Over the past few years I’ve spoken at a lot of conferences. I’m not quite as prolific as, for example, the amazing Aleyda Solis, but there have been significant periods where I spoke at an event least once every month.
I enjoy speaking at conferences. A large part of my enjoyment comes from sharing my knowledge and meeting with people in the industry. I get to hang out with old friends and make new ones, and the privilege of going up on stage to have hundreds of people listen to me is one I never take for granted.
Thanks to conferences I’ve been able to travel to amazing places and meet up with awesome people. The past few years I’ve travelled to cities like New York, Las Vegas, Paris, Istanbul, Milan, Bonn, Amsterdam, and numerous places in the UK and Ireland – all thanks to events I was invited to speak at.
But I also dislike going to conferences. The travel is never fun (I’m a grumpy traveller at the best of times), I rarely get a good sleep in hotel beds, and my nutrition takes the usual hit. I also feel a lot of pressure to deliver a good talk, one that entertains and informs and is hopefully worthwhile and unique.
And then there’s the socialising bit. At heart, I’m an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. I’m not great at socialising but I make an effort, because I do enjoy hanging out with people I like – and fortunately the SEO industry has plenty of fun people to hang out with. I’ve made several great friends in the industry over the years, thanks to conferences and the surrounding social activities.
But there’s only so much I can handle. My reservoir of social interaction is limited, and conferences drain that reservoir very quickly.
I’ve been very lucky that my wife and business partner Alison joins me at many events, and helps make socialising so much easier for me. Contrary to me, she actually likes people in general and enjoys chatting to new folks. She’s been an incredible support for me over the years as our business has grown and my conference speaking gigs became more numerous and more international.
All in all, despite the fun bits and all the support I’ve received, it’s been taking a toll on me. The travel, the lack of sleep, the pressures of delivering, the socialising, and of course the time away from actual paid work – speaking at conferences comes at a price, and it’s one I’m increasingly reluctant to pay.
I’ve already agreed to a number of events for the remainder of 2019, and I’m genuinely looking forward to each and every one of these:
- Optimisey Cambridge SEO Meetup
- SMX Munich
- eComm Live
- The Tomorrow Lab Presents
- Digital Elite Day
- Digital DNA
- Nottingham Digital Summit
- State of Digital
- Chiang Mai SEO
Some are events I’ve never spoken at but have wanted to, and others are recurring events that I always enjoy being a small part of. So I’m committing to these events and will work damn hard to deliver great talks at every single one.
After that, I’m pulling on the brakes.
For a long time I felt that speaking at conferences was a way to prove myself, to show that I knew my stuff and wasn’t half-bad at this SEO malarkey. The bigger the stage, the more I felt affirmed in my knowledge and experience.
That aspect of it has lost its luster for me. I don’t feel I’ve anything left to prove. I’ve become increasingly confident in my own abilities as an SEO, and feel I’ve gotten a good handle on my imposter syndrome.
Also, I sometimes feel that by speaking at a conference I’m taking up a spot that could’ve gone to someone else, someone who is still building their reputation or who has more worthwhile content to share. And, let’s be honest, there’s enough white guys speaking at conferences. If I take a step back from the conference circuit, maybe that’ll allow someone else to take a step up.
So from now on I’ll keep my speaking calendar a lot emptier. I’m not retiring from the conference circuit entirely – I enjoy it too much – but I’ll be speaking much less often. I’ll be on stage at a small handful of events every year at most, and mainly outside of the UK (with one or two exceptions).
This will hopefully free me up to focus on my paid client work, as well as my SEO training offering. And I’ll keep showing my face at events like BrightonSEO, as for me those feel more like regular SEO family gatherings.
It’s a selfish move of course, to prevent my name from saturating the conference circuit as much as preserve my sanity. I feel I’m at risk of losing appeal as a speaker, as there’ve been so many opportunities to see me speak. Maybe by enforcing some scarcity, I’ll stay attractive for conference organisers while also making sure I can deliver top notch talks at the few events I choose.
But foremost I want to prevent burning out. I’ve felt quite stretched the last while, always running from one place to the next while trying to meet deadline after deadline. It’s time I slow down the Barry-train and focus primarily on my client work. Conferences are great fun but they also consume a lot of time and energy. Those are resources that I need to treat with more respect.
I’ll hope to see many of you at the 2019 events still to come, and I’ll do my best to stay in contact with my industry friends.
Conferences are a great way to keep in touch, but definitely not the only way. Some of our best industry friends have visited us in Northern Ireland, and I want to make time to do the same and visit our friends where they live. Those are the trips that don’t cost energy, but recharge the batteries. I need to do more of those.
So, in short, I’m not going away, but I’ll become less ubiquitous. It’s win-win for everyone. :)