Advice for conference speakers
I was recently asked for some advice by someone starting out at conference speaking. I'm no expert, but I've had a bit of a crash-course in this over the last couple of years, so here's my advice:
- Make sure you have your session timed-out to last exactly 1 hour, with an additional 15 minutes of bonus content in case nerves make you burn through your slides too fast (as I did!). Similarly, make sure that you've covered all your main points by 45 minutes in, in case you run out of time.
- Have your slides on your laptop, on a USB stick and on dropbox / gmail / somewhere on the internet. Plan for complete technical malfunction! Test your your presentation / content on multiple computers just in case.
- If possible, find out what the resolution of the projector is before designing your presentation. If not, assume 800x600.
- People expect a humorous session with plenty of jokes (you can try to tailor these to the content/audience of your talk, so, at FOTB, jokes at the expense of Adobe, the competition and/or yourself will do well). Visual jokes, silly cat pictures from google images and youtube videos are also a cheap way to score some laughs and get people on your side.
- Move about the stage a bit and try to be as animated and enthusiastic as your personality allows. Smile!
- Make sure your slides are well designed with nice images and clear diagrams, and just enough text to sign-post what you are talking about (no long passages of text). Use a big, legible font and avoid clichés like clip art and default PowerPoint themes.
- People want to see things moving around, so have videos and/or interactive demos as a big part of your presentation. Videos with a music soundtrack pretty much ALWAYS get a round of applause, even if they are a 2 minute loop of paint drying.
- People want to see code, but keep it to big, readable code "quotes" (e.g. speedX = Math.sin(angle) * speed) rather than huge blocks of code. I don't advise attempts to live-code anything! It is bound to either go wrong or take longer than you think, and attendees generally aren't that wowed by it or regard it as a good use of their time. Producing a nice diagram showing how your classes are organised is way better than randomly clicking through the package structure in Eclipse.
- Rehearse like crazy before the event so that you know what you are saying off by heart, but don't worry about saying it all exactly how you had it written. In fact, I'm pretty sure that you'll assimilate the content better by saying it in a different way each time. You should never read off a script, you should just have some bullet points to remind you what's happening.
- Don't underestimate how much content you can pack into an hour. Some Flash on the Beach Elevator Pitchers (who have just 3 minutes on stage each) manage to cover almost as much information as speakers with a full hour - this is NOT an exaggeration.
- Focus on takeaways, not blowing your own trumpet. Not that I think you would, but avoid long self-aggrandising speeches about the history of your company or how your got into the industry, etc. Only the very best speakers can pull this kind of stuff off, even then they can still come off seeming a bit arrogant / self-obsessed. Instead pack your talk with "takeaways" - nuggets of information or inspiration that will actually be useful to the audience in their day-to-day work / life.
- Don't assume anyone knows what you're talking about. For example, don't just fire straight into statements like "TDD allows us to deploy an agile methodology, focussing on stand-up meetings and UAT, which increases our client's ROI while reducing our overheads". Explain in plain English what you are talking about. Most ideas are way simpler than experts make them sound.
- If you really want to leave an impression, try focussing on ideas that will change the way the audience sees the world! Easy, right? ;)
- It can be hard to make technical session seem interesting, so perhaps emphasise real-world application of technical topics.
- Finally, to reiterate: focus on spreading good ideas that the audience won't have heard before and that will make them better at what they do.