Confessions of a Conference Speaker

Laurie on December 03, 2019

Last time, I wrote about my insights on being a conference attendee. That list was concise! This one is going to be a bit longer. I spoke at my f... [Read Full]
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I did a talk recently where all my slides were high quality pictures of metaphors and things that help me remember certain terms. Multiple people came up to me after saying that was the best talk on the most complex topic. I had ~2 slides with actual text, but they were all links to different resources and my contact info.


Hello, nice post ;)
You mentioned that you had 19 talks in the past year, all 19 on the same subject or all different? I ask because i had some talk too in the last year and prepare a hour talk took me several time to prepare.



I think it was ~6 different talks, not counting the different length versions (i.e. I gave my devops talk for a 45 min timeslot, 1 hour and 1:15)

It takes a bunch of time to prepare! Reuse your stuff because it'll improve every time!


Thank you for your reply, and (if i may ask), how many time it take a 1 hour talk preparation? Every time i have the anxiety to make a hour talk and not enough material to speak the entire time, so i prepare a 2 hours talk and talk like a machine gun ;)

That varies a ton. If it's based on existing blog posts or egghead videos I'm done that time is shorter (maybe 30 or so hours of prep?) but other talks can take much longer.


What's an abstract?

For me slides are everything. For a 20min talk, I'll have 40 slides.

I'll also have 10 additional slides and I'll purposely leave some low hanging fruit in the talk so that people will ask an obvious question and then I can pull up a Q&A slide. If no one asks me questions then, I can ask the questions I thought would have been asked and answer them. It fills up that Q&A for that shy audience.

I never do live demos, and being to enough talks they appear to slow down the talk. Instead, I just lift screenshots of the steps, this helps keep pace.

I've asked attendees where I should put my contact information, The last slide in the right corner.
If you can fit a handle on every slide sounds great.


Slides are important in terms of how it relates to the content of your talk, but getting hung up on colors and design at the expense of content is something I try to avoid.

And to each their own on live demos. I think it depends a lot on the code/demo.


What is an abstract?

I just throw my slides together as fast as I can.

Abstract is a description of your talk. Often something you include when submitting your talk to a conference and it tends to be included on the conference website.


Great article Laurie, I loved hearing you speak about "optional Q&A" and "the audience is rooting for you" as they don't get mentioned nearly enough. A bonus +1 for fessing up to how hard it is to engage at a conference where you are speaking yourself - one of my problems as well.

We'll have to disagree on the live coding and author info points though :-)

Happy travels with your speaking in 2020!


That's ok! Every speaker is different and other things might work for you :)

Thanks and to you as well.


Don't forget about accessibility for your audience.

I would add that it's extremely important to explain what's on the screen for people with vision impairments. It can also help those in the back of the room, and on the off-chance that the recorded video pans over to you and your slides never come back (happened to me in my first JSConf talk). It's awful to have a punchline embedded in a GIF or image, and you're left out of the joke if you can't see it.

I also wrote this piece on writing winning abstracts particularly for accessibility talks, which I'd heard "don't get accepted to mainstream conferences" yet my speaking career showed otherwise. Perhaps it could help some of your readers: marcysutton.com/writing-winning-ta...


Absolutely! Lindsey Kopacz wrote a great post on accessible conference talks earlier this week.


And I always love your abstract blog post. May have read it a handful of times...


Thanks Laurie for sharing! I loved the twitter handle trick :) I am going back to giving talks in a couple of months after two years hiatus and your post is what I am exactly looking for.

One thing I learned in the early years when I started is the importance of storytelling and humor to make long technical talks digestible. I am curious though, how do you balance scripting and spontaneous interactions to make sure you don't exceed the time limit? Also how do you organize your talk practice sessions?


The more flexible I can be with what I include the easier it is to be spontaneous. Live coding helps a lot. But understanding how long each section is goes a long way.

My practice sessions start with full run through s. Once I feel confident in flow and timing I’ll use other means to practice. If I’m live coding I often make those snippets egghead videos. If I have a long story or analogy I write those into a blog post. That way I don’t need to run it for a full hour but I still gain confidence in the material.


Thanks, some good points in there. I just had my first conference talk, and today spoke at an internal knowledge share I was invited to, with another one planned next month.
The time between being accepted and speaking can be between a few weeks and a few months, so I can imagine not having to many in a month can be a puzzle.
How do you think about submitting a proposal when the technical part is not finished or you didn't even start on it. Do you mention it not being complete in the proposal, or sell it said it was done?


I don't normally find that it matters? You're talking about technical content. Whether you're done or not doesn't mean your learnings aren't valuable.


Great post!
I would add this advice:
Please speakers, do not stay inside the speakers room for most of the day...


That one is admittedly really hard. It's not because we want to hide away. It's normally because we're tweaking a talk in silence or need to finish other work.

But it should not be the default for sure.


Thanks for sharing your insights!

Any additional recommendation for those who are just starting their journey as speakers?


Talk to other speakers and attendees. Get their feedback and recommendations! Give talks multiple times and keep improving them.


Excellent post and great advice, Laurie. Thanks for doing this.


I love the suggestion to have your twitter handle on all slides. That would make it easier, as an attendee, to tag you and give credit.

I‘ll have to add this to my slides for the cfp I’m working on

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