Why we insist on rehearsing talks before every conference.
Zainab Bawa

Everything here is amazing advice for speakers and conference organisers. Having spoken at the HasGeek event MetaRefresh in 2013, I can attest that I was terrifically taken care of, assisted, and looked after — for myself, my talk itself, and the impact on the audience.

Each chance I get, I recommend HasGeek events to possible attendees and speakers. They are a pearl in this industry. One that has created great memories and impact in my life.

I only wish the mainstream used their practices. Hopefully this post will help.

With that said, let me qualify it with the experience in 2013 that I had with them, and why their rehearsal strategy helped.

I had submitted my talk “Why the next big thing sucks” to the funnel by recommendation of DocPad user Jitendra Vyas, along with another called “Open-Source will leave you behind”.

As it is an open funnel, the community votes and comments, so you instantly get a feel on what value your talk will actually offer potential audiences, and can work with that potential audience to take on their feedback and revise your proposal, with new knowledge about the established value of what you are working with.

My talks were received tentatively by the community, feedback provided, and proposals revised. HasGeek reached out via a series of emails and importantly Skype calls, with inquisition about my thoughts, which audiences would get more value from which talk, and what logistics and personal needs must be considered — for myself that being a flight from Australia and the potential if bringing my wife for a holiday there.

HasGeek and I established that the talk “Why the next big thing sucks” would be more valuable for the conference, and that as we still wanted “Open-source will leave you behind” to be heard, they introduced me to Parag Gupta and Rasagy Sharma from NID to get that talk happening there with an environment and audience better suited for it. We also discussed the workshops I could offer, and lined up a day or two of workshops around DocPad.

Then came the publicity step. I now had to do a video of myself pitching the talk to the audience, as well as send in my bio etc. This was helpful and helped establish a community feel between the speakers. It was fun to work with HasGeek on the video pitches and see the other speakers pitches come online and exchange tips.

Then it was months of rehearsal of the talk. As I was in Australia and them in India, I utilised my own network in Sydney of Murray Hurps, Zac Altman, Andrew Jessup, Richard Kroon, Ryan Wardell, and Oren Davidson to listen to my many rehearsals, interrupt me, feedback me, inspire me, and challenge me. Initially I had started out with a huge whiteboard of the points that must be conveyed, and then a technical delivery of why they matter. Through this team of advisors I learned that telling learnings is only received if one also tells the story of how that learning came to be, as otherwise there is no experience for knowledge to stick to, which is what wisdom is. My talk went from a boring technical talk that I had practised for a month, to one about stories.

Then was the flight to India. HasGeek had a team of people assisting us in flights and visas and accomodation and even travel plans for my wife and my holiday (that recreation and my wife’s travel on my own dime). This assistance in hindsight, having now experienced conferences without such assistance, could not have been more convenient and worry free. When you are about to present a talk to hundreds of people, you want to be focused on your talk alone and ensuring every person gets value, not worrying about connecting flights and hotel arrangements. Really. It makes a world of difference.

Arriving in India was also a pleasant breeze. HasGeek met us at the airport, drove us to the hotel for the speakers, and made sure we were all settled in. The next day or two would be rehearsals at the venue.

The in person rehearsals were great. I rehearsed perhaps 3 times over this day or two. And realised my talk was not captivating enough and I had trouble connecting the technical points to the stories. I felt like crying. Their team made sure that did not happen, encouraged me, and cheered me throughout the rehearsals. We ate yoghurt rice with our fingers. That was new.

The night before my talk. I scratched all technical parts and focused soley on the stories. I know my life. I know my stories. I can connect stories and remember them.

The morning of my talk. I could not have felt more confident and more welcome. I delivered a great talk. The first talk of the day. It was received well. What more can one ask for.

The story does not end there. Throughout the event, while speakers got treated well, everyone did, audience, speakers, staff alike all conversed and went to the same parties and workshops. Of course, there was a special speaker and staff dinner, as one cannot fit hundreds into a restaurant.

After the event. HasGeek helped me run some workshops, do my NID talk, and invited myself and my wife at our expense on their work retreat. I made friends there.

I really could not have imagined my talk becoming as valuable and as polished in any other situation in hindsight. I am glad to hear the process of talks have continued to improve. Thank you all.

PS. Perhaps one day I will see if I can find the notes and rehearsals of how my talk progressed, if that is of interest to anyone.