Everything I know about speaking at conferences

I spent almost 2 months preparing to speak at Enhanceconf
in front of 180 people at the RSA in London.

I never thought I would speak publicly — mostly because it’s bloody scary. But I decided it was time to do something out of my comfort zone.

So to prepare I read up on how to give a good talk from all sorts of places. And after making a few mistakes on the day, I thought I’d jot down some useful tips for next time.

Before accepting the invitation

1. Choose a conference that aligns with your values

Enhanceconf was a conference all about progressive enhancement. As a topic dear to me, even if I mucked up, at least I know the audience would be interested in my philosophy which made it a little less scary.

2. Choose a topic you care about

Maybe this is obvious but I went back and forth on things I could talk about. But in the end I talked about something I’m really passionate about. I think that’s something the audience can really feed off.

3. Choose the right duration

All Ted talks are somewhere between 15 and 20 mins because people can’t concentrate for longer than that. And if you can’t get your point across in that time then there’s a chance you’ll lose the attention of the audience.

4. Give yourself time to prepare and start early

I cleared my schedule for 2 months. Preparation is everything.

5. Get paid around 5 times the ticket price

I read in a few places that you should expect to get paid 5 times the price of a ticket. I didn’t actually negotiate but if you’re reading this, you can.

In reality it’s just about experience and spreading good ideas. But worth bearing this in mind.

After accepting the the talk

1. Get a Kensington clicker

You want to be able to move around the stage—not tired to your computer fumbling to move to the next slide. The Kensington clicker is good value and really good.

2. Design your slides last

Slides should be props. Nail the script first, then add slides as an enhancement.

3. Write down your ideas

Write down ideas as they pop into your head. Good ideas come to me in the shower or on a run or on my commute. Jot it down before you forget.

4. Work out the why of your talk

Work out the why first. Then you can work out how you’ll support that message.

5. Start writing

Find quiet time and make a start.

6. Tell stories first

Tell personal or other people’s stories to convey your message. Make sure the stories come first. Make sure they take up one third of your talk. This helps to connect emotionally to your audience.

7. Practice early and out loud

Start practicing early, even before the script is perfect. Words on paper and words out loud are different. It’ll help nail the script.

Refine and practice over and over. And get to the pint where you’re focused on delivery, not on the actual words.

8. Tell something new or put your spin on it

Lots of things have been talked about before but nobody is you. You can put a spint on it and tell a personal story that your audience has never heard before.

9. Deliver stats later in the talk

After telling stories, add stats to back up your message.

10. Deliver a jaw dropping moment if you can

You want to have some slides that your audience will reeally remember. It could be an amazing stat, a phrase, or anything else really.

11. Don’t put lots of text on a slide

This is my favourite tip. Lots of text is hard to read and the audience cannot listen to you and read the text at the same time.

12. Be you

This means act like you, speak like you. Get up there and chat with the audience.

13. Watch other talks for inspiration

I learnt from other people’s talks in my field as well as Ted talks. Watch what they do and try and use things that you think can help you. One tip I noticed was putting my spare hand in my pocket. This felt really comfortable and made me look relaxed (which I wasn’t).

On the day of your talk

1. Arrive early

Make enough time to arrive. Don’t start the day stressed.

2. Find the bathroom

I needed to go a lot. Find the bathroom.

3. Travel light

Bring your essentials, I brought too much stuff “just in case”, but I should
have only brought my clicker (and spare batteries), my laptop and my charger.

4. Check out the stage

I was on in the afternoon, but I checked out the stage early to get a feel for things so it was less overwhelming by the time I did my talk.

5. Bring a friend for support

Having a friend really helped relax me. Maybe it’ll help you too.

6. Speak to other people and speakers

I found chatting to other presenters calmed me down. And they’re all nervous like you so it’s good to compare the jitters.

7. Don’t eat too much or too little

I felt too nervous to eat and I ended up with a headache. Work out your timings give yourself at least 1 hour to eat before you’re on.

8. Do sound checks early

My slot was in the afternoon so while people were at lunch I was on the stage making sure my computer hooked up to the projector and that my mic worked.

9. Drink some water just before you start

I got a really dry mouth as soon as I started which makes it hard to talk. So drink some water before you start.

10. Bring water on stage

I left my water off stage like an idiot. So I had to jump off stage for a few seconds to drink some water which made me feel awkward. Don’t do that.

After your talk

  1. Thank the organiser
  2. Speak to people
  3. Grab a snack

The next day

  1. Post your transcript
  2. Upload your slides to Noti.st
  3. Share the video on Twitter
  4. Thank the people who helped you