Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, Gillian, Josh Birk, and I sit down for coffee. Join us as we chat about community conferences and tips to get started speaking at events.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation.

Community conferences

Every month, Gillian, Developer Evangelist Josh Birk, and I sit down with a cup of coffee and a topic. For July’s coffee talk, we’re sharing our love for community conferences and explaining why they’re such a good opportunity to get into speaking at events.

Join us as we discuss:

  • Fun things to do with your off day from our conference veterans
  • Why bad weather is the key to Midwestern niceness
  • How to use community conferences to dip your toes into public speaking
  • What makes for a good speaking topic
  • Why it’s so important to know your conference
  • What you can learn by attending conferences before you try speaking at one
  • Our favorite places to eat when we’re at conferences

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Full show transcript

Mike: Midwest Dreamin’, Forcelandia, Snow Force. Boy, there’s a lot of community conferences out there. So I thought this month on Coffee with Evangelists we would talk about the vast and ever-growing community conferences that we have in the world and participating in them and some of the fun stuff that we get to do. So as always, joining me again this month, admin evangelists, Gillian and Josh Birk.

Gillian: Hello. Hello.

Josh Birk: Hello everybody.

Mike: Some are fresher back from community conferences than others.

Josh Birk: Fresh off the plane. Is that-

Mike: Fresh off the plane.

Josh Birk: Pretty much fresh off the plane.

Mike: Josh, you saw a sunken boat in Forcelandia.

Josh Birk: I saw a sunken boat, a beach boat actually, I think is the best way to put it because when I was telling people later at a bar about the fact that we were … So it’s the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale, which is a four mast ship that crashed into the beach of the Columbia River, lost three of its masts, sent out a rocket and was quickly rescued. There were people injured. Nobody was killed in it though.

My favorite part is the captain was quoted turning around to his boat and wishing that it’s wood would bleach the sands with the spirit or something very high lifting like that. Then he turned to his crew with a bottle of whiskey and says, “Boys, let’s drink.” So good captain in my book, it just now the sand has eroded away and I asked somebody, “Is this a horrible climate change story?” And they’re like, “No, the sand just happens to be moving in this direction that you can actually see the whole boat.” So yeah, Fort Peters, I think outside of Portland, the wreck of the Peter Iredale. It was a great little Friday jaunt for us.

Mike: Huh. Things I didn’t think you would be able to see at a community conference.

Josh Birk: Right.

Mike: Gillian, you’re heading to one.

Gillian: I am.

Mike: Well, by the time this airs, you will have already been there. Things will have happened. You’ll have great stories, but …

Gillian: Yeah, I am just days away as we record this podcast from going to Tahoe Dreamin’, which is, God, I think it’s the community conference I’ve been to the most times in my last however many years I’ve been in the community. And it’s evolved over the years, which has been funny. At first was kind of a great excuse to go and ski in Tahoe and also do Salesforce things and then it became Nor Cal Dreamin’ and so it was in Sacramento for a couple years. That’s the first time I took the train to Sacramento. And then it’s back in Tahoe now, but it is in the summer instead of the winter, which is completely different things to go do as part of the community conference. So instead of putting on a rainbow snowsuit and skiing down Heavenly, maybe I’ll get to go paddleboard on the lake or something. So that’s again the fun things you get to do at a community conference. I don’t think we’ve talked about anything Salesforce related yet.

Mike: Yeah, isn’t there still a ton of snow up there though? They got like 800 inches.

Gillian: I think they officially shut down the skiing like a month ago. But yes, from what I hear, there’s still plenty of snow. I’ll give you a full report back.

Mike: Great.

Josh Birk: Mike, you’re headed my way, right?

Mike: A little bit. Well, no, so fun story about that. It’s no longer your way, Josh. It’s actually Minnesota there.

Josh Birk: Oh yeah.

Mike: Have a hot dish for Midwest Stream in mid-August, which I don’t mind the change from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Gillian: Although that Navy Pier experience was pretty great in the middle of summer.

Mike: It’s pretty fun. It’s pretty fun.

Gillian: I did fall in love with Chicago the first time I got to go to Midwest Dreamin’ many years ago and hanging out on the Navy Pier and the weather’s beautiful.

Mike: It was good time of year to be on Navy Pier too.

Josh Birk: Yeah. We natives have mixed feelings about Navy Pier in general, but that ballroom is freaking amazing.

Mike: That’s huge.

Josh Birk: Towards the end of the pier is just so pretty and at that point of the pier what I love about it is you kind of get away from the crowds and the carny feel of it, and you’re really just getting a great view of the city.

Gillian: There’s fireworks. There’s a little beach there. I was like, I’m going to the beach in Chicago.

Mike: Is there still a Ferris wheel there, Josh?

Josh Birk: There is still a Ferris wheel there.

Mike: No. So Minneapolis, A, I like it. The drive’s about the same but different. It’s less hectic once you get in. Minneapolis is still pretty laid back. There’s also a little restaurant outside of Minneapolis that I like to go to called Little Oscars. It’s very mid-century modern. I think it was, I don’t know, I’m going to say it was built in probably the late fifties. At a point in the 1970s, they just stopped updating it and they also stopped updating the menu. And so if you are a child of the eighties like I am it is exactly your childhood restaurant and it is the most wonderful place on the planet to eat.

Josh Birk: Nice.

Gillian: I think last the time I went to Midwest Dreamin’, Mike, you got to show me one of your many vehicles because you drove.

Mike: I did. I drove my big truck.

Gillian: And I think it’s the first time I got to see one of your vehicles in person.

Mike: Yeah. I also remember, Gillian, fun story reminiscing. I remember early on in admin relations years when you flew to Midwest Dreamin’ when it was in Minnesota and you couldn’t believe how nice the people were and people opened doors for you.

Gillian: I was blown away.

Mike: And I said, “Well, yeah, you’re in the Midwest.”

Gillian: Actually, I think it was even pre Midwest Dreamin’ days. I think it was when you and I first started working together and it was like, “Hey, let’s go to a bunch of user groups and talk about admins.”

Mike: It could be that.

Gillian: Enabling. And it was, yeah, I remember landing and people, exactly, opening doors for me and checking at the hotels. I was like, “I have never experienced such lovely, wonderful mannered people.” Not that people in San Francisco are terrible, we’re not New York. But man, it blew me away.

Mike: See, in the Midwest, we deal with the coldest winters and the hottest summers. And so because everything else is just trying to beat you senseless.

Josh Birk: This is true. This is true.

Mike: We’re nice to each other. Because everything else isn’t.

Josh Birk: Yeah, we have that advantage too. We can always talk about the weather.

Mike: Always.

Josh Birk: We had an instant social lubricant for conversations that we can just jump into.

Mike: Always. Always. Can always say, “Boy, so the weather this week.” “Yeah, I know, right?”

Josh Birk: Sorry, Gillian, I jumped into you.

Gillian: No, I was going to say, every time I go to Minneapolis, it’s a lovely experience. Last time I went to Midwest Dreamin’ I ran into the most adorable, awesome parade happening. It was like the Golden Gophers were there and all of these little local beauty queen pageants and it was bands and it was just so wholesome and wonderful. I’m like, I feel like I just stepped into a movie about the Midwest and it was gorgeous weather and it was just like-

Mike: Hallmark does it all wrong at that whole East Coast thing. They got to come to the Midwest.

Gillian: I was like, man, this is adorable. This is great. So yeah, community conferences. The extracurriculars are fantastic. Let’s talk about the actual conference.

Josh Birk: I was going to say, we’re supposed to speak at these things too on something Salesforce?

Mike: Yeah. First of all, I think it’s great that they exist. I don’t even know of another company or industry that has this. The only thing close to it that I know of is the car world. We put together our own events and car shows that the big automakers don’t support, but that’s as close as this comes.

Josh Birk: The proliferation has been insane. I wonder if there’s a heat map out there detailing whether or not there’s any portion of the planet right now not covered by one community event or another.

Mike: There’s probably some place in Nebraska and there’s like five podcast listeners that listen to us in Nebraska. They all are in Omaha and then the whole rest of the state is just … I don’t know.

Gillian: Is that not the Midwest?

Mike: It is, but nobody lives there.

Josh Birk: We let them say that so that they feel at home somewhere. Because again, we’re Midwesterners. We’re very polite.

Mike: Gillian, you have stumbled accidentally into a very sensitive topic for Midwesterners, which is what is Midwest and what is not Midwest. Yes.

Gillian: Yeah. I can see how it could be [inaudible].

Mike: There’s people in parts of Ohio that are like, “We’re not Midwest.” Are you? But you kind of are.

Gillian: They’re not on a coast. How are they not Midwest?

Mike: Well ask them. I’m not part of the “they,” I’m Iowa.

Gillian: I’m like, it’s very easy on the West Coast. If you are on the West Coast, you have a coast on the western side of the US. There are three of us.

Mike: Anything else, just not you.

Josh Birk: Can you point to your coastline? Congratulations, you have passed the test.

Gillian: And if you can’t, then you’re in another region. It’s very simple. But on the East Coast, you guys get all messy out there and there’s all kinds of states that are the size of my city. I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s wild. But yes, Mike, to your point, the specialness of these conferences is insane. And the fact that so many people are so devoted and take so much of their own personal time to put together an event for other people to learn and get together without any official support from Salesforce. Yes, we have Salesforce people who get invited to speak there. I’m sure there’s occasional little things here and there that the community team does to support them. But overall, it’s completely run and organized and executed by volunteers who think this is important and that is something very, very special.

Josh Birk: And it’s blood, sweat, and tears and anybody who’s gotten kind of close with the organizers while this stuff is happening. And I feel like we’re a good audience for those people because we have our own version of the blood, sweat, and tears for our internal events. And the idea to me that somebody takes time out of their life to do something even remotely similar to that and it’s not their actual job is astonishing to me. And we have hundreds, probably, I’m wildly underestimating, but there’s so many people in our community willing to put that effort in.

Gillian: And repeatedly do it.

Josh Birk: And repeatedly do it. Yes.

Mike: So if you are listening to this, Gillian and Josh, and you’re thinking of maybe speaking at a conference. As somebody who spoke, and I’ve spoke at conferences too, what is some of your advice?

Gillian: I think this advice goes for no matter where you want to speak, but I think community conferences are especially a wonderful place to test out content that you may think is different or new or presents an idea that maybe you haven’t seen someone else present on before. I think the biggest thing is when we’re talking about content, what’s the number one thing you need to think about is the actual content. Speaking is a great experience and it’s wonderful and there’s nothing … I love the feeling of being able to get up in front of people and speak or get on the podcast and talk, but if you don’t actually have content that you’ve created that is worth talking about and sharing, then you kind of cart before the horse thing. So I think the biggest thing is think about an interesting thought or idea or something that you’re exploring that you want to bring to have other people provide you feedback and input and start a conversation about. That’s kind of my first bit of advice.

Josh Birk: Yeah, I think there’s two pieces of content that I see very successful. One is to riff on that, Gillian, it’s like, what is the thing? What’s the experience that you’ve had that may be very relatable to other people, but you are the person who can bring that up to stage? So you’ll see a lot of sessions that are very specific. This is how to X, Y, and Z, but that X, Y, and Z also has to be … It can’t be like, this is how I fixed this hacky thing I broke three years ago in JavaScript because congratulations for doing that, but nobody else cares because it’s not their problem. But if you’re solving other people’s problems, then they’ll show up.

And the second thing is, and this has been kind of my latest since I’ve been talking about stuff like mental health and AI and emerging tech stuff, and not even necessarily core Salesforce platform stuff, but it’s like what are you really passionate about? What’s the thing that’s going to energize you once you really get up on stage? And the other piece of advice I will put out there is know your conference. These conferences are not … a lot of them are very similar and a lot of them are very intentionally distinct. Forcelandia’s slogan is keep code weird. So if you want to be different at Forcelandia, maybe do something a little bit more quirky that probably wouldn’t even pass the mustard if you try to submit it for Dreamforce. But kind of like if you’re a writer and you want to submit to a magazine, you should probably read that magazine first and know what their voice is and their tone is and the kind of content that they’re going to publish.

Mike: Yeah, I would advocate for everything that you both said. And I would add a third point is same thing I do for car shows and stuff. I would just go as a spectator first. Just go as an attendee and see what it’s about before you jump in to be up on stage and to share something. Because a lot of that you’ll pick up, like the gaps that are missing in content or styles or what the vibe is like.

Gillian: To me personally, yes, I love speaking, I love presenting and sharing, but honestly just attending these conferences is so valuable to me. Part of our job at Salesforce, Josh, Mike, all of us is to do events and to speak and to present, and we have the TDXs and the Dreamforces and all of the world tours and whatnot. And going to a community conference is so much more valuable to me, I feel, in terms of helping me figure out how to better do my job. Because I actually get to talk to people instead of running between all of the different obligations that I’m responsible for.

And in talking to people and really listening to sessions, you learn what people care about. You learn cool things other people are doing and then that helps you understand, okay, so maybe I should think about developing content in this space, or this is a question that’s come up a lot. How do I think about trying to address that or creating something that someone’s going to get value out of? And that honestly, every time I go to a community conference, I come back with a zillion ideas about different kinds of things to talk about, learning about different problems people are trying to tackle, solutions people build, the creativity that people have been using to build solutions. Going and attending and listening is probably, back it all up, the first thing you should do before you should think about speaking.

Mike: Yeah, I couldn’t agree. It’s also … How do I put this? It’s also a little bit more casual. There isn’t the feeling of pressure around messaging so much at community conferences as there is around the solution. It’s understanding something as opposed getting those polished delivered messages that you would see at a world tour or something.

Josh Birk: And I’ll give a shout-out to Angela and Larry of the Forcelandia for agreeing to host me on subjects which I would never … Well, that’s not true, we’ve thought talked about doing certain versions of these, but I feel like it’s easier to do, I hate the term thought leadership, but it’s doing a presentation which is more opinionated, shall we say, especially in either an opening or a closing keynote than a lot of us would have the opportunity to do at a Dreamforce or a TDX.

Gillian: 100%, Josh. I will actually tell you the last few keynotes I’ve delivered at community Dreamin’ conferences from French Touch Dreamin’ or even Midwest a few years. I honestly don’t do a Salesforce presentation at all. I get to talk about things like how to grow your career and transition your skills and all stuff that clearly is important and relatable to an audience who’s at a Salesforce community conference. But I’ve never really given a demo in part of my keynotes, which I’m not ruling it out, there’s occasions for that. But it allows you to completely break free and really think about what’s the content here that is going to resonate with people and that I’m passionate about, that it’s really going to add value in a much for freeing way. I would never be able to give those presentations on stage at a Dreamforce or a world tour.

Mike: Tertiary to community conferences, do you have any memorable foods that you’ve ate while you’ve been somewhere?

Josh Birk: So Forcelandia is held at the Kennedy School, which is in McMenamins, and I never pronounced that correctly. I have horrible Midwestern tongue. But anyway, and they do really good food. They do really good beer. And the first night we were there, they had a tuna ahi twist on nachos.

Mike: Oh, tell me more. Like won ton chips?

Josh Birk: No, there was tortilla chips, but instead of cheese, it was that creamy mayo, spicy mustard kind of thing, and the nice big chunks of ahi tuna and then little bits of lettuce and cucumber and stuff like that. So kind of a poke bowl and a nacho bowl tossed together in … I was absolutely delighted.

Gillian: That does sound delicious. Now I’m hungry.

Mike: Yeah, I’m kind of with you. I’m kind of with you, I wouldn’t turn it down.

Josh Birk: [inaudible].

Mike: If it was really good, then I’d get hooked on it and like, “Can we go back?” And everybody else is like, “No, we already ate there last night.” I was like, “Yeah, exactly.”

Josh Birk: We almost never left the hotel. The food was so good.

Mike: Oh, man. See.

Gillian: Well, Mike, you are the one who goes to the same restaurant every time you come to San Francisco.

Mike: I do.

Gillian: So I do understand that.

Mike: I do. I literally get the same thing. I did try something different, but my expense report is one restaurant unless I have to go somewhere.

Gillian: Yeah. I think my favorite story is, I think it was the first time I went to Midwest Dreamin’, and it was with you, Mike, and I think you introduced me to a shandy.

Mike: Yep. Boy. Yeah, Leinenkugel’s.

Gillian: Leinenkugel’s on the Navy Pier in the middle of the summer in Chicago. It was beautiful. It was a great moment.

Mike: It was.

Gillian: Thank you for that.

Mike: And we had burgers. That was with you, Josh, actually.

Josh Birk: I was just going to say, I think that was an … What I love about that is that a shandy is a beer, so it’s beer and lemonade, right? I’m trying to remember.

Mike: Uh-huh. A white beer, vice beer.

Josh Birk: Yeah. And it’s like it’s a beer I would almost never order, but in that scenario that you are describing, absolutely wonderful. Just almost … Yeah. Yeah.

Gillian: It’s perfect.

Mike: Hot Day.

Josh Birk: Perfect Storm.

Mike: Just got done with the conference. Sunny Navy Pier, hamburgers, lemonade beer.

Josh Birk: Yeah. Back in the day when I worked for Model Metrics, we hosted somebody from California and it was their first time visiting Chicago for any lengthy period of time, and I think it was the third night that we went out to dinner, he asked why we were trying to kill him.

Gillian: I do remember there was one night, I think I ate three slices at Giordano’s and I was like, oh, what did I … This was a bad decision.

Mike: No, Gillian, I think you ate four.

Gillian: Sure. Then it was four. Hey, that was back when I was doing CrossFit. I could afford it. It’s okay.

Mike: Yeah. Also, of the people talking on the podcast, she’s the only one that worked off those slices the next day. I did not.

Gillian: Okay, Mike, what about you? Food memory?

Mike: I don’t know. So I’m tied because sometimes my food memory also creeps into some of the Chicago stuff from World Tour like when Mark Baseman and I and went and he ask me, he’s like, “I don’t think I’m going to make it through another day at a conference with you.” Because we did deep dish pizza and we also did Prime & Provisions.

Gillian: The Chicago effects.

Mike: It was very much. I do recall, so this is many moons back, going to Minnesota, and it was the dead of winter, so I don’t know if it was Midwest Dreamin’, it could have been a World Tour, but we found this, is it the Korean barbecue place that has the furnace of the sun in the middle that you put the little slices of beef on?

Josh Birk: Yeah. [inaudible]

Mike: They had one of those, and I just remember how amazing these little cuts of meat on that thing with some veggies were.

Gillian: It’s either Korean barbecue or maybe shabu-shabu.

Mike: Something like that.

Gillian: More Japanese.

Mike: But it was very much like a restaurant that they didn’t invent it. You bought into it like a Mongolian Grill deal. And that to me, we just don’t have those in Iowa. We don’t have where you sit down and there’s a part of the table that’s ready to murder you. I just thought it was so cool because they just bring out all this raw stuff and I’m like, yes. And oh, this is the part. And they had fondue.

Josh Birk: At the same place?

Mike: Yes. Which is why, you make fun of your parents or your grandparents, I guess if you’re really young and listening to this. That your parents ate fondue a lot and then you’re like, oh, fondue. And then you have it and you’re like, oh, we should do fondue every night.

Gillian: So when I went to French Touch Dreamin’, this is last December-

Mike: Did you do fondue?

Gillian: One night, Jessica Langston and I were like, “Hey, we’re just going to walk around and find a place to eat.” We walked into this place, nobody spoke English but us and we’re like, “We’re going to eat here.” And it was fondue and it was delicious, and both of us looked at each other afterwards and we’re like, we definitely over ordered. They gave us the eye when we were ordering, but it’s okay. We then walked a lot afterwards to try to make ourselves feel better, but it was incredible.

Josh Birk: I feel like if you’re going to have a type of cuisine to which you don’t have the capacity to describe the verbs or the nouns that the person serving it to you, fondue is a great way to go.

Gillian: Well, apparently it was a restaurant that only served fondue. It was like a Swiss French experience thing. It was fantastic.

Mike: How the French are shaped the way they’re shaped. I would be a complete square box if there was a restaurant near me that just served fondue.

Gillian: It’s a lot of walking. They do a lot of walking in Paris. It’s a good thing.

Mike: Yeah. Still.

Gillian: I also want to give an honorary shout out to breakfast tacos. When I was at Texas Dreamin’, I definitely indulged in my first breakfast taco experience in Austin and I have to add that to the list of great culinary experiences associated with community conferences.

Mike: Did you have Torchy’s breakfast tacos?

Gillian: Of course I did. Of course I did. I had a good guide.

Mike: Oh, breakfast tacos are … It’s really hard when you’re in Austin to not get breakfast tacos.

Gillian: I feel like it’s mandatory. They don’t let you leave until you get a breakfast taco.

Mike: At the airport. Passport, ID.

Gillian: It’s like you go to Hawaii, you get a lei. You go to Austin, you get a breakfast taco.

Mike: You get off the plane and there’s no lei, they just give you a breakfast taco.

Gillian: It’s not like they need more PR. They don’t need more people to go there, but I’m just saying if they needed a PR campaign, it would not be a bad one.

Mike: Breakfast tacos. Breakfast tacos.

Josh Birk: That’s it. No fancy slogan or anything like that. Just breakfast tacos.

Mike: Yep. Last question, since we always talk about food, what is one thing you find you do different at a community conference that you don’t do at, say, a World Tour or a Dreamforce or a Trailblazer DX?

Gillian: Relax?

Josh Birk: Okay. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good one.

Gillian: It’s more social, the vibe is just different. Like I said, I’m not running around to a thousand things and worried about executing on the umpteen things that I own. I’m there to deliver one talk, so I really can just focus on that and talking to people and hanging out and getting to know new people. And that to me is … Oh, I love it. It’s great.

Josh Birk: Yeah. I’m 100% with you because I feel like at a TDX or Dreamforce, I always have somewhere I need to be. And I have tried over the years ago, got an invite to a community lunch or something like that. I’ve been trying over the years to be better about getting off campus and going to those events and I haven’t had a lot of luck, but when I go to a community event like a Forcelandia or a Dreamin’, and it’s like that’s what you’re there for at that point. If you’re not on stage, then you get to do all the other fun stuff.

And I think it’s the only time I really feel like an attendee, to be honest. When we’re doing our first party and our second party events, I still feel like an employee who’s responsible for doing things like bugging the AV guy. Even if it’s not my theater, if it’s like I see that thing wrong I’m like, nope, I got to go find this AV guy, fix it. Sorry, I can’t talk to you right now. Wonderful hall room conversations and post event conversations and stuff like that. So yeah, 100%. I feel like I network a lot better at community events.

Mike: Yep. I would agree. I will add to all of those with actually kind of walking through some of the vendor and ISV and partner areas. Mostly because nine times out of 10, I know half the people and I just want to talk to them, but also not feeling like they have this secret goal of scanning my badge. Just walk through and be like, “Hey, oh, that’s cool. I didn’t know you guys did that.”

Gillian: Yeah. I definitely take part in the photo booth and things like that. Unless we do the final hurrah before it closes down at TDX or Dreamforce, that doesn’t happen.

Josh Birk: Right, right. I missed the speaker photo op at Forcelandia and Paige, my wife, was like, “You missed it.” And I’m like, “I always miss it. I miss it at Dreamforce.” I’m just never there.

Gillian: Don’t worry, Josh. We all know you’re there.

Josh Birk: Just get a cardboard cut out of me if you could, and then just keep it in the background.

Mike: Just Photoshop you in.

Gillian: Don’t tempt me. I have done that for people in the past.

Josh Birk: Love it.

Mike: Nice. Okay. Well, if you enjoyed this episode, can you do me a favor and just share it with one person? Gillian, Josh, you can do that too. If you’re listening on iTunes, here’s how you do it. You tap the dots and you choose Share episode. See, I ask, and then I also tell you what to do. You can post to social, or my favorite, you can text it to a friend. And if you’re looking for more great resources, clearly this podcast probably wasn’t it, this episode, but maybe other ones are, but everything that we post, links, show notes is all at, including a transcript of this show, which ought to be fun to read.

Let me just tell you, we should do dramatic reenactments of podcasts. So be sure to join the conversation. We might post something in the Admin Trailblazer group, but I tell you, I get notifications every day about all of the questions that people are asking there, so I’ll include a link to that in the show notes, and until next week, we’ll see you in the cloud.

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