Speak the Future: Interview with Shwetank Dixit, Web Evangelist

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Conferize’s “Speak the Future” series features speakers who are currently changing the conference world. For more info check out our “Speak the Future” Manifesto.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m from India and work as a Web Evangelist for Opera Software. A major part of my job involves interacting with the web community at large, which involves coding, writing articles and of course, speaking. I’m really passionate about the web, and want to continue to see it succeeding as platform, and as such, I try to encourage the adoption of open web technologies whichever way I can.

What is your favorite area of expertise to present?

I love to present on upcoming web technologies, and in the browser world, these keep changing all the time. Something which was new just a couple of months ago might be considered common knowledge now. So you always have to keep learning about new things and be at the forefront of what is possible in web technologies. 

How did you find public speaking?

I’ve always enjoyed speaking in public. I was by instinct always comfortable with it. For example, I was always participating in debate competitions in school and always the first to volunteer to present group projects in college. 

However, I was thrust into the public speaking world when I started attending developer conferences. I realized that even if I wasn’t an organizer at a conference, I could contribute to it in a major way by speaking. When I joined Opera, I was lucky to able to do this as part of my job!

What have been some of the key conferences you’ve attended or participated in?

I’ve attended quite a few conferences (and unconferences), some of which in great places with a great set of people behind them. I’ve been to a lot of Barcamps all across the world, like ones in Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangalore and Kerala (all of which have a great set of passionate people organizing them). I’ve also enjoyed talking at ‘Meta Refresh’ and ‘JSFoo’ in Bangalore, GITEX in Dubai and Interop in Mumbai.

Why do you think conferences are important today?

You can get basic information just by doing a search online, so I think the value of conferences is to get to find the kind of knowledge that you might not easily find just by searching online. You get to create connections with people and get to share experiences. The best conferences also make an effort to get speakers who tend to speak on new topics or topics which are known by very few but deserve a larger audience. Conferences expose people to new ways of thinking and new approaches towards things, which is why I think they are so important in societies. 

Have you noticed any significant trends in the meetings industry in the wake of digital/mobile developments?

When I started out going to conferences (around six or seven years ago), sites like Slideshare were just starting up. Now they are pretty established and its so easy to share your presentations online. I’ve also noticed that (slowly and steadily) the quality of presentations by people have changed too, at least in the web development circles. People now have better designed presentations, and the way in which presentations are made have also undergoing change.  While most people still stick with Powerpoint and Keynote, we are also seeing a lot of people making their presentations using just web technologies.

Also, while people still exchange business cards, many have been quick to adopt to social media and nowadays just add each other on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. 

How would you like to see conferences change more in the future?

I would like greater diversity in the conferences I go to. A lot of the conferences you will go to, you’ll find the same set of people attending or organizing all the time. This happens all around the world, and sometimes feels like an echo chamber. I’d like more people from western countries to visit countries in the east and share their experiences and vice-versa. I’d like more hard core developers to attend design conferences and vice-versa. 

As such, I’d like to shake things up so that more people are exposed to experiences and people outside their comfort zone. I think this will enable conferences to have a richer experience and audiences will have a great take-away at the end of an event.

As a speaker, what do you feel you need right now to strengthen your profile in the conference world? Tools, technology, network, etc.?

There are plenty of tools right now, but they are all distributed. To share videos, you need something like youtube or vimeo. To share slides, Slideshare or Speakerdeck. To keep in touch with people you meet, you need to keep track of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and of course, stay on top of your business cards. Keeping track of all of it is hard sometimes, which is why I appreciate what Conferize is doing!

Any conference nightmares?

Not really, though I’ve seen some poorly organized conferences which came close to being one! As a speaker, you need to do your part to be organized too, like being on time and staying within your time limit. 

Advice to aspiring speakers?

The topics you speak the best about are the ones which you feel passionate or excited about. So find out what those are, and share your knowledge. Also, your slides should be an enhancement, but the main focus should always be on you and what you say. Avoid putting a lot of items on a single slide, and try to rehearse your presentation at least twice (keeping in mind your time limit) before you go on stage.

Anything you’d like to add?

There has been no better time to be a speaker than now. We have so many different avenues to share your knowledge, to connect with people, and to explore different topics than ever before. Communication is at the heart of progress – so go ahead, share your passions, be a speaker!