As the day of your conference talk gets closer, there are some logistical considerations that many new speakers probably wouldn’t think about. In this section, we’ll cover all the things you should know before and up to the moment you deliver your presentation.
This post is part of an 8-part guide to speaking at technology conferences. Be sure to check out the other sections listed here.
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1-3 Months Before the Conference
1. Get permission from your employer
Not every employer is as generous about speaking. Some will make you take personal days when you go to a conference, and others will make you show your presentation to the PR or legal department first to ensure you aren’t saying anything untoward. On the other hand, some companies will be thrilled that you’re representing them as a speaker and giving them a little free visibility in the community.
Either way, address it early and figure out what you need to do to get their compliance.
2. Double-check the dates with the organizers
Organizing a conference is hard work, and sometimes things have to change for unforeseen reasons. While rare, it’s possible that your session could be cut, the conference may have to change its start date or location, or it may get canceled entirely.
Before you spend any money or take time off work, double-check with the organizers. They also may have a special process for you to go through in order to qualify for reimbursement.
3. Book flights and hotel rooms
Once you’ve touched base with the organizers, you can go ahead and book any flights or hotel rooms. If you haven’t already, now is the time to lock in who will be paying for the trip: the conference, your employer, or you personally.
In my experience, less than half of the tech conferences listed on CFP Land cover travel and hotel costs for speakers (if you want to be sure they do, you can use the filters on CFP Land to check before you apply).
Reach an agreement with the organizers on what level of reimbursement they’ll provide before you accept their offer. This is more important with international travel. Nick Heiner
Another common consideration is combining your conference talk with a personal vacation. For example, I’m speaking at a conference in Minneapolis this summer, but I’m going to bring my family along and stay a few extra days to see the city. If you’d like to do something similar, make sure you clear it with whoever is funding the trip, and try to schedule the vacation time after your talk:
If you’re going to combine the conference trip with vacation, I highly recommend doing the vacation after the conference, so you’re not stressed about your talk the whole time. Nick Heiner
4. Gather necessary legal documentation
This only applies in certain circumstances, but it’s possible when speaking internationally that you’ll need a passport, tax documents, or even a visa. Talk to the organizers as they’ll likely be fielding similar questions from other speakers.
5. Get details on the speaker’s dinner
I really enjoy all the people I’ve been able to meet as a result of the speaking that I’ve done. I especially enjoy chatting with people at the speaker dinners or other informal events surrounding the conference. Keanan Koppenhaver
Like Keanan, I’ve found speaker dinners to be one of the most valuable networking times at a conference. If the conference isn’t having one, ask the organizers if they are offering a Slack channel specifically for speakers or some other informal networking event for speakers. Take full advantage of these and plan to attend if at all possible.
6. Practice your presentation
While this is covered in more detail in the section dedicated to creating your presentation, it bears repeating. Plan time to practice your talk. You may make tweaks up until the week before, but at some point, you’ll have to lock it down and practice. Work out your timings, and make sure it fits within the time slot given.
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1-2 Weeks Before the Conference
1. Read over the conference website and speaker materials
Most conference organizers will create a speaker brief or handbook to convey all the key information to you about the event. They’ll cover things like who the audience is, the overall event theme, and the agreed title and content of your talk. Mark Walker
By this time, it’s been months since you applied and accepted your invitation, so it will be helpful to reorient yourself to the conference. This also prevents you from asking the organizers any questions that are already answered elsewhere as they’re probably very busy making final preparations for the event.
2. Figure out “last mile” transportation
At this point, you should figure out how you’ll get from the airport or train station to your hotel, and finally to the event itself. Well-prepared organizers may sort this out for you and send you instructions (I even spoke at one conference that had limousines pick us up from the airport individually!), but if not, you should look into it. A cab may be expensive, so you might want to find public transportation options, or your hotel might offer shuttle pickup and dropoff.
Similarly, the conference might not be in the same building as your hotel. If you have to commute, find out if other speakers or attendees are as well, and try to coordinate with them.
3. Review the conference schedule
I try to see as many other talks as I can, though that can be difficult sometimes when my nerves are racing and my talk is still looming. George Mandis
You should figure out where your talk fits into the conference schedule, and make note of any other talks you’d like to attend. I started off looking for content that sounded interesting, but now I actually look for speakers who I think would be good to meet and talk with and focus on going to those talks instead.
You should also be aware of the timing of your talk in the day, and the other sessions that are going on at the same time. I find audiences most attentive early on, so I work a little harder to make my talks interactive if they’re just before closing or right after lunch.
4. Do you look the part?
When you take to the stage, your audience will examine every detail the way they examine a painting — as if it’s there to signify something. For better or worse, clothes serve as visual symbols, so it’s worth thinking about what your clothes are saying as the latest sentence in humanity’s very long visual conversation. Cassie Kozyrkov
Speaking at tech conferences doesn’t mean you have to dress formally, but you should dress appropriately for the venue, audience, and content. At this point, you should make sure you’ve got a couple of good outfits to pick from and schedule a last-minute haircut (if needed).
Ultimately, you should be comfortable on stage, but that doesn’t just mean wearing a grey sweatsuit. “Comfortable” means wearing something that gives you confidence and reflects your personal brand.
5. Figure out what kind of equipment will be available
I talked more about equipment preparation in the previous section, but at this point, you should double-check with the organizers to see what is available. Will they have a microphone? What kind will it be? Will you be using your laptop or a shared one? Will your power cord work there? What adapters will be available?
Display is not the only point to take into account. If you’re traveling in other countries, power plugs need to be taken care of as well. European countries are mostly compatible with one another, but watch out if you come to Northern America or UK. Nicolas Fränkel
Will there be wifi on stage? How fast will it be? (always prepare for it to be slower than you think)
If your presentation requires network access, it’s your responsibility to make sure the Wifi will be good enough on-site. For that, I usually ask if there will be a Wifi network dedicated for speakers: I don’t have confidence in a shared one. Nicolas Fränkel
You shouldn’t have to bring anything besides your laptop or presentation aids, but it’s worth asking just to be sure.
6. Mentally prepare, and keep practicing
My current routine starts with preparing my mind, about a week before I am due to give my talk. I start by booking a conference room in my office for an hour each workday morning. I use this time to practice my session out loud. Mike Miles
While some experienced speakers can deliver a high-quality presentation on the fly, most recommend practicing your talk. If you can give your talk to a real audience (like at a meetup or work event) you’ll feel more confident when the conference comes, but even just practicing alone in front of a mirror can help.
When You Arrive at the Conference
1. Scout out your room
You should also figure out what room you’ll be speaking in — are you in the keynote slot, or in a tiny side-room? Will your talk be recorded? Some conferences only record certain tracks. Nick Heiner
As early as possible, you should take a look at the room you’ll be presenting in. By this point, the schedule should be finalized, so you will be able to see exactly when and where you’ll give your talk. I typically try to watch a couple talks in the room before my own so I know what it feels like as an audience member there as well.
2. Test out any media
If you have any kind of interactivity or rich media in your presentation, you absolutely have to run through it with the organizer onsite before you go on stage. Mark Walker
If you just need slides, this should be quick, but if you’re trying any video or live coding in your presentation, you really need to make sure the equipment available will work as soon as you arrive.
Even if you asked before, there’s no substitute for knowing it works in person.
3. Follow the conference Twitter hashtag or Slack group
Finally, as you prepare to speak, it’s a good idea to plug into the audience’s conversation. Most conferences will provide an official “hashtag” on Twitter, but many also have Slack groups as well.
After your presentation, you may want to check out the stream to see what the audience says about your talk.
The Hours Leading Up To Your Session
I usually find a quiet spot in the speakers room, or in the bathroom (I want to apologize to anyone who has heard my pre-talk routine), and I start imagining I just won something: pump my chest forward, straighten my shoulders, raise my fist in the air, grin widely, maybe even shout a few “Hell yeah!“s if I think the toilet is empty…it calms my nerves enough so I don’t shake as I speak. Alex Lakatos
Every speaker’s pre-talk routine is different, but for many of them, having a consistent, confidence-boosting routine is helpful. There are a few things you can try as you develop a pre-talk routine:
1. Work out or walk around
I always work out or run on the morning of my conference talks. Working out helps boost my confidence, but even just walking around a little helps stimulate blood flow and make you feel better.
2. Arrive early
I try to arrive in the room as early as I can after the previous speaker, and normally I run the talk through without notes while getting ready that morning. Laurie Barth
Organizers appreciate it when you are in the room before your talk is scheduled to begin. Try to come in at least halfway through the previous speaker’s talk so you can get set up as soon as they’re finished.
3. Talk to people
For me, talking builds momentum. If I spend a few minutes on the day of my talk conversing with fellow attendees and speakers, I feel much better about getting on stage. I’m not sure if there’s any scientific basis for this, but it works for me.
4. Sit in a quiet room
I know some speakers will hide in their hotel room up until their talk, others just talk and socialize like its nothing. Matthew Trask
On the other hand, I’ve met speakers who go into a dark, quiet room up until the moment they get on stage. There’s nothing wrong with this method either, so you’ll just have to figure out what works for you.
5. Listen to a pump-up playlist
I have a Presentation Pre-Pump Playlist in Google Music on my phone that I listen to right before I step on stage. The contents of the playlist is classified. Anjuan Simmons
Another common preparation technique is listening to music. Generally listening to upbeat music can make you feel more confident and care-free, so it makes sense that this appeals to many speakers.
Going into a conference prepared is one of the best ways to ensure your success as a speaker. It’ll help you be more confident and organizers will appreciate you being proactive.
If you’ve read through this entire guide, congratulations! You’ve reached the end, and you’re hopefully a little more ready to give your next conference talk. If you skipped around, be sure to check out the other sections.