As part of my job, I sometimes get invited to speak at events, webinars and / or conferences, and over the years I’ve found the following steps very useful in preparing and delivering a successful talk. These steps are equally applicable to organising events or moderating panel sessions:
- Agree the Topic – Hopefully, this will be based on your speaking proposal. However, some conferences (e.g. The Open Group Conference) have a pretty well informed audience which sometimes make it a mutual learning experience, especially in ‘hands-on’ style workshop sessions. Whatever you do, try to avoid overt product pitches as these can be a major turn off for audiences & organisers.
- Session Formats – This depends on what you’ve been allocated. Session formats are typically proposed ahead of time by the event organiser. Some common event session formats include: Keynote Address / Multi-speaker & panel sessions / Hands-on workshops / informal networking (including with vendor stands and/or exhibitions)
- Presentation Format / Q&A – This is typically based on personal preference. I normally use PowerPoint slides, and often split the session 70/30 between presentation and Q&A. If you’re more comfortable doing both simultaneously then let the audience know either way. Some more adventurous souls may also include live demos and / or just straight ‘chalk and talk’.
- Audience – Obviously, try to modulate your message to match the audience. Attendees at IT conferences typically work in IT (or related fields/industries), and can be a little tough to impress, but I find asking questions and facilitating exchanges usually helps to keep them engaged.
- Timing & Logistics – This needs to be agreed beforehand with organiser – Time and duration are crucial to overall presentation flows, hence organizers can get a bit miffed at overly long sessions.
- Marketing & Comms – Suggest giving a heads up to your marketing and comms teams for any relevant marketing support / steers. They may even provide promotional materials, but do check with the event organiser that it’s ok to bring and share such items. Furthermore, your marketing team can also help promote the event via their usual channels and via social media e.g. blogs / Twitter / LinkedIn etc.
- Feedback & follow up (post event) – This can often be overlooked, but it’s very useful to bear in mind when networking. LinkedIn is a useful tool for managing contacts / follow-ups / promoting your participation at the event. Some organisers also provide session feedback post event – a glowing recommendation helps to keep the speaking engagements flowing!
In conclusion, if like me you have a masochistic yen for public speaking, then the above tips and guidelines should help make it a little easier (but not necessarily any less painful) to do do. In any case, good luck, and remember to have fun!