Even for the most experienced speakers, being nervous is a normal part of the speaking experience. But the worst part about nerves is that they can make you focus so much on trying not to forget what you want to say, that you forget the tiny details. Remembering the little things can really elevate the talk experience for your attendees.
I’ve broken this list into 3 sections to help you organize on the day of your talk: what you should do immediately before you give your talk, what you should try to remember during your talk, and what you should do after your talk.
If you’ve read my last post with tips about making slides, you’ll know that I think it’s a good idea to share your slides with your audience at the start of your talk so they can follow along. Tweeting out a link to your slides before your talk makes it easy for folks to find a link to click and quickly download your presentation.
Take off your name badge before you start speaking. If the conference has provided lapel mics, the name badge can rub up against it causing lots of distracting noises. It can also get in the way if you talk with your hands. And you probably prefer the outfit that you stressed about to take center stage both in person and on the video recording rather than the conference’s badge 😉
You’ll usually have somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes before your talk to set up your computer and slides depending on the conference schedule. Get all your dongles plugged in and make sure that your slides are visible on the correct screen(s). Don’t be afraid to take your time and make sure you extend your desktop so that you can see your speaker notes on your screen and the slides on the presentation screen. If you are using Google Slides (my preferred tool) or any tool that lets you customize what your speaker notes look like, resize them or move them around so that they are easily visible while you are speaking.
Don’t forget to plug in and test your clicker during your tech check or in your setup time before your talk. I almost always forget to turn my clicker on and adding this reminder to my mental checklist has helped prevent some awkward fiddling before I start speaking.
Google Slides is an amazing presentation tool. Out of the box, Slides has a closed captioning feature so that you can provide live captions to your audience. This is an amazing accessibility feature and one that I love being able to provide even if the conference doesn’t have live captioning.
Most audiences aren’t used to seeing live captions during a conference talk, so I use my setup time to get them accustomed to seeing the words roll along the bottom of the screen. As soon as I have everything set up, I turn on the closed captioning and start chatting with people in the front row. The conversation usually turns to the captioning and I’m able to answer everyone’s questions. Doing this in the setup time before my talk prevents a lot of distractions when I start giving my talk and keeps the focus on my content.
Microphones are there for the accessibility needs of your audience and audio track for your talk’s recording (if the conference is filming talks). Use them, no matter what. I promise you that you are not “loud enough without one” for the people who are relying on them in order to hear what you’re saying and learn from you. (On a related note, please do not ask the audience if they want you to use the microphone—you are asking people to identify their accessibility needs to a room of strangers.) And if the conference is paying for video recordings of your talk, using the microphone ensures that your recording will be usable.
This tip is courtesy of Liz Fong-Jones (@lizthegrey), and I love it so much. They’ve tweeted this tip a couple of times, and it’s extremely helpful for visualizing the correct way to hold a microphone. If the conference has provided you a handheld mic, you want to hold it parallel to the floor (like a popsicle!) and speak directly into it. If you hold it perpendicular like an ice cream cone, some of your sound will escape the mic and you won’t be fully amplified.
If you choose to take questions after your talk, be sure to repeat the question before answering it. You are the only person in the room with a microphone (usually) so you want to be sure that everyone in the audience heard the question and you want to make sure the question is captured on your talk recording’s audio track. Repeating the question also has the added benefit of you being able to paraphrase and check that you correctly understood the question before asking.
When you finish, people will want to continue the conversation and talk to you. Yay! This means that what you said got them thinking, and they’re interested and excited about the topic. It’s normal to take a few individual questions at the podium, but remember that the next speaker needs to set up. Take a few questions while you’re cleaning up, but if someone wants to have a larger discussion, encourage them to find you in the hallway, at lunch, or at the conference after-hours events to pick up the conversation.
On the day of your conference talk, it’s normal to be nervous and focused on what you want to say. Thinking through little details ahead of time can help you feel more prepared and not forget them. Remembering things like these can go a long way in making your talk feel extra thoughtful and polished for your audience.