Tech Talks at Work

One of the initiatives I sponsor at work which I’m most proud of are our weekly tech talks. The company had a long history of doing them, a small group of people would volunteer to talk about something for about an hour on a Friday afternoon. But the prep was hard work and there was no consistency. We could have talk three months in a row and then nothing for the next six. Worse still the same people always felt pressured into talking which seemed very fair on them.

Back in 2019 I went to the Leeds Test Atelier and attended a talk by Sophie Weston. She discussed what her company had done with tech talks and I was really impressed. She argued that the key requirements for any sustainable tech talks were:

  • Duration should be 20-30 minutes
  • The same time/location every week
  • DO NOT MISS A WEEK
  • Food

Inspired by this I went back to work and set about seeing if we could pull off something similar. Sophie had explained how important it was to keep the schedule going week after week. If you start missing weeks those odd weeks develop into hiatuses and then the entire thing stops. She also strongly advised bacon sandwiches but I didn’t have a budget so we relied on BYOB (Bring your Own Buttie) instead.

Over the next few weeks I set about pitching my idea and recruiting speakers. I wanted twelve. I figured that if I could find twelve people willing to give a talk and get them on a weekly schedule then it would be worth doing and I might stand a chance of the talks becoming a sustainable weekly occurrence. I got fifteen.

The Mic Drops began to take off. Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

We booked a meeting room and opened up Skype for anyone who wanted to dial in. We also made sure we recorded all the sessions so if someone couldn’t attend they could watch it at a later date.

At the time of writing we’ve had:

  • 60 consecutive mic drops pausing only for holidays
  • Over 20 different speakers
  • 20+ hours of recorded videos
  • 1700+ attendees

Even the global pandemic didn’t slow us down, we simply moved to 100% online!

So here are my steps for starting up your own weekly tech talks:

  1. Plan out your first three months in advance to make sure you have sustainability
  2. Hold your talks at the same time and place every week
  3. Unless for a specific reasons the talk and questions should take less than 30 minutes
  4. Record them
  5. Don’t limit to “Tech Talks” some of our best talks have been on sleep, agile, management practices, books, and communication skills. Encourage variety!
  6. Always have a back up speaker, try to have two
  7. Survey your department to find out what talks people are interested in
  8. Invite External Speakers
  9. Run workshops to coach the less confident speakers
  10. Anyone can talk and anyone can attend!

Have you run tech talks in your company? Did you follow a similar format to us? What worked well for you?

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