This is part 3 in a 4 part series aimed at helping you prepare for your first conference talk.
**Updated with some additional thoughts**
A few days beforehand.
Yes, I am going to start the Delivery stage before the actual day, and there’s a good reason for this.
By this time you’ll have created the slides, rehearsed what you want to say and sent off the slides (possibly) to the organisers, and now its time to do that final checking in order to remain calm and relaxed on the day.
- Check you know exactly where you need to be. If its somewhere you need to travel to, I hope that travel tickets and any accommodation will have been sorted out well in advance, but this is thinking about the actual venue – have you had any instructions from the organisers?
- Do you know the timings? Some organisers like you to be there early to try out microphones, or to check if your laptop works, or that the slides work from their own laptop.
- What kit do you need to take? Laptop, charger, HDMI cable, adaptor, memory stick etc. Will you need one of the clickers for the presentation? Is it all working?
- Have you seen a schedule to know what time your slot is?
- Have you had a look online at the venue? Its useful to see if there are any photos of the rooms to get an idea what its like if you haven’t been there before.
- Do you know what you will wear? Some people choose business casual, others jeans and t-shirt. Its up to you – perhaps look for photos from last years event to see what the format was, but plan carefully. You don’t want to add pressure by feeling over or under dressed.
The day before
Make sure that you set your Out of Office on Outlook, set Slack to Do not disturb, and remind people that you will not be contactable.
The last thing you need before delivering your first talk is getting dragged into work emails, calls etc. Your aim for tomorrow is to remain totally focused!
Above all, keep calm. Run over the slides one last time, and do a talk through to yourself, just to remind yourself of the running order.
You may be travelling the day before, or early the next morning, but either way, try to get a good rest. Delivering a talk whilst yawning might not give off the right impression!
THE BIG DAY
Well, this is it.
The day has finally arrived, you’ve made it.
My first piece of advice is to arrive in plenty of time. Remove any possible stresses that you can from the day. Chat to the organisers, you may see other friends there that you know, have a coffee and try relaxing the nerves.
If you need to take some quiet time before your talk, then do it. Although a benefit to speaking is that you get to stay at the conference and attend all the other talks, put yourself first. If you need some space, then take it, but don’t isolate yourself for too long.
When you walk into the room to deliver the talk, you will have some time (5-10 minutes usually) to set-up. With any luck there will be no problems, but be prepared for issues if swapping over laptops – they happen 50% of the time in my experience, and people are used to waiting.
You will be introduced (I hope) by someone, and then its over to you!
Click to the first slide, take a deep breath, and start with your own welcome. Smile.
Remember to look around at all areas of the room, try not to stand behind a lectern with arms folded or by your sides – step out, pace a little if you can so that you engage everyone. Seeing someone move around a little, and show some expression will help maintain interest, whereas a monologue delivered from one place will send people to sleep. Don’t forget to smile.
Change your voice pitch, and ask questions of the audience. “Raise your hand if you have ever experienced xyz” is a great question – you raise your hand and others follow. Leave your hand down, and so will they – even if it’s true. People follow others and mimic behaviours. It also engages them, and then they are now part of the talk.
Smile when appropriate – you will look friendly.
When you have the slides up, it’s ok to glance at the laptop screen to see where you are but avoid putting your head down and talking at the screen too much.
In the same way, avoid turning your head and talking to a screen. Although you may have a microphone, it still looks a little odd – try always to look at your audience to keep them engaged.
Look around at the audience as you speak (unless like my last talk there are spotlights in your face as it does make it awkward), as you need to know if they are coming along the journey with you. If you see people nodding with you, then they are onboard, but if they are looking elsewhere, you may be using them. It can seem as though people on phones are doing other things – but it could also be that they are tweeting about your talk, so don’t be too phased by that.
If you do see people fidgeting or looking sleepy, think about skipping ahead a little. If the depth of the subject isnt winning the audience, don’t be afraid to say something like ‘I won’t go into too much depth, but happy to chat with anyone afterwards if you are interested’. It shows that you recognise that people have different needs from your talk, and will gain you brownie points.
If you lose your thought process, take a few seconds, glance at the slides, and continue from a point you are happy with. It may be a little disjointed, but it’ll soon be forgotten.
Likewise if the slides go wrong or there is a technical issue, don’t panic. It happens more often than you would think. Calmly try to recover the situation. Rest assured that if it’s a technical problem, help will be on its way. Once fixed, make a joke about working in technology – you’ll get a sympathetic laugh and it will relax you and the audience.
Finally, when you wrap up, recap your points, thank the audience and then ask for questions. Look happy.
You will get a round of applause, and hopefully people will ask some sensible ones. Answer as honestly as you can. If it s not something you can respond to, don’t be afraid to answer truthfully that it isn’t something you have experienced, but you could offer to chat later if it would help.
After the questions, thank them again, and exit stage left.
Congratulations! You have just delivered your first talk 🙂
Take a deep breath, grab a coffee and relax.
Part 4 is all about feedback, where you’ll gather your thoughts and take on board participants feedback.