle "on stage." In the past, I would just have panicked. I would have been starring at the error message without a clue and without being able to say anything.

Luckily, meanwhile, I gained a little bit of experience and saw lots of other talks. The first thing you need to do is breathe. Give it one or two seconds. Then you have to say something. Try to relax and explain what is happening like "Oh, we have an error here. I don't think I have seen this one before. What does it say...". You have to keep talking to prevent an awkward situation.

I still was afraid, because I needed to fix this error to move on. There was no way around it. The funny thing is in these moments you forget everything you have ever learned or seen. Usually, if I'm not sure what this error is about, I would just google it. I tried it right now, and the first link already provided the problem.

I somehow added an empty line before the PHP tag in one file. This has never happened to me before. But that day, in front of over a thousand other developers, I managed to do say. What are the odds?

Somehow, with a little trial and error, I fixed it. I think I never felt that relieved :-) The whole situation went down in like 40 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. So again, if you ever end up in a situation like that:

  • breath, a few seconds are fine
  • let the audience know what you encounter, what is happening, what are your thoughts
  • don't be afraid to google it or ask the audience
  • we all make mistakes, no one judges, it is just about how you handle it

Recap

The whole Laracon Online was a fantastic experience for me. I went through heaven and hell a few times, but that is how you keep going. And if there is one thing I learned in the last years, it is to keep going. There will be success, there will be failures, but as long as you are moving, you are not standing still. Push yourself to try out new things. When it gets hard, you are often up to something and learn the most.

Would I speak at Laracon Online again? Hell yeah! That's the funny thing. After such an experience, you don't remember all the things before. You just feel proud and good.

Giving the talk was great for my business as well, which I will write more about in a different article. So go out and push yourself to your limits. If you end up in the bed, pitying yourself for some time, that's ok. Just make sure to finish what you started.

PS: Two days after the conference my microphone broke. I can't imagine what it would have been if that happened during my talk.

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