Mar 30, 2019 ⋅ 5 min read
How I Prepare My Conference Talks
A few weeks ago I made a call out to Twitter asking what topics folks would like me to write more about on my blog and public speaking came up. Then the tweet below about giving conference talks went viral and sparked a lot of conversation.
Unpopular career advice: speaking at conferences is a massive waste of time— Bri Kimmel (@briannekimmel) March 26, 2019
Seems cool when you’re young
But creating a new deck takes time
Talks have low recall & rarely lead to followers, subscribers, etc.
Better to focus on compounding activities: write, build something
Personally, conference talks have helped my career & brand, expanded my network and exposed me to different ways of approaching technical problems. In response to the original tweet, Stacy-Marie Ishmael made an important point about impact of visibility of giving talks has for underrepresented folks. I’m usually the only black woman speaker at the tech conferences I go to. I believe that visibility is important & hopefully helps towards ensuring there will be more diverse speaker line ups in the future.
There are a lot of topics on conference speaking I can write about: how to come up with ideas for talks, how to prepare CFPs, how to make the most of attending, etc. For this post I’m going to focus on how I actually prepare my conference talk once I have been asked to speak or my CFP has been accepted. If you’re interested in me writing my thoughts on the other topics, please let me know!
The first step in prepping for me is coming up with an outline. I’ll read the abstract that I wrote for the talk and split it out into the following:
- Topic 1
- Topic 2
- Topic 3
- Topic 4
- and so on…
- Wrap up / Closing Summary
The agenda is really important because it serves as an outline for my audience. I always revisit the agenda before going to a new topic so the audience knows where we are in the talk and it also gives them time to digest the previous topic I just covered.
After I have an outline, then I can start working on the presentation slides. I go back and forth between using Google Slides and Keynote. Google Slides are great if you need to share or collaborate on your talk with others, but I do prefer Keynote because of the ease of customization and creating great transitions between slides.
There are usually several slides for each topic in my outline. I try not to overload slides with too much text for the audience to read so I break my points into bulleted lists that way I can present each bullet one at a time to explain. For presenting code, if it’s important for the audience to understand what the whole block of code is doing I’ll go over it line by line. There are a couple of ways to do so, but most recently I did it manually in Keynote by bolding each line of code & using a marker to indicate which line I was on. I saw Soroush Khanlou do this in his dotSwift talk and thought it was a really clear & helpful way to go through code while speaking.
After I come up with the slides I then do a run through in my head for what I want to say for each one. I don’t like using presentation notes because depending on the venue or set up, you might not be able to see or read your notes during the talk. For me, this allows me to make sure I know my topic deeply enough to feel comfortable talking about it with only a few bullet points as guidance. This is just a personal preference though! I know some folks like to write out whole transcripts for their talks and memorize them, so it’s up to you to figure out what’s going to ensure you give the best presentation you can.
Once I’ve gone through it in my head, I like to do a few test runs in front of real people. Whether it’s co-workers or friends, this is a great way for me to test how the talk flows and if I am able to explain the topics in an understandable way. Even if the talk is very technical I like to present in front of folks who are non-technical or technical but unfamiliar with mobile dev. I believe that tech talks need to be more accessible to beginners and non-technical people so I try to also stay away from jargon and clearly explain anything that is platform specific so it’s easier for anyone to enjoy the talk even if they aren’t an expert on the subject.
After I’ve done the test runs and tweaked the slides based on feedback I will usually try to take a break before the talk happens. The day before the talk or a few hours before I will do a mental run through while looking at my slides but I try not to over do it so I can avoid being too nervous. I generally feel a few jitters right before the talk is going to happen, but once I get on stage I really enjoy it. Although conference speaking isn’t for everyone, if you think you gain some benefit from it, I highly recommend trying it out!