Kat Sweet

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How I Track Presentations

People occasionally ask me how I keep track of CFPs, talk ideas, and past presentations. Your mileage may vary, of course, so I want to share what’s currently working for me and why, with the caveat that, as they say, the best project management tool is the one that you will actually use.

Most of my public speaking tracking lives in a spread in my bullet journal. I used to use a kanban board for tracking conference talks, but found that that didn’t offer a good way for me to properly capture things that weren’t directly in scope of the project of writing and delivering a single talk (such as my higher-level speaking goals or upcoming CFP dates). Starting from a blank page lets me strike a balance of structure and flexibility, and having everything in one place helps with attention management. Plus, it gives me an excuse to play with fancy fountain pens. The fields in my current spread are as follows:

Strategic goals

These aren’t specific talk ideas, but rather values that drive why I speak: what I want to get out of the speaking experience for myself, what I want to share with others, what I want to accomplish. Spelling all of this out helps keep me focused when I have too many disparate ideas bouncing around in my head, and also helps recenter me when I feel like I have no ideas. When speaking on behalf of work, it can also be helpful to figure out how to align some of these with the mission of your team or the larger organization. I try to keep in mind my various audiences too - what problems am I trying to solve when I build a presentation for a room full of security professionals vs a non-security audience, or for a group of colleagues vs a non-work setting?

Idea backlog

Occasionally, in a wave of ADHD hyperfocus I get an idea for a talk, grab a pen and churn out a draft immediately. But more often than not, talk ideas take a while to percolate. I needed a place to store the half-baked talk ideas that came to me in the shower or on a long walk that I haven’t yet had time to fully flesh out. As with any good backlog, it gets groomed regularly - if something’s been sitting in there for a while, eventually I evaluate whether it’s still interesting or relevant to me and decide whether to drop it or try to develop it into a talk proposal.

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Potential venues

Mapping a talk idea to the right venue is one of those topics that only seems to come up in the wake of a talk being rejected (I’m currently drafting another CFP-related post on finding a venue when writing a talk proposal). So as I attend various security cons and hear about others from friends, coworkers, and the Twitterverse, I try to make a note of which ones look intriguing based on my strategic goals and idea backlog, as well as what time of year they typically run so that I’ll know when to keep an eye out for their CFP opening. Also on the list: some non-security conference venues that might be open to security content - tech meetups, developer cons, libraries, even some sci-fi cons (I was on a security 101 panel at the feminist sci-fi convention WisCon in 2017!).

CFPs in flight

When I hit “submit” on a talk proposal, I don’t want to lose track of its state. So I record the talk title, the conference I submitted it to, and an empty checkbox, to be filled when I know whether I’ve been accepted. This can be particularly useful for proactively balancing your workload when you feel inclined to apply to a large number of conferences… I’ve seen too many people lose sight of how many proposals they’ve submitted, only to have every single one of them accepted. And, as I advised a friend this summer, when you’re prepping multiple talks, the stress is multiplicative, not additive.

One addition here that I plan to put into future iterations: the date when applicants will be notified of acceptance or rejection. Not all conferences list this, and not all meet their deadlines, but it never hurts to have a general sense of when you can expect to hear back - it frees up mental bandwidth till then to worry about other things!

Speaking logs - work and external

This is where I write down every time I speak. I track the talk I gave as well as the date(s); for external presentations I also list the venue. Even though the presentations that I give at work are almost never public-facing beyond my coworkers, they’re still time spent speaking in front of a crowd. I presented 50 (!!!) times this year, 43 of which were at work - logging all of that speaking time at work made me a much stronger presenter.

Writing down all of the times I’ve presented also helps combat the ever-present impostor syndrome. Much of the work that I find most fulfilling - teaching, mentoring, communicating security - is work whose impact is often hard to measure; when I worry that I haven’t been doing enough, it helps to have evidence to the contrary written in the notebook that I carry around every day.

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For a future version: milestones and timelines

Every talk, from the initial idea to the live presentation, is a project with predictable milestones, such as writing an outline, building a slide deck, checking the A/V setup with the venue, and doing dry runs. While I currently capture some of this ad-hoc when writing out weekly tasks, it will become more of a repeatable process in my next bullet journal. I also want to work in some timing; everyone has varying opinions on how far out to prepare for talks, but I can say with certainty that hitting all of the milestones 24 hours before you go live is never a good idea. (Not that I would know anything about that, of course…)

Make it your own

My system of tracking public speaking is always a work in progress, but this is its current state. If you do a fair amount of public speaking - or would like to - definitely consider exploring tactics to organize it all in a way that works for you. Happy writing!