In part two I talked about how to turn your idea into an actual presentation.
In this final part I’ll talk about what to do when actually giving your talk.
Most likely you’ll present using your own laptop so you’ll already have all the basics.
But be ready for plan B.
Have your presentation available on (at least one) external medium (like a USB stick). Your battery might be low and your power adapter might still be lying on your desk at home.
The last thing you want is having to cancel a few minutes before your presentation just because your machine isn’t working.
Personally I always have the presentation ready from multiple locations: My personal laptop, an external USB drive and on Dropbox as a last minute fallback.
Luckily I didn’t experience such a scenario but I know people who did - and believe me, they were extremely happy to have a backup.
Also bring your own adapters and make sure that you can work with HDMI, VGA and DVI. Even if the organizers told you that all the projectors would provide an HDMI cable you do not want to be baffled by the fact that your room was the one exception that only supports good old VGA.
When you arrive at the conference venue make sure to find the room you’re presenting in immediately. You do not want to be late for your own talk just because you didn’t realize that some of the other talks you were able to hear before your talk took part in a completely different part of the building and you didn’t make it in time.
Drink a glass of water before your presentation to make sure your voice is clear - but at the same time avoid soda or sparkling water. You do not want to burp right at the beginning of your presentation.
Whatever you do: Relax.
We all know Murphy’s Law so simply try to be calm.
Do not let small mistakes distract you. Fact is that most of these things won’t even be noticed by the audience. You may think “Oh my god, everybody can see that I’m the most stupid guy on earth who doesn’t even know how to put on a microphone” but chances are pretty good that nobody even realizes that you’re having a problem.
When starting your presentation try to get a feeling for the room. Are you speaking through a microphone? Check the volume. You do not want everyone to feel like a jet is constantly passing by. Adjust your voice accordingly.
Especially when doing this for the first time you may get the feeling that nobody in the room is listening to you because they’re all sitting there like they’re carved out of stone.
Always remember: This is not a one on one conversation where people feel they need to give you direct feedback. Image yourself sitting in the audience: Do you actively listen? Do you nod after each sentence the speaker says? Do you say “yes, you’re right” once in a while? No, you don’t and so won’t your audience.
However, this doesn’t mean that they’re not paying attention. Hang in there - at some point in time you’ll get a better feeling for that.
As already mentioned for the preparation: Do not read your text from the slides or from cards you may have prepared for that.
Speak freely as that is what the audience will perceive as a good talk.
During your talk you will notice that you’re deviating from the way you gave the presentation at your dry-runs. Don’t panic. It’s natural and it happens. Just continue normally.
If you know the topic you’re speaking about you can afford to improvise a little bit here and there - it will even make your talk feel more natural.
Pay attention to time
Make sure to stay on the timeline you’ve layed out for your talk.
If you’re nervous chances are that you’ll talk way faster than usual which can make your 40 minute rehearsal just fly by and be over in 30 minutes.
Similarly you do not want to notice five minutes before the end of your presentation that you only covered half of what you wanted to convey.
The talk is done, you have managed to survive and now the Q&A is starting.
Don’t be afraid if there are no immediate questions - hardly anyone wants to be first and shout “I’ve got a question” so given the audience a little time. You’ll see that after a few moments there will be a question or two.
If you do get a question make sure to repeat it as not everyone may have gotten it correctly so repeating it gives your whole audience the chance to be on the same page.
When answering be brief and do not go too much into detail - other people may have other questions and a presentation can only act as a starting point - not as a complete scientific view on all aspects.
If someone wants to dive really really deep into the topic offer him/her a separate followup after your talk.
Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you really do not know an answer to the question. The worst thing you can do is to make up something just because you feel compelled to provide a (potentially wrong) answer.
People will understand and they don’t expect you to know all the details out of your head.
In the end: Give people a chance to reach out to you afterwards.
Have your contact data on the last slide so that people can contact you if any questions may still be open or simply to tell you that they liked your presentation. You never know what opportunities arise from people having seen you on a conference.
Followup / Restrospective
You’re done. The talk is over, the Q&A is over, so you’re done, right?
Take some time to do a retrospective as a soon as possible.
Did you manage to convey your ideas? Did everything run as planned? Where did you notice something that didn’t work out as you planned?
Learn from the experience and improve for the next time.
Personally I am constantly amazed of how things turn out in reality. The section I wanted to place extra focus on? Completely forgotten. The point I was afraid to get into because I constantly forgot how it turned out in the last project? No problem at all.
There will dozens of such small things that you can use to improve your presentation for the next time. Do it!
If the conference provides a recording of your presentation download that recording and watch it thoroughly.
Compare the impression you got from watching yourself with the impression you wanted to make in the presentation. Do you like it? Could you do anything better the next time? Here is your chance.
Speaking at a conference is an interesting and rewarding experience.
Although it takes a lot of time to prepare it’s a great chance to put yourself front and center, get feedback about your ideas, your way of working and last but not least make yourself and your company known to a wider set of people.
So be bold and take the next step!
I’d be happy to get in contact with anyone interested in speaking at conferences. What’s your impression? Do you share my motivation and my ideas?