So you want to start conference speaking? Choose your headshot

3 min readPublished January 08, 2020Updated May 02, 2022

This is the fourth post in a series on getting started as a conference speaker. This post focuses on how to choose your headshot. Links to other posts in the series can be found at the end of this post.

In addition to a speaker bio, most conferences will ask for a headshot to use on their website. The key to a good headshot is a high resolution, square, color photo with a plain background.

Most modern phone cameras will take a beautiful high resolution photo so this isn’t as challenging as it used to be. A high-res photo will hold up better as the conference resizes it to fit on all of the mediums they need it (website, printed schedule, schedule displays outside of the session rooms, social media, etc). You're less likely to end up with a grainy image of you shared with all the conference attendees.

Using a color photo is also a considerate choice for the conference organizers. If the conference’s website design is in black and white, they can easily grayscale your color photo but if you give them a black and white photo and they have rich color photography, your headshot will look out of place from the rest of the photos.

And, please please please pick something with a relatively plain, quiet background. I’ve heard horror stories of volunteers and interns having to try to separate the speaker from the image background for the website design and the speaker submitted a headshot of them standing in front of a tree or a bush. Those poor volunteers spent hours on a single headshot. Just like using a high-res, color photo, a plain background gives the conference more latitude in making your headshot match the design of the rest of the conference assets.

The last bit of advice I’ll offer is to use a photo that looks like you. Many attendees will refer to photos before they come up to talk to you to make sure that they’re talking to the right person. Using a photo of your dog or your favorite anime character is cute, but your speaker headshot is not the right use case for that image. Save it for your Slack avatar or Twitter image.

Have you noticed that we're already on step 4 and we still haven't written your talk?? This is intentional. My rule of thumb is 1 hour of preparation (writing, creating slides, practicing, editing, etc) for each minute of the talk, i.e. for a 40 minute talk I plan for 40 hours of preparation. Putting all of that time into a talk before you know if its been accepted or not is a huge commitment. Your talk might be amazing but just not the right fit for the audiences you pitched. It’s better to save your time and mental energy for preparing your talk after someone has asked you to give it.

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