/ Public Speaking

I was accepted to speak at a conference! Now what?

I started my public speaking journey about 3 years ago and I have learnt lots since then. In fact, before then I was really scared to speak in public. I'm not the most comfortable or proficient person on stage but things do get easier.

I remember the very first time I delivered a talk. It was about Angular Routing in one of the SSW Angular Hack Days. Since then I did multiple meetups, hackdays, trainings and conferences around the world.

I've heard a lot of people talking about public speaking and asking questions like what's involved? How to get started? Any tips? How is the process of putting together a talk? Do I need to be an expert on the subject? What about impostor syndrome? What if someone asks a question I don't know the answer, I'll feel stupid.

There are so many questions and so many doubts, and for someone who's in the comfort zone that will mean "I'm not speaking in public", "I'm not doing it", "Hell NO!!!".

I'll say it again: I'm far from being the most proficient person in public speaking but here are a few things that worked and still work for me:

How do I get started?

I started with lighting talks (15min) on subjects I was comfortable with and an audience I was familiar with. A great place to start is to propose a talk to one of the many meetups in your local area.

Do I need to be an expert on the subject?

I do NOT present only about things that I work on a daily basis or things I'm an expert about. In fact, a lot of times when I really want to push myself at learning about something, I put my head out and say I want to present about it, usually at local meetups. If they accept my talk then I start putting together the content and learn in the journey.

What about impostor syndrome?

That was a big thing for me when I started speaking. I was really scared to look dumb. I had this feeling that everyone in the room would know more than I did. But you know what, you don't need to pose as an expert in the field, you can be there to share something you are really excited about. You can be there to share YOUR unique experience and tell YOUR story. There's no better person at being you than you.

There is already so much content on 'x' why would anyone want to hear it from me?

That's probably similar to the previous question but I think it's worth emphasising this point a bit more. People come to your talk to hear YOUR point of view about what you're presenting so they can relate to YOUR story.

I have seen in the past super smart people, creator of amazing products/technology, presenting on what they have created and, to be honest, sometimes I rather hear the story from someone using the product/technology, because their pain points will probably align more to mine.

What if someone asks a question I don't know the answer to?

You'll never know everything. There's always going to be a time where someone asks something you don't know and it's fine not knowing the answer. There are a few ways you can get away with it. I try to go with the first one most of the time.

  1. "Sorry, I don't know the answer. Is there anyone in the audience that knows about it?"
  2. "Sorry, I don't know but I'll find out and come back to you about it."
  3. "That's a great question but it's out of the scope of this talk, why don't you come and see me afterwards?" then you tell him/her you have no idea what he/she is talking about.

Do I get nervous before talks?

EVERY SINGLE TIME. It usually starts about 30 minutes before presenting and it escalates until the moment I say "Hi, my name is Thiago Passos" then I get into automatic mode.

Do I prepare the talk first then submit it?

That usually never happens unless it's not the first time I'm presenting it, otherwise, I only put together the title and abstract of a talk, if I do get accepted then I start preparing for the talk.

How do I put together a talk?

That's probably a whole topic on its own, but let's see.

Once I know roughly what the content of my talk is, I try to create a flow or a story that makes sense in my head. For example, if I were to talk about a new front-end framework, I would start with the requirements for installing and using it. Then I would talk about some features of the framework that I think are exciting. And finally, I would provide resources where the audience could go to find out more about it.

I usually split the talk into 3 to 5 major sections and I work on then separately, by doing that I can always come back to a section and make improvements. It's also easier to rehearse and time each section at a time instead of the whole talk. Once I'm happy with a section, I move on to the next one.

Here are some resources you might find useful for putting together your presentations: Slide:ology, Presentation Zen

How do I prepare for talks?

Once I have the content in place, like the slide deck or a demo, I start rehearsing for the talk and that will include my introduction, all sections and the closing of the talk.

I usually record each section individually and time them. Doing these rehearsals is where I fine tune each section. The talk is never going to be perfect the first time, or the second or the hundredth, but it will definitely improve every single time.

After I went through the talk multiple times, the talk is cemented in my brain and when I get in front of an audience, I almost turn into automatic mode.

Any Tips?

I saw this awesome thread on Twitter started by @kapehe_ok about "What are the 3 MUST KNOW things you would tell a first-time conference speaker?". I'll compile some of the responses here with some of the things I think are helpful.

  • Rehearse twice as much as you think is enough. Practice out loud to get used to hearing your own voice
  • Live demos can go wrong and will go wrong. Have a plan B: either record the demo and/or take screenshots through it.
  • If your demo does fail, spend 30sec MAX fixing it then blame the demo gods
  • The audience is on your side and they want you to succeed. Most of them would be terrified to be in your place and they respect that.
  • It's OK to be nervous
  • Breathe, pause, take your time. The pause in your head usually takes 10 times as much as it actually takes.
  • Keep water within arms reach and drink it
  • Find the nodders in the audience and make eye contact with them
  • Pee before you go up
  • Make sure you have all the necessary dongles and cables
  • Do test runs with your colleagues/friends and ask for their feedback. Take the feedback and improve your talk then repeat.

I was accepted to speak at a conference! Now what?

Own it!!! You got it!!!

Hope that helps. I still have loads to learn, but don't we all?


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Thiago Passos

Thiago Passos

I'm Thiago Passos, a Solution Architect working for SSW sharing what I've been working with and learning. Love technology, dancing and I get unfriendly when I'm hungry.

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