This is the final part of the series aimed at helping you prepare for your first conference talk.
After the talk – self reflection.
Once the talk is over, and you’ve breathed a sigh of relief, you may have another talk to go to at the same conference, but I’d advise taking some time for yourself, especially if you have just delivered your first talk.
Whether the talk was 20 minutes or 60 minutes, you will have used up a lot of emotional energy. You may feel on a high (if you thought it went well), or you may feel low and drained (if you had technical issues or felt it wasnt that well received).
It’s important to grab a drink and find a place to gather your thoughts, even before you ask for feedback. People may come up to you and tell you it was good (which is a boost), but focus on sitting quietly and jotting down some notes. Think about things such as:
- Did the time go quickly or slowly
- Did you lose track of time, and did you have to rush
- Were you able to cover all the points
- Did the talk flow or did you lose your place and struggle
- Did you feel as though you spoke at the right volume, and engaged the audience
- Did people seem to understand what your message – was the audience with you
- Were you rooted to the spot or able to move around
- Were there some good questions at the end
- If you were going to deliver the talk tomorrow, what would you do or say differently
- Did the slides work for you or would you change them.
There will be other things that come to mind but I think these will be the main considerations.
Your own sense of satisfaction will come from how you thought you performed plus the feedback from others, so it’s important to get your thoughts in order first, before your view is clouded.
After the talk – feedback on the day.
If you have friends or colleagues who are attending, they would be a good first port of call to ask for their honest feedback. It will be difficult for anyone to tell you if they think something didn’t work that well, so you need to prepare yourself to take onboard constructive feedback, and also give them permission to tell you as it is.
You need feedback to help you prepare for your next talk, so don’t short-circuit this loop, as you will be the one who loses out.
There will be feedback from attendees – people are usually quick to come up and say if they enjoyed a talk, and why. I have never had anyone tell me that a talk sucked (thankfully) – that feedback tends to go to the organisers, but even so, it’s good to know which parts of the talk resonated with others – ‘what went well’ – so you can replicate that next time.
After the talk – feedback from the organisers.
Hopefully you have been to enough conferences to know that there are usually feedback forms, asking what you think of the facilities, calibre of the speakers, the topics, and then the delivery of each talk itself, with some sort of scoring system.
These will be collected, collated and then distributed to the speakers a few weeks after the event, and it’s certainly something I eagerly await, as I want to know if the talk was pitched correctly, or whether I got it wrong and need to rethink some aspect of my topic or delivery.
With any luck the score will be a good one, indicating that the talk was well received – but even if not, there should be some comments to help understand why specific individuals did not feel that the talk met their expectations. Feedback is not always right – it is subjective. One person will dislike a talk whilst their neighbour will love it, as we each attend a talk and receive the information based on our own perspectives and circumstances. It’s important to note that you cannot please everyone, so take the feedback with a little pinch of salt.
As an example – if someone did not like the topic, then that’s not your fault. You could recheck the bio that you sent to make sure that what you covered matched what you said you were going to do. If it did, then there isn’t much you can do.
However, if someone felt that the talk was too slow/too quick/missed key points etc, this is far more useful, as you can think about how you delivered the talk and how you would improve it to ensure the message was given and received as intended.
Constructive feedback has much more value, so your job is to sift through and select which comments are most appropriate to helping you to plan your next talk.
So, we reach the end of this mini-series on how to prepare for your first talk.
We’ve covered the initial ideas stage & submitting to conferences, preparing the talk slides, content & delivery structure, delivering the talk on the day, and now wrapping up with self-reflection & feedback.
I hope that you have found it helpful, and I would certainly value YOUR feedback on this, especially if you are preparing for a first talk, or have just finished one. Is there anything that I could add which would help others?
Lastly, if you have any specific questions about speaking and preparing to do a talk and you would like my advice, or to use me as a sounding board for any ideas, please do get in touch.
Thanks for your time.