Lieblingsstories: Vanda’s remarkable journey and 6 tips to becoming an international conference speaker

In April of 2022 I came back from a conference I had just attended. Eager and motivated I was giving a recap to my team when my manager said: “Next year you should go back as a speaker!”. Little did I know that this would set off a whole new journey for me – because this year, I did. Today, I would like to share this story with you.

Written by Vanda, our SEO Lead

To be honest with you: at the time of my manager’s encouragement, I did not think I would actually do it. Like many of us before stepping out of our comfort zone, I thought: “Maybe in a few years from now – when I’m more experienced and there’s a reason for people to relate to my expertise”. There was clearly a degree of imposter syndrome behind this thinking and that is still lingering up to this day. So what changed, you might think? Well, I decided to not let those thoughts control me.

What gave me a good first push was the strong support I got from my manager, who also invited me to his podcast back in March 2022, brainstormed topics with me, as well as shared conferences which were open for speakers to pitch. Even though I was hesitant (and still to this day I get a stomach ache before a simple company presentation), I always loved the idea of public speaking I thought: “I have to give it a try”. So I started with smaller events, including Idealo’s hybrid SEO Knowledge Day and Axel Springer’s SEO Circle, which were perfect for giving me a little confidence boost. 

From nervous to confident: Stepping onto the big stage

My first two big events were SMX Munich and brightonSEO – just one month apart from each other. These are so established and acknowledged events in the digital marketing world that the imposter thoughts in me didn’t expect to get any of them on the first try. Needless to say, I had a mixed cocktail of emotions when I received the good news of being accepted as a speaker to both. I was excited, happy, and nervous – and a little stressed all at the same time. 

There are different types of conference speakers and approaches to doing so, but let me introduce you to me: With my ongoing mix of emotions and come-prepared personality, it’s safe to say that I’m the kind of person who starts working on their deck four months in advance – because I’m too afraid of not getting it done in time. However, if any of you reading this can relate, I can reassure you that the preparation gets easier with time. It’s only natural that you over-prepare when you are unfamiliar with the experience and unsure of the expectations. 

Here’s the good news though: there are always resources and support available to you, either through the conferences themselves or often through your own company. In my case, I was able to take part in a two-day presentation training organized by Axel Springer, thanks to Ladenzeile and our internal network. This helped me a lot, not only to boost my confidence but to shape my presentation style. In fact, it was in this very training I was able to build the foundation of my intro for the SMX session. Figuring out how to start a conference speech was the most challenging for me, which in the end also turned out to be the most creative and exciting part of my preparation. 

Speaking at a conference for the first time can be intimidating and awakening at the same time. At SMX I was feeling physically sick for as long as two days up to my presentation. And the fact that I was about to host my first ever proper conference talk at the largest stage of the event… Well, that for sure didn’t calm the pressure I was feeling, despite the absolutely amazing opportunity of a kickstart ahead of me. 

But let me tell you the most beautiful twist to this story: What helped me overcome my fear and turn nervousness into confidence, was all the amazing people I met prior to SMX – either at the networking events or online. A number of these people came along to listen to me and support me by sitting in the first few rows so I could drive energy from familiar faces. This sense of community I came to discover is one of the things I appreciate the most when it comes to SEO and digital marketing events.

Feeling nervous is part of the experience

When we are at a conference, listening to all the experts on stage, we tend to put them on a pedestal and forget the fact that they are also just humans – with a passion for sharing. I learned that most of these people are nervous, too. They are also thinking about what to wear for weeks in advance, and even though they genuinely want to interact with the attendees, they also often feel so overwhelmed that they seek to hide in the speaker room. 

What I’m trying to say is that there’s a human aspect we all share, which also makes each speech and speaker unique

For myself, I’ve come to learn that despite building up extreme nervousness before my talks, as soon as I start speaking, it all transforms into adrenaline, allowing me to feel very present and live out every moment. As cliché as it sounds: this was the moment I knew that I’m meant to be a public speaker. Do I still get nervous? Yes. Do I feel confident about what I do? Yes, definitely. But now I can embrace that both are part of the experience.

My 6 tips for becoming a conference speaker

Are you looking to begin your own journey to becoming a conference speaker? That’s amazing! To help you get started, I’ll share six of my most important learnings with you:

1. Start small, go big

The idea of becoming a conference speaker is attractive, however, not everyone can or should do it. You need to figure out whether it’s for you. If it makes you happy and satisfied, if it boosts your confidence, or rather has you in a continuous loop of stress and anxiety. So how do you know? The best way to find out is no rocket science: just try it out! Start small: seek out engagement opportunities within your company – whether that’s hosting a training, an onboarding, or presenting in a company-wide meeting. If you feel comfortable with that, move onto something a bit bigger, such as online events or podcasts. Of course, you can also jump right into the deep water, but starting small can help you build up confidence and drive to go bigger step-by-step. 

2. Seek out and accept support

Presenting alone on stage doesn’t mean you need to do the whole process alone. I’m not referring to seasoned speakers, who have a whole team behind them – I’m talking about myself and anyone who is just starting out. Here’s a nice truth to know: nobody wants you to fail and most people are willing to support you. 

For example, after my pitch to SMX, the organizer reached out to me because she liked my pitch but was interested in seeing if we could come up with something even better together. After brainstorming, we came up with a result I was even happier with than with my initial pitch. My colleagues, friends, and family were equally supportive, with many of them listening to my practice and providing me with feedback. Even complete strangers I met through an SEO community offered to listen and give feedback. Remember, there’s an abundance of support out there – but you need to be willing to approach and accept it. 

3. Find your style

As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of different types of speakers at conferences. That does not only refer to how to deal with pressure and preparation but also to the delivery of a speech. Some are very technical and to the point, while others lean more toward storytelling or even entertainment. You don’t need to be all of them or force one that you think the audience would enjoy most – you only need to figure out who you are, find your style, and lean into that. 

4. Embrace your feelings, and live the moment

It’s natural to be nervous. In fact, most people are. The most constructive way of coping with it is to embrace it and use it to drive you. I’m of course not claiming this as scientific fact, or a one-size-fits-all, but rather as a friendly motivation. Somebody once told me, “Your brain has incredible powers when you’re standing in the spotlight, going against your own nerves” – I really loved that. Here’s another tip many people gave me, so let me forward it to you: just enjoy it and live every moment!

5. Just do it, hit apply

There is always a tomorrow, but why not do it today? What I learned during the past year months is that conferences are always on the lookout for speakers, and most of them are very willing to give a chance to newcomers. If you’re feeling underrepresented in your field, this is even more of a reason to apply. Personally, I never felt disadvantaged as a woman when pitching for conferences, but rather the opposite: many events are making efforts to include a more diverse representation of people, backgrounds, and expertise on stage. Am I saying that there might potentially be benefits to being – for instance – a female speaker nowadays? That might be a bit of a stretch, but I definitely can say is that I’ve felt an inclusive approach from the field. However, it’s important to remember that not getting a spot doesn’t mean that you did a bad job; there are hundreds of people applying to speak at most of these events, so potential ‘rejection’ should not hold you back from applying. If you’re passionate about it, keep trying! 

6. Once accepted, ride the wave

Once you’ve been accepted at a conference, go all in! Ever since my first talk, I’ve not only enriched my network with amazing people but also received great opportunities – from podcasts to online magazine features. The more previous speaker gigs you can put on your applications, the more your speaker pitch to any conference will stand out. At the beginning of the year, I thought I would have two conferences this year and that would be it – but since then I’ve talked at the AS Media & Tech Con, will be speaking at brightonSEO in September, and have another very exciting conference in the line up (that unfortunately can’t reveal just yet!).

Proudly empowering women in tech

I want to end this article by sharing gratitude for a matter that matters a lot to me personally: women empowering women. I feel very privileged in my life and career – including at Ladenzeile – to be able to connect with a lot of extremely inspiring, smart, and powerful women. On my journey to becoming a conference speaker, I’ve also come to find myself in a position of experiencing the forceful empowerment of Women in Tech – and from a different lens:

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the walk is never complete – however, I’m feeling that great efforts are being made in the speaker field. A stand-out experience for me was attending the Women in Tech SEO community’s meet-up at brightonSEO; being connected with all the powerful experts in one room was spectacular. And knowing that they were only a small fraction of all the WiTS community members – which means that there are so many more amazing women in tech out there. That moved me!

It’s inspiring for me to experience how supportive members of the community are – from answering questions, supporting each other’s careers, and amplifying each other’s accomplishments. There is no feeling of competition, only a strong unity led by empathy and positive energy. 

From woman to woman and from woman to all – if you’re reading my story, feeling that you want to embark on a journey of your own, let me tell you this: if I can do it, you can do it, too. Embrace your nervousness, turn it into confidence, accept support, and most importantly: be yourself. You’ve got this!

Meet Vanda

As our SEO Lead, Vanda and her team plays a crucial role in optimizing Ladenzeile’s online infrastructure and driving organic traffic.

“I’m driven by the ever-changing landscape of my field and the challenge of staying ahead. To me, it’s about unlocking the potential of websites, connecting users with valuable content, and making an authentic impact in the digital world,”

– Vanda, SEO Lead

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