Speaker Tips & Legit Feels

Speaking at VueJS London 2018.

What is going on friends? Really? You don’t say? Well, I am glad things are going well and if they aren’t, I hope things get much better. Hang in there! Easier said than done, trust me.

So you want to know a few tips from a tech conference speaker and the legit feels before giving a talk? Well, I have some great news for you. You have come to the right place.

Backstory

I am not the greatest speaker in the world. I can’t say that I ever feel 100% comfortable giving a talk, I have learned tips and tricks along the way to go about harnessing the energy I need before I hit the stage.

I spoke at 22 conferences around the world last year, and gave around 30 talks and 1 workshop. Talk about A LOT of work, and prep. But you know? I made it through. And I am 100% confident that you will make it through too.

I love to speak, I also love to write therefore speaking to a group of people comes a little bit naturally. If I said that being the center of attention wasn’t true, it would be a lie. IMO, being at the center when talking about something you’re passionate about only resonates to the audience and they in turn become extremely passionate as well. It is definitely contagious.

That being said, let’s get in to some of the biggest tips I have learned along this amazing journey of knowledge transfer and mentoring!

Speaking at JSHeroes 2019 in Romania.

Speaker Tip #1

Avoid eating before your talk. Trust me on this. If you have a wonky digestive system, waiting until your talk is over is the best bet, or eating something VERY light is the option to go with.

I have a horrible digestive system. Eating a meal, especially something spicy, mixed with feelings, emotions, stress, and anxiety is a recipe for disaster. I know from experience. If you want to know my personal experience, I am not afraid to tell, just ask next time I see you 😉.

Speaker Tip #2

Make sure you have water on hand. Prep the podium you will be speaking at with a couple cups of water or a couple bottles of water. If you are like me, water is your best friend when talking non-stop for 45–60 minutes. You don’t want your mouth to get dry and have to stop in between a thought.

Speaker Tip #3

Try your best not to drink anything carbonated before your talk. I struggle with this because I love pop and beer and usually drink that before a talk. I know what you are thinking, “Chris, why are you drinking before your talk?” Listen, it is okay to have a pre-talk beer to calm down and relax. Carbonated drinks give you gas and then you burp during your talk, if you are mic’ed up, that is no good. Stay away from carbonation until after your talk.

Speaker Tip #4

Get to your room AS SOON AS YOU CAN! If you do this, you have time for a tech check, if you can’t do it during lunch or early morning. it also leads in to tip #2 about setting up your water. Also, if you have audio for your talk like I do (music videos and music), make sure that the speakers work. Make sure your room even has audio. I have had to bust out bluetooth speakers just because I had audio in my talk and the room didn’t have that accommodation.

Also check to make sure the contrast of the projector is on point, the monitors are mirroring properly, and your presenter works as intended. I have a Logitech Spotlight and it is an amazing presenter, but I always have to check to see how it will work on screens because every setup is different.

Speaker Tip #5

Before every talk I get by myself and pace, shake out my arms, stretch, jump up and down, etc. This helps to channel the energy and anxiety I am feeling from my chest through all my extremities so when I get on stage, I can own it. It is sort of my routine before every talk.

Speaker Tip #6

Embrace the anxiety. Yes, I said embrace the nervousness and anxiety. Take all that you feel and use it in your talk. Speak loud! Project your voice! Speak with conviction! Let your anxiety release itself in the form of passion! Your audience will love the energy you bring.

Speaker Tip #7

Practice as much as you need too. There isn’t a hard and fast rule when it comes to practicing your talk. I usually run through quickly a few times of what I am going to say and attempt to remember where the transitions are. Besides that, I usually go with the flow and if I screw up, I pause, collect my thoughts, and proceed.

Speaker Tip #8

Do your best not to use filler words like “uh”, and “um”. This is super hard, I know, but if you craft your slides just right then you can get those thoughts out, pause, then move on to the next. Pausing between concepts and thoughts gives the audience some time for it to sink in.

Speaker Tip #9

Work the stage! Use the area you have between the wall and screen to move. If you move it keeps the eyes of the audience moving, therefore they are engaged. And moving also lets you focus on different parts of the room as well. I spoke at an event last year where I had to stay in a box and couldn’t move. It was SO hard not moving, but I replaced not moving with speaking even louder and with more passion.

Speaker Tip #10

When completing a very important thought during a slide, pause. That is it. Stop talking after inflection of the last word of the thought. By doing this, you are conveying meaning and importance of that thought. For instance, during some of my talks I might say, “Accessibility is NOT a requirement, it is a must!” And drag out the must, pause, look around the room. Then proceed with next. This speaker tip came from Gregg Pollack when he saw my talk at VueJS London last year.

I am sure I have many more tips, but that is a different list for a different day. These 10 tips are what I feel are important to newer conference speakers on the circuit.

Speaking at Open Source North 2018.

The Feels

You know how this goes now don’t you? Your friends are speaking around the world at conferences and you say to yourself, “This looks so awesome. I want to speak and share the knowledge I have with the community.”

You submit a handful of talks, thinking you will never get accepted and one day you wake up and see an email from the conference, Papercall, or Sessionize that says “Congrats…”. You lose your mind and start to panic. That is ok. It is okay to panic, especially when it is your first event. But then you start receiving more emails that you are invited to speak. What do you do now? Time to buckle down and write those talks!

Feeling the pre-conference jitters is totally normal. I tell people all the time that if you don’t feel nervous before your talk, including the day of, you might want to go to the doctor. Indeed there is something wrong with your nervous system.

Feeling nervous is totally fine. Yes, it is scary at first, but you will soon come to the realization that it is going to happen before every talk. Hell, I even get nervous before meetups. Nine time out of ten those are local too, in front of mostly friends.

Channel that nervousness in to something positive and use it in your talk. I always stay outside of the room until it is time to close the doors and than I close the doors and yell out, “LET’S ROCK’N ROLL!” And the crowd loves it. I work the stage with the room to move that I have, ask questions to the audience, speak loud, crack jokes, and I tend to swear…a lot. I am working on that. But that is part of my brand. The energy I bring, is me, 100%.

If you can create your brand out of harnessing that nervousness, it is so worth it. Attendees will remember you, and most importantly they will remember your talk and the content you delivered.

I hope this helps guide you down the path of awesomeness as a first time speaker or even a seasoned speaker. Having these tips in your back pocket is only going to help and knowing that the feelings you have before your talk are 100% normal. Remember, the audience WANTS you to succeed. They want to hear what you have to say. Don’t forget that!

The End…