Five top tips for giving your first talk


In this post, Sandra Meek, a Product Designer at FutureLearn, shares what she learnt about giving her first external talk.

You’ve got an idea and you’re thinking about doing your first external talk. Maybe you’re nervous? Maybe you’re excited? You’re probably feeling both of these feelings, plus a whole swathe of other emotions. But you can do it! Having spent months saying I was going to do a talk, I recently did two about how you can tackle a big project by stepping back in order to go forwards (you can see the video of it here). With it all fresh in my mind, here are my top five tips for how to approach and give your first talk successfully and to feel like you can go on to give many, many more!

Sandra Meek giving a talk at WEBdeLDN

1. Kick-start the process

Procrastinating is so easy to do. A good way to give yourself a kick start is by just telling your friends, colleagues, boss or anybody who will listen that you’re thinking about doing a talk. If you’re lucky some of them may have contacts who can connect you with event organisers to give you your first break. At the least, these people will likely periodically bring the topic up in conversation and will encourage you to do something about it.

2. Get it wrong. Then get it right.

I think I went through about 7 or 8 drafts of my talk. I started with a written script, almost like a film script, of what I wanted to say. I then translated it into slides and ran through it once or twice by myself. I thought I was pretty much done. I was wrong.

I decided to practice it in front of some colleagues and ended up with pages and pages of notes on how to improve it. I went through this practice process two more times, each time ending up with tweaks and revisions. My eventual talk was quite different from my first attempt. But it was so much better and I felt so confident in it because some trusted peers had helped me put the parts that were a bit wrong, right.

3. Give yourself the chance to get better

If you can, I’d suggest booking yourself in for more than one talk. It can be exactly the same talk, but by doing this you’ll be giving yourself the chance to improve the second time around. You might have done a number of practice sessions, but your real talk will feel quite different. There will be more people. There will be a set up that you’re not used to. So invariably your subsequent talks will go much better than your first because you’ll be more experienced and you will have worked out what works well and what doesn’t. If your second talk is booked in before you’ve even done your first, you won’t be able to dwell on the things that didn’t go as well as you hoped without doing anything about them!

4. Feel powerful

It can seem a little silly, but just finding somewhere quiet right before your talk and giving yourself a pep talk can really help. Remind yourself that you’re confident, you know what you’re talking about and and that you’ve got this. Maybe you could also do a power pose to really embody that confidence.

5. Plant some cheerleaders

The one thing that really helped me feel confident during my first talk, was seeing some smiling faces in the crowd. One of the scariest things about giving a talk is the audience. Some people will smile, some will look non-plussed, but if you have some people sitting there that you can focus on if you’re faltering, it will make you feel so much more confident. And you can also prime them to ask questions if there is an awkward silence at the end!

At the start of this post, I said there were five tips, but I’m going to sneak in a final thought. The most important thing is to enjoy giving your first talk. Bask in the congratulations you get afterwards, engage with all of your new twitter followers, watch and rewatch the video to remember how great you were. And then think about what you’re going to talk about next…

Have you got any tips for giving external talks? Share them with us…


Written by

Changing millions of lives with online learning at On here talking about building digital products, coding, education and more.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade