Jeremy Keith is a web developer, writer and speaker as well as your best chance of finding a good party at SXSWi. Since he’s also one of the mentors for aspiring speakers on Make Me A Speaker!, I emailed him to ask him a few questions about how he got into the speaking biz.

MW : What was your first speaking gig? How did you get it?

JK : The first time I spoke in front of a crowd was at a local gathering here in Brighton called Silicon Beach. A bunch of web geeks would get together in the pub and one person would display their work and talk about it. This was a few year’s ago before CSS had really caught on so I was in full evangelising mode.

After that, I spoke at another local event was Skillswap, organised by Andy Budd. Again, it was a small gathering with a bunch of peers and again, I was flying the CSS flag high. I think the fact that I was speaking about something I cared passionately about made all the difference. If I spoke on that subject now, I probably wouldn’t be as good; I’m a bit more jaded about CSS now and I probably wouldn’t be able to muster up the same youthful enthusiasm.

Speaking at those small local events gave me (and Andy) the courage to submit a proposal for South by Southwest in 2005, which was my first proper conference slot.

MW : What do you think the most important thing is for someone who wants to be a successful speaker?

JK : Passion. If there’s something you care strongly about, chances are you will deliver an awesome presentation on that subject. Sure, there are plenty of tips’n’tricks about body language and slideshow software to help you deliver the presentation, but if you have a subject that you really care strongly about, I think you’re 90% of the way to knocking an audience’s socks off.

MW : What do you think is hardest about getting started as a speaker?

JK : Self-confidence. I honestly think that that’s the thing that holds back a lot of first-time speakers. Most conference organisers are quite eager to get new blood, in my experience. It’s the new blood that’s often too timid about presenting themselves. Still, having something to point to show that you can back up your claims really
helps — a blog is probably the best way of showing how committed and passionate you are.