Category Archives: Career Development

The Designer’s Guide to Moving from Freelance to In-House

The Designer’s Guide to Moving from Freelance to In-House

Being a full time freelance graphic designer has its advantages. You get to be your own boss, work on your own schedule, and be selective in the types of projects you take on.

But freelancing also has its drawbacks. Being your own boss means that you need to make difficult business decisions while sacrificing a steady salary.

At some point, many freelance graphic designers choose to make their way to in-house roles in search of a more stable income or opportunities for career growth. If you’re thinking of moving from freelance to full time, keep the following tips in mind to make your job hunt easier.

Be Flexible In Your Search

Do you want to be a jack of all trades or a subject matter expert? Deciding between generalist and specialist listings is key to finding an in-house opportunity that suits your goals.

As a freelancer, you may be a specialist in your niche or style, but finding a full time position that fits this specific mold may take a while. If you’re looking to find a position more quickly, consider widening the net to include generalist roles. Chances are your niche skills and experience apply to more general positions, too.

Translating Your Skills

As you update your CV, make sure to highlight how your freelancing experience makes you a valuable asset as an in-house graphic designer. Even if you’ve never had in-house experience, there are many valuable skills you develop as a freelancer that will help you succeed in a full time, in-house position.

Be sure to emphasize your experience in multitasking and successfully managing multiple clients files at once. This shows that you can exceed in a fast-paced, demanding environment that many in-house teams will be looking for.

Also focus on any experience you have working with teams. At the very least, this could include working closely with in-house teams on long-term projects as a freelancer.

As you reach out to past clients to provide recommendations, consider asking if they might have a role for you in their company. Looking for opportunities with past clients is a great place to start your search when making the transition from freelance to in-house.

Negotiating Salary

Salary is a big change when switching from freelance to full time. Freelancers often make a lot more money in fewer hours of work with project-based invoicing. But, of course, this also comes with the uncertainty of not knowing if you will have another project to follow your last.

When moving in-house, you should expect to make less money on an hourly basis compared to freelancing, but it’s important to weigh the whole compensation package when negotiating your wage. You may make less from a project-based perspective, but you gain access to a steady flow of work and income. This could translate into a higher annual income, not to mention other benefits and compensation you may be provided as an in-house employee.

To calculate a fair wage for an in-house graphic designer, take a look at similar job postings in your field and city. You can also use a tool like Glassdoor’s salary estimator or LinkedIn’s salary reports.

Consider Part-Time Positions

Instead of making an immediate transition from freelance to full time, you may want to consider starting off with a part-time in-house position. That way, you’ll balance steady work and the independence of being self-employed.

If you decide to take on a part-time in-house role, you’ll need to make sure your new company lets you manage clients on the side. This would be an important discussion to have with any potential employers to make sure they are comfortable with your plans and are willing to provide you with the flexibility you need.

During these discussions, you should talk about whether you will have set hours or the option for flexible hours, if you will be expected to work from the office every day or if you’re able to work remotely, and—very important—whether there’s any conflict of interest with you freelancing on the side.

Conflict of interest may be an issue if you’re applying to work with an agency, for example, and your services are similar to those offered by the agency itself, so make sure to have this discussion to avoid any issues in the future.

Psst: Check out part-time design positions on Authentic Jobs.

Keep Your Entrepreneurial Edge

As you make the transition to an in-house graphic designer position, don’t forget the entrepreneurial edge that led you to pursue freelancing in the first place. The entrepreneurial traits of being self-motivated, driven and versatile are as much of an asset in a freelancer as they are in a member of an in-house team.

So, don’t be afraid to share your opinions and lessons learned from past experience. The right team will appreciate your insights, and your confidence and tenacity will continue to help you achieve your highest potential in your new role.

Considering a new opportunity? Authentic Jobs has one waiting for you.

Man uses smartphone

Social Media 101 for Job Hunting Graphic Designers

In the digital age, social media blurs the lines between our professional and personal selves. These networks provide a useful space for keeping in touch with friends and family, but they are also places to forge new connections.

Social media presents a powerful opportunity to market yourself and your work to recruiters and potential colleagues. This is particularly true for graphic designers, given the overwhelming power of visuals and images on online platforms.

Take advantage of the professional potential of each platform using these tips.



Hashtags are what make Twitter such a powerful networking tool for professional use. By including hashtags relevant to your medium, style and niche, you are more likely to come up in searches for these terms and to grow your follower base with individuals that are interested in your work and your professional insight.

Include hashtags in your bio and account description as well as your posts to hone the power of Twitter search. But be careful not to overuse hashtags — a good rule of thumb is that your hashtags shouldn’t outweigh your post itself. In most cases, limit yourself to one or two hashtags per post.

Some of the top trending hashtags for graphic designers include: #design, #art, #graphicdesign, #graphicart, #artoftheday, #artofinstagram, #branding, #brandidentity, #cartoon, #creative, #digitalart, #flatdesign, #typedesign, #typespire, #illustrator, #vector, #vectorart, #photoshop, #UX, #logo, #logodesign and more.

Engage With Other Accounts

A great way to build your professional network on Twitter is to engage with other designers. Showing your appreciation for others’ work is actually a way to boost interest and followers on your own account.

By tweeting interesting industry news or artwork and tagging your colleagues in relevant tweets, you are increasing your chances of getting retweets and likes, which then boosts your account’s reach to new audiences. Each interaction could be an opportunity for a recruiter or a potential colleague to see your work.

Check out Owen Gildersleeve on Twitter for inspiration on how to incorporate the promotion of your artwork, hashtags, social engagement, original posts and commentary — all in one powerful profile.


Cover Photo and Profile Image

As a graphic designer, the aesthetic of all of your online profiles is a representation of your work and artistic abilities. While many designers’ first instinct is to take to Instagram to present their artistic talents, LinkedIn should also be a focus for any designer looking to build their professional reputation. Put your creative talents on display by creating an original cover photo and investing in a professional profile image that shows your personality and style.

Promote Your Work

LinkedIn is the prime social platform to be promoting your professional work, so don’t be shy. LinkedIn is essentially an online resume and its digital format provides even more opportunities to “sell” your experience, abilities and talents than a traditional resume or job application. Once your projects have been finalized and made public, post about them. Share images in an original way and take ownership of your hard work and creativity.


Promoting Fun Work Projects and Office Life

Facebook is definitely a more casual platform; more of a tool to keep in touch with friends and family than to grow and nurture business relationships. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t also post about your professional life and your work from time to time. Just make sure there’s an appropriate balance.

Your friends and family likely don’t care to hear about every small detail of your work life or scroll through a full digital portfolio. However, posting fun, interesting things that happen in the office, big news about your latest completed projects or sharing professional milestones and accomplishments is perfectly acceptable. More importantly, these posts could be seen by recruiters or future colleagues through your friends’ interactions with your posts. Always be aware that your posts could be seen by anyone, so put your best foot forward.

Create a Company Page

If you are looking to boost the professional power of Facebook to help build your personal brand as a graphic designer, consider creating a company page. A company page is free and easy to set up and will give you a focused account to display your work and your abilities. Whether you are looking to freelance or you simply want to share your work, a company page allows you to market your Facebook presence to a more targeted audience, versus only your friends and family. This professional account also offers the opportunity to advertise and run “Like” campaigns to boost the followers on your account.


Display Your Work

Instagram is a powerful visual medium, which makes it the perfect platform for graphic designers to present their work in an interesting way. But be sure that displaying your work makes sense in the context of your profile.

The most effective Instagram accounts have a clear and consistent focus. Whether you’re displaying art, fashion, food, travel, etc., you will gain the strongest and most meaningful follower base with a profile that has a dedicated focus. If you’re the type of person that also wants to post about your other daily dealings, consider creating two accounts; one for your personal friends and one for your professional network.

Then, think about creating a consistent look and feel for your account. Many Instagrammers will create this consistency through the colours, filters and different types of photography and imagery styles. Figure out what type of aesthetic best portrays and compliments your personality and artistic style and keep it consistent.

Check out the talented Steven Harrington on Instagram for inspiration on how to incorporate design posts as well as snapshots of daily life in an artistic way.

Long Beach. #lbc

A post shared by Steven Harrington (@s_harrington) on


Draw more people to your posts using relevant and trending hashtags in your posts. While it is definitely helpful to include the more general hashtags like #art, #designer, #graphicdesign, etc., it is also good to dig a bit deeper and tap into your niche and what you are presenting. For example, include more specialized hashtags like: #animation, #motiongraphics, #3D, #typography, #calligraphy, etc.

On Instagram, you have the ability to add your hashtags in a comment below your caption. This allows you to add more hashtags and gather more power from the search tool without distracting from your message or making your post look spammy.


Upload Portfolio

If you’re not already on Dribbble, create an account now and build a portfolio featuring your favorite creations.

Be sure to also include relevant tags on your uploaded pieces to make them show up in search. Tags could pertain to the style of your art, like “3D” or “sketch”, or they could pertain to the audience or potential clients you are looking to attract, like “logo” or “branding”.

Check out Creative Mints on Dribbble for an example of how to create a consistent and cohesive profile. This account is focused heavily around one artistic niche, however remains interesting throughout. You can see how an account like this would gather a strong and engaged following of individuals that are drawn to this style.

Engage With Your Peers’ Work

Once you’ve shared your own portfolio, take a look around to get inspired and share your thoughts. Feel free to ask questions if you see an artist using a new technique that you’d like to try in your own work. By leaving a comment or liking someone’s post, you are spreading awareness for your own profile and building an online community of like-minded professionals.

Social Media: Networking in a Digital World

Social media is not simply a casual, socializing tool anymore. In the digital world, social media is one of the leading ways recruiters discover new talent. It allows recruiters to learn more about you and get a feel for your consistency before reaching out.

You never know who could be watching, so be mindful of what you post online and how you present it. As a graphic designer, everything you post on these platforms can be used to promote yourself and your abilities, so be creative in your approach and make every post count.

Follow Authentic Jobs on Twitter for all of our latest job postings.

5 Skills to Power-Up Your Developer Resume

5 Skills to Power-Up Your Developer Resume

It’s hard to imagine a world where we don’t do everything via the internet. From ordering food to buying clothes to booking vacations, technology has taken over our lives in a huge way. Today, almost every single industry requires people who know who to code.

However, as the industry grows, and the number of web developers along with it, it’s only natural that the field is getting increasingly competitive. In order to stay relevant, developers have to move beyond the basics of JavaScript and HTML. Whether you’re looking to get your big break in the tech world or move up into a management position, adding one of the following skills to your toolbox can help set you apart from the crowd.

UI/UX Design

From an employer’s perspective, hiring a developer who can design is like scoring the ultimate 2-for-1 deal. However, there’s much more to gain from adding this skill to your arsenal than just making yourself a more attractive candidate.

Simply put, website and app users don’t interact with lines of code, they interact with design. By learning to design, you’ll gain a better understanding of the customer and be able to build more user-friendly products. Additionally, even if you don’t become a pro designer, learning more about concepts like wireframing and user flow can help you collaborate better with designers in the future.

You can start by taking an online course – for example, SitePoint has tons of design and UX courses, most of which can completed in under three hours.

Data Analytics

As companies find new ways to capture and store large amounts of information about their customers, products, and services, many of these same businesses are also left scrambling to figure out what to do with it. That’s why it’s no surprise that a recent study named data science as the technical skill with the biggest increase in demand in the last few years.

As a web developer, learning how to work with large sets of data and use it to generate insights and validate ideas can be invaluable to your career. However, data science is an enormous field that can take years to master.

You can learn the basics with tools like Dataquest, which focuses on practicing your skills and building a portfolio. If you’re looking to learn more advanced data science concepts, this in-depth guide offers a variety of learning paths. On a budget? MIT offers courses on data mining, free of charge.

Mobile Development

We’re not just talking about making responsive websites and smartphone apps. With mobile technology use rising at an incredible rate, and its scope expanding beyond the realm of smartphones and tablets to include platforms like Smart TVs and IoT-enabled devices, web developers need to upgrade their skills in order to remain competitive.

For instance, many are calling Progressive Web Apps the “new Responsive Web Design,” as they offer the end user a more mobile-optimized, app-like experience, instead of simply changing the layout of a website to fit different screen sizes. Additionally, incorporating beacons into app development allows businesses to collect in-store data and use hyperlocal marketing to better engage its customers.

Fortunately, Google offers some great overviews about many of these new mobile development trends.


So you can write code, but can you write… period? You might not think that your writing matters as much as your technical skills, but communication is an important part of any workplace. Writing plays an essential role whether you’re communicating with team members and clients, creating an online portfolio to showcase your work, or updating your resume.

For a quick fix, apps like Grammarly can act like a second pair of eyes on your work, highlighting both common and complex grammatical errors in your writing. If you want to really grow as a writer, taking an online course in business writing or web content writing can help you fine tune your skills with lessons and tips that can be easily applied to a professional setting.

Project Management

No matter where you are in your career, knowing how to manage a web development project from beginning to end can be extremely helpful. Since most companies use the Agile method, learning the ins and outs of being a Scrum Master would be more useful than general project management training.

To get a solid grasp on the fundamentals, this Agile Project Management course is a good place to start. Once you understand the basics, beginner and advanced scrum courses will give you the tools you need to solve problems using the Agile method and fine tune your leadership style so you can better manage your team.

Web Development 3.0?

Before you start panicking, we are not suggesting that every web developer needs to have every skill in order to get a job. Web development is still a highly attractive and lucrative field. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 27% growth in available Web Developer jobs from 2014 to 2024.

However, if you have an interest in any one of the above areas, it certainly can’t hurt to explore it further and diversify your skillset.

Start your job search at Authentic Jobs.

Your Guide to Non-Awkward Networking

Your Guide to Non-Awkward Networking

Everyone dreads them: the cringe-worthy networking events. You’re never quite in the mood for it, and it’s always (unfortunately) just what you expected.

But networking is critical to the job search—a recent survey showed 85% of jobs are filled by networking efforts.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to network without attending events that make you want to crawl under the table. Below are six options for designers and developers to grow their communities.

Engage with your peers

The more you engage with your peers, the more your network grows. This can include current co-workers, casual acquaintances from university, or new friends you make in the industry. Connect with them on different channels to make it easier to re-engage regularly. Follow them on Twitter, add them on AngelList, and connect with them on LinkedIn. And don’t be afraid to ask for their personal contact information to stay in touch.

Spending time with peers is a win-win. You can extend your network, and they get a chance to expand theirs. And who knows – your peer may come across a contact or a job opening that may not be right for them, but they’d be willing to put in a good word to get your foot in the door.

Connect regularly with mentors

We’re all familiar with the expression “time flies”, and there’s certainly truth behind it. It can feel like just yesterday you went for lunch with a mentor, but in reality, you’re long overdue to reconnect.

If you’re thinking of changing jobs, now is a good time to reach out. Mentors are often well-connected in a different way, and they can act as the bridge between you and your dream job by introducing you to their connections or recommending different skills to level up.

Every time you see your mentor, show them how eager you are to learn and the steps you’ve taken to grow since last speaking. Growing this relationship and a solid reputation will go a long way when their CEO buddies are looking to hire.

Not sure where to find a mentor? The best way is to let the relationship develop naturally. Try reaching out to a teacher you really enjoyed or someone in a career position you’d like to have one day.

Attend industry events

No, not awkward networking events. Keep your eye out for local happenings that relate to your industry. Meetup and Startup Grind are a great place to start. Poke around Twitter, agency websites, or coworking spaces to make sure you’re not stuck hearing about events after they happen.

Participating in conferences, hackathons, and workshops are another great way to meet a targeted group of individuals without the uncomfortable atmosphere of “we’re supposed to be networking right now.” You’ll get to know leaders and peers in your industry, discover new roles you never knew existed, and even learn a thing or two.

Make sure you take the time to trade contact information, so you can connect on different platforms once the event ends. The great thing about industry events is it’s not limited to new graduates or interns. You’ll find yourself connecting with designers, developers, managers, or even executives who can help you get a seat at the table.

Join online communities

Joining online communities allows you to connect with influencers on a global level, and discover new opportunities you didn’t know existed. As a designer or developer, the world of freelance and remote working provides endless options for employment.

Finding industry groups on LinkedIn, Reddit, Slack, Facebook, or other online forums is a way to engage with potential employers and peers on a daily basis. Explore Dribbble, Hacker News, and Twitter for new opportunities to shine. Don’t be afraid to engage in the group; you never know who’s watching and willing to hire.

Reach out for a one-on-one

Networking events can be intimidating with so many people to meet and so little time. Instead, try browsing through industry contacts online and narrow in on a few key people to connect with. Reach out to them with a personalized, thoughtful message and see if they’d be open to meeting for coffee or lunch. Taking the time to reach out on a more personal level can catch their attention more than a handshake in a room full of noise.

Don’t limit yourself to those who are hiring in the community. Connect with anyone who’s of interest: someone who has taken a career path you envy, a fellow graduate who landed a huge opportunity right out of school, or a team manager at the company you admire. Getting one on one develops a more personal relationship and allows you to connect on a deeper level. You can understand their role, what skills they value, and what steps they think you should be taking.

Build your personal brand

Building your personal brand in a visual field is an important element. Pick the social networks that you think you can excel at, and create a personal brand more than a personal profile. Showcase your portfolio work, connect with others in the industry, and let your personality shine through. By having an active online presence, you open up doors without realizing it.

Note that creating a personal brand isn’t a free pass to leave behind other networking opportunities, but it shows future employers your past work, your dedication, and your willingness to put in work. The more you grow your channels, the more you’ll have opportunities knocking.

Getting out there

You could argue one method over another all day long, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about putting yourself out there.

Find ways that feel comfortable for you, and do your best to use them to your advantage. If you’re introverted in a group setting but excel one-on-one, don’t try to force huge events that will make you crumble. Alternatively, if you in front of a large group, try to find industry events that give you those opportunities.

Regardless, networking comes down to connecting with other like-minded individuals. Always be yourself, and you’ll find what works best for you.

Start your job hunt with Authentic Jobs.

Strategies for Side Project Success

Strategies for Side Project Success

Side projects can be a vehicle for personal growth and discovery. Even when the result isn’t long-term financial gain, the education and experience that comes with a new product launch is always rewarding.

Side gigs have allowed me to learn new skills, meet smart and interesting people, and explore aspects of business that my full-time job does not offer. Those who freelance or work from home often generate ideas for side projects, each a new rabbit to chase down a hole.

But should you follow? The answer is a resounding “maybe.”

With careful consideration, respect for the work that pays your bills, and the ability to stay focused, you can pursue a side project successfully. You can—and should—follow that rabbit, as long as you do so with patience, intention, and discipline.

Strike a balance

Pursuing a side project while another gig pays your bills is tough. Many people talk about finding the time to work on a project, and that’s a problem. You don’t find time for something like this: you designate it.

If you have an hour after dinner to pursue a new venture, write it on the calendar and make it an official date. It’s harder to shrug something off if time has been set aside for it.

Note that I suggested only designating an hour. It’s not much time, and that’s intentional. Your billable hours should be the priority, even when an idea is new and exciting. Take it slow so you aren’t robbing yourself of paid work.

Make a plan

Any successful side project should start by clearly defining the idea. I do this with a mind map, which is like a semi-organized brainstorm. It’s an excellent way to get all your thoughts, ideas and reflections on a single topic written down for later reference.

Start by writing the idea in the center of the document and then branch out all of the things that help define it and make it into reality. When you’re done, it’s easy to see all of the components of your side project in one place. From there, you can put them into categories and get to work during your designated time.

Define essentials and enhancements

Ideas usually start flowing freely once you’ve defined the new project and put it into a mind map. It’s a great feeling, but it’s important to be mindful of what’s necessary and what’s just fun.

I recommend using two lists to separate the two. Name the first “Essentials” and use it to record what must be in place to get a minimum viable product up and running. The result is a clear roadmap getting you from where you are to where you want to be.

Name the other list “Enhancements” and use it to record things that are fun features to have like that cool animation, integrated Twitter sharing, and so on. Only turn your attention to Enhancements once the Essentials list is completed.

This takes will power, but remain strong. You can delay that gratification.

Beware the enthusiasm bell curve

It’s normal for enthusiasm to taper as you work on the more mundane parts of a side project. If it’s a business, this could include opening a business checking account, determining the cost of the product or service, registering your business, and so on.

This is a dangerous time because it’s usually when that second idea pops into your head. It’s tempting to turn to the new idea and leave the original plan in the dust, but abandoning ideas halfway through is how side projects never get finished.

Plus, take comfort in knowing that you’ll feel the same way about the second idea once you’re halfway through launching it, too.

Know when to put it aside

Sometimes a brilliant idea comes to you at the exact wrong time. If you can’t dedicate time to work on a side project right now, it’s still possible to seize the opportunity by:

  • Filing it for later. If a new idea appears when you can’t work on it, store it for later. Put a reminder on your calendar on an appropriate date in the future.
  • Grabbing the domain name now. If you must delay work, grab the related domain name now before it gets scooped up.
  • Identifying the small steps that you can do now. This will often result from your mind mapping session.
  • Conducting relevant research. Read books or subscribe to a relevant podcast to listen to while in the car or during downtime. There’s a great book called Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky that addresses much of this.
  • Working on behind-the-scenes planning. Think about everything that must be done before you can begin work. When you’re ready to pick the project up again, all of the planning will be in place.

The keys to planning and managing side projects

Side projects take focus and planning but can be hugely rewarding—both financially and for personal growth.

Maintaining momentum when you begin a side project is key to getting it across the finish line. Break tasks down into small chunks, set attainable goals for the week, and create a series of small wins for yourself.

As Jerry Seinfeld says, don’t break the chain. Work smart, and good luck.

Demystifying Public Speaking

Demystifying Public Speaking

The fear of public speaking is widespread, and well known. However, there’s no denying that presenting to an audience can help advance your career, build your network, and sharpen your skills. So what’s an aspiring speaker to do? How do you get from “cool idea that I want to share with people” to the stage? There’s got to be a roadmap, right?

Thankfully, the fine folks at A Book Apart have it covered. The Authentic Jobs team are big fans of ABA, and we’re ridiculously excited to be able to share an excerpt from “Demystifying Public Speaking” by Lara Hogan, VP of Engineering at Kickstarter.

Get in the door

You have two routes to speaking at an event: submitting a proposal or being invited. When you’re starting out, or if you’re switching gears to a new topic, you’ll likely embark on the submissions track. Let’s get excited about filling out some forms!

Submitting a proposal

Each conference has its set of questions about your talk content, format, and you, the speaker. Organizers use this information to figure out if you and your talk suit their event and audience. For example, a typical O’Reilly conference might ask for:

  • The proposed title
  • Both an elevator pitch and an extended description of the presentation
  • The topics you’ll cover
  • A biography and headshot
  • A video of the speaker giving a talk
  • Any anticipated expenses, like travel reimbursement

Once the submissions are in, organizers cull them and decide what shape the conference should take, based on industry trends and key takeaways for the audience. Some conference organizers read all of the submissions themselves; others arrange panels to gain more diverse perspectives. As they consider contenders, organizers put themselves in their audience’s shoes: what does that audience want to hear?

That’s a question you should keep in mind as you create your pitch. Sarah Mei does a fantastic job exploring the sales aspects of writing a proposal in her article “What Your Conference Proposal Is Missing”:

People don’t go to talks for the content. People go to talks because they think they’ll become more badass. So help them out with that! Make it easy for them to imagine their newfound superpowers, and they’ll match your level of excitement. 

But let’s back up and return to you. Have you ever looked at a CFP form for your dream event—the one that always has the best lineup and most fun participants—and chosen not to submit? If you said yes, you’re in good company. Maybe you share some of the fears people noted in my public speaking survey:

  • “I’m afraid I’ll fail to tell people something new and interesting.”
  • “What if I choose a topic that’s been done to death?”
  • “No one would want to listen to me talk about anything.”

Don’t take yourself out of the running before the people organizing the event have had a chance to look at your proposal. It’s literally their job to find talk topics that will be relevant and enticing to their audience; you can help their cause—and yours—by choosing conferences whose audience and focus lines up with yours.

If you’re still a little unsure or plain stuck, get a second pair of eyes on your draft! Ask a colleague or friend to give feedback on questions like “Would this topic be helpful for this event’s audience?” or “Is this the right level of depth for a proposal?”

Content Structure

Coherency—avoiding word barf, being articulate—is a natural concern. Many survey respondents feared “not getting points across” or “being boring or rambling.” One person worried about “making the story flow well enough…finding the balance between helping people along and having them learn things on their own.”

Creating a solid structure for your content is the best way to guide your audience through your topic—structure helps set expectations for what’s next, strengthen your arguments, and keep folks more engaged. It also gives you a foothold if you lose your train of thought.

My friend Ed Davis taught me how to put together a presentation that tells a story. Early in drafting one of my first talks, I’d written what I thought was a decent deck: I’d listed the steps involved in making a website faster, with every point backed by plenty of technical detail—think lots of charts, lots of code samples. Ed had some gentle feedback: though the information was clear, he thought my message would better stick with my audience if I could walk them through the context—what made the work important. He suggested I take the audience on a narrative journey:

  • Landscape: what exists. In my presentation, the landscape was “A lot of web pages load slowly.”
  • Analysis: what you, the presenter, want to highlight for the audience about that landscape. “This poor performance creates a poor user experience.”
  • Problem: the core issue based on your analysis. “Studies have shown a correlation between a slow site and decreased engagement, which isn’t what website owners want.”
  • Options: what we could do. “We could ignore it! Or we could speed up the site in these ways.”
  • Solution: the best option and how it works. This was the bulk of my talk, walking through all the ways to improve front-end performance.
  • Reasons: why the audience should believe you. “Completing this work sped up the site by 35% and increased conversions by 7%.”
  • Bigger idea: why this concept matters even if it seems irrelevant to an audience member’s work. “Even if you think your site is fast, what’s the experience for your users on slower infrastructure, outdated mobile networks, or older devices?”

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think much of this new narrative. I was building a slide deck on techniques to improve page load time. Wouldn’t people—people who were choosing to see my talk—already know why performance was important? Why should I add the landscape, the bigger idea? Enough fluff—don’t people just want the how?

Thankfully, I decided to give this narrative structure a shot (uncomfortable feedback is often a gift). Immediately, the presentation was so much better: the story helped draw in the audience, and the logical progression meant they could follow my flow and trust my arguments.

Developing this presentation structure also forced me to ask myself: Why am I even speaking to begin with? Nailing down the bigger idea—what I wanted the audience to leave with and think about after they went home—was crucial to making my presentation memorable.

This sample narrative structure won’t work for everyone, of course. You have plenty to pick from; a couple include incorporating a backstory or flashback, or following the Hero’s Journey. Your topic may work best with more case studies, graphs, or live demonstrations.

Whatever tack you take, think about the talks that have resonated the most with you. What kind of narrative or structure did the presenter follow? Why did it work so well? How did they make their arguments stick?

The most important part of your presentation is what happens after; use your presentation to lead your audience to both inspiration and concrete next steps.

Skipping the line

Once you’re on the speaking circuit, you begin to get invited a lot more to give talks, rather than submitting a proposal through the normal channels.

I’ve received invites via Twitter direct messages, out-of-the-blue emails, and connections from trusted friends. Some invites include lots of information about the conference and what they hope I’ll bring to it. Sometimes they include a list of other speakers who’ve confirmed their talks, as a way to convince me that I want to be on that roster.

An invite doesn’t automatically mean you’re in; some organizers extend invitations to submit an idea, while others ask you to give a particular kind of talk—which you might not want to do! Feel free to see if they would be interested in a different take.

For instance, as I’ve done a lot of web performance talks, organizers often invite me to present the same talk at their event. Some places will ask me to change the length of the talk (I can tell you it’s rough to cram a 90-minute workshop into a 30-minute lecture!), and others ask for completely new material.

As ever, ask questions in turn. Event organizers want and need you to succeed—get their perspective before you submit your pitch. I’ll check if they’d prefer a 101-level topic or more depth; or I’ll see if they have any subject gaps in their lineup they’d like me to cover. Recently, I spoke at a conference that attracts more designers, so I refocused my performance talk to include design considerations on site speed. You want to go for something that feels good to present and is equally as fulfilling for your audience to hear.

You won’t get invitations to every conference you want—and it’s okay. Keep submitting, whether it’s through a CFP or your network. The more practice you get with sending proposals, the more you can learn from the process and event organizers about what makes a winning pitch. Follow up with any rejections (we all get them!) to find out what wasn’t quite the right fit, and see if that feedback applies to your next submission. Maybe it’s as simple as “We already had three proposals on the same topic,” or as helpful as “This wasn’t the right technical depth for our audience.” Learning and iterating is the key to each step toward the stage.

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