Recently I had the privilege to do something I never thought was possible a few months ago. I presented at two conferences in Europe. I presented at Booster Conference in Bergen, Norway, and AppDevCon in Amsterdam. Luckily the organizers worked with me to schedule my talks on separate days. The allowed me enough travel time between both conferences. Once the initial surprise had worn off, there were only a few weeks left till the conferences. First I panicked but then buckled down and prepared. One day you may find yourself in a similar situation. To get you prepared, here are some tips to help you make sure you are well prepared for the challenge.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Practicing on your on your own helps you improve your skills but there is no better way to get prepared for your big event than giving the talk to a live audience. Giving my talk to a smaller audience helps me get my timing right, practice my punch lines, and it gets my blood pumping.
Here are some of the ways practicing in front of a live audience can help you prepare for your big event:
- You get to practice new material
- You get to work on your timing
- You get to work on calming your nerves
- You can get real feedback on your performance
Promote the conferences on social media
As soon as your talk is accepted, start promoting it on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Increase the frequency of your announcements about two weeks before the event. Then ramp up the announcements on the week of the event. This will help get the word out about the conference and promote your talk. Conference organizers appreciate any help they can get. They will be very grateful for your efforts in promoting the conference.
Customize your talk for each conference
Customizing your talk will help make a connection the audience. It will show them that you took the time to think about them and that you care about them.
Some ways to customize your talk are:
- For international conferences you can use greetings in the local language.
- Learn interesting facts about the city you will present in and share them with the audience.
- Make a connection to the message of the keynote or another talk you attended.
- Improvise questions during your talk by connecting them to the conference theme.
Prepare for each venue
It is very important to know the type of room and the layout of the room you will be speaking in. Will it be a classroom, a large conference room, an office space, or a movie theater? The two rooms I presented in were completely different. One was a small conference room with classroom style seating and large windows. The other venue was a movie theater which had stadium seating and dimmed lights. They were almost completely opposite in size, lighting, and distance to the crowd. If you feed off the energy of the audience or you like to see their reactions then you can prepare your approach. Conference organizers usually post videos from the previous year. Viewing them will help you get a good understanding of the venue. A little bit of research beforehand will help you prepare for each location.
Be ready for technical challenges
Repeat after me: There will always be technical challenges during the event. Keep repeating that until it becomes part of you. Always expect things to go wrong but have a plan to deal with them.
Here is a list of some things that can go wrong during a talk:
- Technical difficulties in another part of the conference so you can’t start on time. The audience will be right there sitting and waiting. This would be a perfect time for a joke or two to fill the awkward silence.
- The door to the room can get locked from the outside so no one can come in.
- You can forget your laptop charger back in the hotel room.
- Your microphone may not work.
- You could forget one of the hundreds of dongles you should have kept in your bag.
Make your talk interactive
Attendees want to connect with your message. They want to be make sure they understand your message. Give them some activities to help them make the connections. I talk about sketching so what would a sketching talk be without actually sketching? I included activities to help the audience understand the power of sketching firsthand. This way they can connect with my message right then and there.
Challenge for you: Take a few minutes right now to brainstorm some ways to make your talk interactive.
Getting Feedback is critical
Since we are up on stage presenting and not in the audience, we’re not good at noticing the things we need to improve. That is why getting feedback is critical to becoming a better speaker. Whether it’s our presentation style or our message, we must get feedback from the audience. I have a short feedback form I ask the attendees to fill out. It has three simple questions:
- What is the one thing about my talk you think I need to improve?
- What is the one thing you liked about my talk?
- Would you recommend this talk to a friend?
Keep the feedback form short and sweet so the audience can fill it out and give it back to you right away.
Relax and have fun!
This is the most important part. Giving a conference talk can be stressful, it can be difficult, and it can be overwhelming. Remember to smile, relax, and keep a positive attitude. It will help you get through any challenges you face during the conference.
To help calm your nerves try going for a run, meditate, or go for a walk. Make sure you enjoy your time at the conference by meeting new people and making friends. Take an extra day or two to unwind from the conference and explore the city, you’ve earned it.
There is a lot of hard work that goes into giving a talk at a conference. A lot of preparation needs to happen before you get on the stage. Seeing people connect with your message and the applause at the end makes it all worth it.
Now go out there and share your expertise with the world.
Originally published on the Launch Ideas Blog