Recently, @rands posted a very timely, for me, article on what goes through the conference speaker’s mind as he or she is about to get in front of a large audience and give a presentation. Everyone that presents at a technology conference, no matter how frequent a speaker, probably goes through the same thought processes that I found myself going through. I recently presented at a technology security conference. For fun, I’ve sequenced that thought process below:
Topic Submission/Call for Papers
Did I have a compelling enough topic that I will get selected?
Do I seem credible enough as a presenter in the first place?
The submission forms are usually well structured, but since the selection process is usually blind to the submitter, you really have no idea what the selection committee is prioritizing for topics and speakers. You may think you have the most brilliant topic but unless you have an inside source, you are completely at the mercy of the selection committee.
Awesome, I’m going to get present!
Holy cow, I have to put together a presentation!
It is quite exciting to find that a topic you proposed actually has enough merit for some folks, who are pouring through submission form after submission form, to actually select it. It is also a nice boost to your ego that you and your topic are compelling enough for a conference presentation time slot. This excitement is quickly followed by the immediate realization that you have only just started this very public commitment. You need to pull together a compelling presentation to justify the honor of being selected to speak. I would be fibbing if I skipped mentioning the slight panic that follows the boosted ego moment that you are going to have to actually give this presentation.
Geez, did I get everything I needed into the presentation?
Did I spell check everything?
Did I even come close to what I originally proposed that got me selected?
No matter if you start your presentation before you got the official selection notification or if you procrastinate till the night before your sides need to be submitted, there is still a moment of panic immediately following your presentation submission. Just after you hit “send”, you wonder if you really got everything just right. Sure, in a moment of panic you can beg and plead with the receiver of all speaker materials to replace your original submission with a last minute revision, but do you really want to annoy the masters of the conference agenda? They could put you right after lunch on the last day. That slot is probably one of the most challenging given you have the entire conference to sweat about your pending public speaking including the very real concern that very few conference stragglers will actually come back to your session after that last lunch with planes to catch and general conference fatigue in full affect.
Tip: I have found that starting immediately on your presentation and then leaving a few days prior to submission to make final corrections to be the most effective for me. In between I make it a point to ensure I have a few days to completely ignore the presentation all together. I am amazed at when I pick back up after that break how many “What was I thinking; this doesn’t make any sense?” review moments I encounter.
I have plenty of days/hours. I’ll survey the room, take in a few sessions and size up my peers.
I still have a few hours, I’ll find a quiet stop and skim my notes.
Holy cow, I’m speaking in 10 minutes. Where did the time go?
It seems time both slows down and speeds up. Sitting in sessions makes you wonder if you have prepared enough. Reviewing your notes with tons of time remaining becomes a struggle to focus. Lastly, you find all the time you thought you had just zoomed by and your session is about to start.
Waiting to be Introduced
I am totally going to bomb.
Someone is going to throw me off track with a unexpected zinger question.
Why did I submit this topic in the first place. I could be sitting in one of those attendee chairs just zoning out right now.
Speaking in the Zone
In hindsight, I always wonder why I was stressed out at all. It seems for me, once I get started speaking, the process of giving the actual presentation just flows out smoothly. In volunteering to present on topics of which I’ve researched and have actual experience with, I am reminded that I really do have some solid knowledge in what I am presenting. “Zinger” questions are an opportunity to have a healthy exchange with the audience in a way that breaks up the sometimes methodological bullet point by bullet point nature of the slides.
All that stress evaporates as the session comes to an end replaced with a deep sense of a job well done. Feedback, of course, is the ultimate verifier of a good presentation. Most recently, someone came up to me at the conclusion of my session with:
“Great presentation. It was the only session worthwhile out of all I attended today.”
That one comment made all the hours of work and stress prior completely worth it … and I was the last speaker that day.