Well last week, I had the pleasure and honor to present in a conference for the first time. It was GeeCon Prague and more details about my talk can be found here. Following, you can find my tips for those who want to start presenting but don’t have any prior experience.
Number one and most important have a story to share about something you love doing or something that helped you solve problems. It doesn’t have to be a very technical subject but in order to engage the audience you must present something concise with start-middle-end. Meaning, have a sense of natural progression in your presentation.
Second raise your fear tolerance. I am not telling you not to have fear, that would be an invalid argument especially if its your first time. If you are planning to speak in front of a large audience obviously you will be anxious but people haven’t paid their tickets expecting to see you pee your pants on stage. Fear’s fuel comes from facing the unknown, so describe what you have in mind as clear as possible and minimize the probability of the unexpected.
Speak loud and clear. Especially if English is not your mother tongue, try to speak as clear as possible and avoid fancy grammar.
Rehearse a lot and I mean a lot. I tried to rehearse my full presentation not just the beginning, but whatever suits your best.
Practice your talk in front of others first and then visualize presenting it in front of a huge audience.
Now because no one is perfect, I will share you with you my mistakes and how they affected my performance:
1) Being tired. I woke up at 4.30 am, slept less than 5 hours, had about 3 hours of total flight time and instead of taking a small nap in the plane, I chose to read a great book instead, (which I highly recommend btw Principles by Ray Dalio). Now, taking into account that I curried around 15 kg of luggage for hours in a city I have never visited again in the past, exhaustion starts to affect your simplest decision..
2) Didn’t eat anything for 12 hours. Well, I do have a tendency to avoid unhealthy food and when you are between train stations/airports and cinema malls, you can’t find good quality food easily. Of course if you avoid food for so many hours, don’t expect your brain to work at its full capacity..
3) Technical problems. Well I guess you have heard of the live coding examples that never work and that happened to me as well. But maybe I should have put more content on slides instead and choose to skip them if everything went fine.
So how was my performance affected?
If a talk has an approximate duration of 40-45 minutes with 5 min for questions, mine was about 30 minutes long and was answering questions for like 10 more minutes. Now this is not that a bad thing especially if you are the closing keynote speaker and people just want to go home. But when your last three rehearsals average 50 min you can clearly see how not eating properly + sleep deprivation can affect your performance. The message got across and I did get a big applause twice in the end but nevertheless it could have gone a bit better.
Now a good resource to consider if you are a first time speaker, is a series of interviews that Bruno Souza had with well known Java speakers. You can find more info about it here.