Three Tips for a New Conference Speaker

Three years ago, I wrote a Spin Post about overcoming shyness at conferences. Now three years later, I just finished speaking at GLSEC 2016—my first public presentation. The talk seemed to go well; I got some good feedback and have been accepted at another conference, Targeting Quality, to talk again.

I actually found being a speaker easier than being just a conference attendee: I was talking about something I was enthusiastic about, I didn’t have to make small talk, and after my talk, people approached me–all of those make life easier for a strong introvert!

There were three things that helped me prepare and do the talk, so thought I would share them in case any—or all—of them help you.

A photo of a man speaking at a conference for the firs time

1. Know the Environment

GLSEC organized a Speakers’ Evening the night before the conference. This gave me a chance to meet and talk to the other speakers and get some tips. I also got to meet my session moderator who would be helping me through the process. Turning up the next day and seeing familiar faces was a great help in calming my nerves.

One big worry I had beforehand was that my Mac wouldn’t plug into the cables and that Presentation mode wouldn’t work so I couldn’t see my presenter’s notes. The organizers of GLSEC sent out a pre-conference email outlining the connections available. If your conference doesn’t do that, contact them and ask for the information.

I made sure I was at the venue early and scoped out the room where I would be presenting, where I would be standing, and where the screens were. By the time it came for my presentation, I was in slightly familiar surroundings.

There was a person assigned to make sure the presentation tech was working. After a chat with him, I was able to have a quick practice. Seeing my notes on the screen and my slides up on the display screen reassured me that this part would go OK so I could concentrate on delivering my talk.

2. Involve the Audience

Yes, looking up from your laptop screen and engaging with the audience can sound like a nightmare if you’re a shy person like me, but I found it helped break up the presentation—and the feeling of involvement from the audience was a confidence-booster.

Think about some places in your talk where engaging the audience would make sense:
“Has anyone else seen this sort of bug before?”
“Do any of you use this tool where you work?”
“How many of you have heard of this book?”

Be prepared for the audience not to respond. There might be silence after you ask! I made sure to prepare the audience by telling them in my introduction that there would be audience participation. But if silence happens, you can try and make it into a joke:
“Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?”
“The after-lunch slot is always a tough one.”

3. Breathe

Having done a few internal presentations, I knew that I had a tendency to try and rush through the presentation and get it over with. The way I found to slow myself down and pause was to put the word “BREATHE” in at several places in my presenter’s notes. Just be careful not to actually say the word “breathe”…

Having some audience participation moments ( see Point 2) can also help slow you down and gather yourself.

Do you have any tips for presentations? Let me know in the comments.