Estimated reading time: 5 mins
My talk for GopherconEU 2021 is live on Youtube! Preparing for this conference has been such a wonderful learning experience. In this blog post, I will share some of my lessons learned about pitching, preparing and delivering my conference talk. I hope this will break down the process and encourage other newbie speakers to take on this journey.
Let’s get excited about public speaking!
Your pitch is your first and only chance to impress the conference organizers and convince them to choose your talk for their event. While some established conference speakers are invited to speak without pitching, most conferences will open a Call for Papers where anyone can pitch a talk. To keep things fair, organizers will then choose pitches from their Call for Papers without seeing the name and profile of the author.
The skeleton/structure I use for my pitches is:
# Talk title Insert your persuasive elevator pitch here - Choose a fun, but descriptive title for your talk - Include any technologies you intend to showcase - Describe the format of your talk ie live coding, demo app etc. ## Overview Insert longer description of your talk here: - Who is your intended audience? - Why is it worth learning about your chosen topic? - What is the angle you'll take on your topic? ## Structure Divide your talk into 3-4 rough sections Describe each section in detail: - What will you be introducing in this section? - What will the audience take away from this section? - How does it cohesively hang together with the previous/next section? - Include any rough points you intend to highlight ## Conclusions Write a small paragraph describing exactly what we will learn from you Keep the tone of this paragraph upbeat, encouraging people to attend your talk
You can see the entire pitch for my talk on PaperCall.io.
Okay, you’ve been selected to speak! Fantastic. Now it’s time to start preparing in good time to make sure that you are doing justice to yourself and your pitch.
Here are some helpful tips I’ve used during my conference preparation:
- Consider inviting a colleague to be your co-presenter: I really enjoy presenting as a duo since it allows me to incorporate fun exchanges with my colleague in front of the audience. This makes my talk more conversational and dynamic
- Set deadlines for yourself: starting with the conference date, work backwards to set yourself deadlines. I recommend finishing your slides about a month before the conference and using the last month for rehearsing and polishing the content. You can still make changes in this last month, but aim for a complete first version about a month ahead of the conference date
- Keep track of your work: treat your conference prep like any project and track your progress. Use any tool you like Trello, Miro, Jira, paper Post-Its, but make sure you keep track of your progress and any remaining tasks
- Regularly check in with your colleagues: if you’ve opted to present alone, try to run your existing work by your colleagues as you create it. This will help you get ideas during the process but also keep you on track
- Tell a coherent story: make sure that you ease into the more complicated/terse parts of your technical topic to ensure that members of the audience from different backgrounds can follow you. Make sure the sections of your presentation flow together and tell a coherent story
- Don’t underestimate the work: the rule of thumb for talks is that you should set aside 1 hour of preparation time for every 1 minute of finished talk ie. 30 hours of prep corresponds to 30 minutes of finished talk. If you are building a demo application, this will add even more preparation time
As the talk approaches, it’s time to take this show on the road!!!
Here are some helpful tips I’ve used for my rehearsals:
- Rehearse by yourself: you should rehearse your talk end-to-end alone first. You might be tempted to stop if it doesn’t go well, but do a rough full run through first. This will give you an idea if you have too much or too little material to make sure you land the expected time length
- Rehearse to your colleagues: after you have a good idea of roughly how long your talk will take, you can now ask some of your colleagues to listen to your talk. Aim for 2-3 dress rehearsals with your colleagues to make sure you have a good rhythm when the big day comes
- Keep it conversational: conference talks shouldn’t be long, boring lectures. Make sure to keep your presentation style conversational and your language approachable. Plan what you’re going to say, but don’t be overly rehearsed
- Always leave time for questions: time your talk to leave time for at least a few questions. While people in the audience can always come and discuss with you during breaks and socials, it is nice to discuss ideas with the audience as a whole, even if it is for a few minutes
As I’ve discussed in this blog post, pitching and preparing a conference talk is a large undertaking and requires quite a bit of work.
But it’s not all doom and gloom!
Sharing your unique technical expertise and point of view with the community is a very rewarding experience. Preparing the talk teaches you lots of details about your chosen topic and public speaking itself is a great opportunity to challenge yourself in a whole new way. So if you’re curious about the experience, get pitching and just give it a go. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Happy conference speaking! Go be the star you are!