I just received my first conference talk acceptance, and after the excitement died down a bit the nerves kicked in. I've spoken at local meetups before, but the idea that I'll be standing in front of over 1,000 people delivering a talk kicked my anxiety into overdrive.
So, I turned to the community for their tips on giving a successful conference talk! Below, I've compiled some of my favorite responses from the community.
A good conference talks starts with diligent preparation.
Cindy Alvarez@cindyalvarez@kvlly @EmmaWedekind To this point - people think they should MEMORIZE their talk, or close to it, so you sound polished on stage. Don’t! Those talks sound stilted and any discrepancy will throw you.
But do practice that first 20 seconds a lot. If it rolls out smoothly, everything else is easier.14:46 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Memorizing your talk is important, however you don't want to sound as if you're reading from a script. So it's important to memorize just the key points of your talk. This way, you'll sound prepared without sounding rehearsed.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to keep your audience engaged is by having a lot of slides with a small amount of content on each. When you put too much content on a slide, the audience forgets to listen to you and instead focuses on reading the slide. Thus, having many slides not only keeps the audience engaged, but keeps the pace of your talk moving.
Adam Riley@cppriley@EmmaWedekind Something I have started doing is booking a smaller real audience a few weeks before my actual talk. Typically with a user group or at a client. Gives me: a deadline so I don't leave the slides till the last minute; and a chance to practise live and get feedback before the day.13:08 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Doing a practice run for a smaller audience is always a great idea. This way you can get all of your nerves out before the big day. This also gives you the chance to get feedback. What are the things that went well? What could be improved? Now is the time to ask.
Lindsey Kopacz@littlekope0903@EmmaWedekind Something that personally helps me is actually writing a script out. I think @editingemily does this too. Even if I don't follow my script to a tee - the art of writing it out really helps me figure out what tone I want for each slide. For example...12:10 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Lindsey Kopacz@littlekope0903@EmmaWedekind @editingemily - Do I want to add context here and add a story?
- What's the point of this slide being here? Is it just a funny meme to help connect my audience? Do I need to go more into detail here?
- What's a joke that helped me understand this technically?12:11 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Circling back to memorizing your talk, one of the best ways to ensure your talk flows and has a thesis is by writing a script. What things do you really want to say during this talk? Scripts can also help you find the flaws or gaps within your content. And once you have your script, you can memorize a few key phrases or bullet points from it, but you don't necessarily need to have the whole thing down.
Additionally, you can bring your script or outline up on stage with you as re-assurance. It's important not to fidget with the papers, however, as this can be extremely distracting.
Starting with a story is a great hook to grab the attention of your audience. It will allow them to immerse themselves in the content matter. When you jump straight in to technical details, you lose the audience (except those already familiar with the subject matter). So take the time to find a relatable story.
Nate Taylor@taylonr@EmmaWedekind Oh, I always tell a new people this:
Nobody knows what you're going to say except for you. If you skip a point, don't fret or apologize, because your audience didn't know anyway.19:49 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Forget to mention a small detail? No big deal! Your audience wasn't even aware that you missed it! Just keep going.
Raphael Almeida@raph_almeida@EmmaWedekind Train and don't use live code, screen capture is better against unforeseen13:58 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Live coding is a great way to engage your audience, but can also quickly go south. Although I have seen some great live coding, it's extremely easy for something to go wrong and screw up your confidence. Including coding screen shots or GIFs is a great way to provide the security of working code while still giving the audience a look into your process.
You might not think you'll need a bottle of water up on stage, but it's better to be safe than sorry. More often than not you'll get some nerves up there so it's best to have some water by your side. Not only can water help if you suffer from dry mouth, but it can also provide a short little break when you need to reset your mind.
Jessica Rannow@jessica_rannow@EmmaWedekind Wear clothing you’ve worn before and comfortable shoes. I’ve seen speakers have issues with a necklace that sticks to their shirt, dresses that don’t do well when sitting on stage, etc. you have enough to worry about with your speech; don’t let your clothing cause anxiety!18:43 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Wearing a comfortable outfit will be key to your success. If you aren't comfortable with what you're wearing, it will distract you from delivering your best talk.
Kelly Vaughn 💫@kvlly@EmmaWedekind Pause for longer than you think you need to between sentences. It sounds natural to the audience and you'll pace yourself better.
You're not going to remember everything you prepared, and that's fine. I think I remembered about 75% of what I wanted to say during my first talk.12:11 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Pausing between sentences or phrases is important because it allows the audience to digest the last pieces of information. When you skip from one statement to the next without a break, it can be extremely hard for audience members to process the information.
Kelly Vaughn 💫@kvlly@EmmaWedekind Use that to your advantage. If you're giving a 45 minute talk, for example, prepare ~60 minutes worth of content.
I wouldn't recommend having notes unless you absolutely need them. Let your slideshow guide the talk. Notes become a crutch when you're on stage.12:12 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Sometimes your talk will finish much quicker than you anticipated, so it's totally fine to prepare some extra content which will provide additional benefit. Just don't rush through the main content to get to the auxiliary content.
Kelly Vaughn 💫@kvlly@EmmaWedekind The first 20 seconds are the most difficult. But once you begin talking, time is going to fly by.
Nobody's going to notice your mistakes. Nobody knows what you *meant* to say. Don't apologize for what you perceive to be an error.12:13 PM - 13 Mar 2019
The time will fly much more quickly on stage than you anticipate. You are your greatest naysayer, so don't fret if you make a grammar mistake or stumble on your words a bit. The audience most likely won't notice all these little mistakes.
Peter as a Service@petervandijck@EmmaWedekind Speak slowly and insert 10 second pauses. Look for someone who is interested and speak to them.13:18 PM - 13 Mar 2019
By nature, you will always speak more quickly than you think you will. Thus, it's important to be mindful of how quickly you're speaking and take breaks in between key phrases. You can even find a friendly face or two in the audience to look to for reassurance.
The audience is your biggest supporter. They want you to succeed! So don't focus if you stumble a little bit, keep going! They're rooting for you.
Chris DeMars@saltnburnem@EmmaWedekind Being nervous doesn’t go away. Use that energy to fuel your talk and engage your audience.14:24 PM - 13 Mar 2019
No matter how seasoned you are as a speaker, you will most likely get nervous before a talk. Take that nervous energy and use it to your advantage!
Kelly Vaughn 💫@kvlly@EmmaWedekind And lastly, enjoy it! After your talk people will likely come up to you to compliment the talk and ask you additional questions. Even if you don't feel great about it, just say thank you - don't use this time to downplay what awesome thing you just did!12:14 PM - 13 Mar 2019
If you aren't enjoying your talk, neither will the audience. So it's important to showcase your enthusiasm for the subject matter. And never self-depreciate! You have nothing to apologize for.
If you're looking for a good segue into your talk, praising the speaker before you is a great way to appear modest and perhaps shake some of the nerves you have walking on stage.
Erika Hall@mulegirl@EmmaWedekind Remember that the audience wants you to do well. Take them on a journey. Don’t apologize and don’t stress about details. If you forget to mention something let it go or find a way to bring it in later naturally.13:58 PM - 13 Mar 2019
If you take your audience on a learning journey with you, your message will be much more effective. Why are you passionate about this subject? What do you want audience members to walk away knowing?
Dan Brown #FamiliesBelongTogether@brownorama@EmmaWedekind Don’t make jokes at your colleague’s expense, your partner’s expense, your kids’ expense, your clients’ expense or even your own expense. These always backfire.12:21 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Never, under any circumstances, should you make jokes at the expense of another person or group of people. While jokes are one way to connect with your audience, shaming someone can quickly lead the audience to disrespect you and disengage from your content.
Garth Henson@EmmaWedekind If even ONE PERSON is inspired or educated by your talk (including yourself), it was well worth the effort. You don’t have to be an expert to mentor and teach, only willing to share. Oh, and the audience is there because they want to hear what you have to say!13:24 PM - 13 Mar 2019
All it takes is one person to walk away from your talk having learned something to call it a success. You don't need to convince or impress an entire audience. If you make an impact on one person, that's all it takes.
Fouzan Alam@fznalm@EmmaWedekind Speak with empathy - so many people in the process of speaking forget the humanity of their audience. They want to hear about struggles, they want to not feel like they’re alone. vulnerability in front of a crowd ridiculously intimidating and scary, but it’s human, and relateable13:50 PM - 13 Mar 2019
Your audience is the most important part of your talk. Remember that their time is valuable. They paid to be at this conference and hear you speak. So it's important to respect their time.
Jeff Sussna@jeffsussnaSpeaking to 500 people isn't really any different from speaking to 50, so don't let audience size intimidate you. twitter.com/EmmaWedekind/s…15:25 PM - 13 Mar 2019Emma Wedekind ✨ @EmmaWedekindSpeaker friends: What advice would you give to a first-time speaker? 😊
Whether you're speaking to 50, or 500 people doesn't make that big of a difference. Just remember the tips above and you'll nail your first conference talk!