Preparing A Conference Talk

I have done a bunch of conference talks and brown bag sessions this year (~45 in the past 2 years) and here is how I prepare for those talks. Sorry that the reply is a little long but I wanted to make sure you had a process to get started with. Remember that this is my process and you have to find what works best for you.

Here are the phases that I go through:

There is no set time for how long each phase takes. It all depends on the presentation and the length of it. I have had talks where I spent several weeks working on it while other talks were done in less than a day.

You can see a good number of my presentations at Presentations by Justin

Phase 1: Brainstorming

In this phrase you are brainstorm the flow and content of the talk. I like using Post-In notes for this since it is very easy to move them around and add/remove them and I don’t get into the rut of worrying about the content/format in powerpoint. I have also used mindmapping software for this but I like the low tech post-it notes better.

  1. Jot down the goals for the talk. Essentially what do I want attendees to walk away with and what am I solving for them. Do I want attendees to be excited about a new technology? Is it having code samples that they can immediately implement into their projects? Is it helping them solve a common problem that I think they will run into?

  2. Brainstorm the main categories/themes that the talk with be split into. I try not to have more more than 3 categories/theme. Don’t worry about wording here as long you know what the idea is.

  3. Brainstorm the content under each category/theme. Since we are using post-in notes, it is meant to be just a few words and not the whole slide of content. I don’t have a limit on post-in notes per category. Each post-it equals 1 slide.

  4. Arrange the categories and content post-in notes for each category in the order that I think it would go in.

At this point, the brainstorming for the overall content is done and I start drafting in powerpoint.

Also, a couple of times I have review these post-it notes with other people to get their feedback before I start drafting actual slides so that I can make sure that the content is something that makes sense and that I didn’t forget anything that they would want to see.

Phase 2: Drafting

Typically I move to powerpoint during this phrase but I have also times where I have done a full outline using just OneNote before moving into drafting in powerpoint.

Using the post-it note order from phrase 1, I create a slides for each post-in note. As I create each slide I populate the content of it. I find many times as I am drafting that what I thought would be slides either go away or change, so that is why I create the content as I got.

I do have a few rules I try to follow during this phrase to make sure that I don’t get bogged down in the details.

  • Don’t look for pictures for the slides. Focus on the content first. If I want a picture I make a note on the slide of what kind of picture I am looking for and once I finalize the content I go look for the pictures.
  • Don’t worry about the powerpoint template. Focus on the content first. If it is an Intel presentation, I normally start with the Intel template. If I am doing the presentation outside of Intel and it is not an Intel sponsored presentation, I don’t worry about the template until later.
  • Don’t worry about the number of bullet points per slide yet. That will come during the editing phase.
  • Don’t worry about transitions or only showing 1 bullet point at a time. Those get added during the finalizing phase.

At this point, you should have a good start to the talks content and slide deck. Now we need to focus the content and edit the slide deck.

Also, I normally don’t show other people the powerpoint during this phase since I have found that they get hung up the stuff you will be doing in the editing phase instead of review the overall structure and message.

Phase 3: Editing

In this phrase, we need to focus and tighten up the content of the presentation.

  • I edit each slide to have 3-5 single line bullet points max.
  • I remove excess words to make each bullet point short and sweet.
  • I make sure that I keep the font size between 24-28 pt for each bullet. This makes it so that people in the back of the room can read the bullets with ease and makes you focus each bullet point.
  • I make sure that the slide is a summary of what I want to say and not everything that I will be saying. People don’t want to listen to you read the slide to them.

Once the content editing is done, then I look for images and powerpoint templates.

Now onto the last phase where the presentation is finalized and you are ready to give it.

This is also the point that I would send out the presentation for people to review since it is essentially done.

Phase 4: Finalizing

Now it is time to put the finishing touches on the presentation.

  1. Add transitions between slides. Nothing crazy, just a basic fade. I have gotten feedback from multiple presenters and attendees that having nothing makes it difficult for their eyes and brain to move to the next slide.
  2. Have bullets come in 1 at a time (appear animation in powerpoint terms). Having all of the bullets show at once normally has the effect of having people reading the slide instead of listening to you.
  3. Double check that the font is big enough
  4. Double check that the font colors have enough contrast to be readable
  5. Run though the slide in presentation mode and make sure everything works as expected (transitions, bullet animations, etc). Try to stand back 5-10 feet from the monitor and make sure that you can read the presentation.
  6. If you are going to be giving it on a projector or TV, hook it up to one and make sure that it looks rights (fonts, font size, colors, etc)

##Phase 5: Practice

Practice you talk out loud as much as you can. By practicing the talk out loud you will find any spots where you might stumble on words or phrases or that something doesn’t make sense said out loud.

If you are going to use a slide advancer, make sure to practice with it. I strongly recommend a slide advancer if you don’t have one. Not having to run back to the laptop to go to the next slide or hunting for the page down makes your presentation smoother. I have the Logitech R400 slide advancer, http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-910-001354-Wireless-Presenter-R400/dp/B002GHBUTK/ref=sr_1_1?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1449186602&s…

If giving the talk outside of an Intel facility, plan for slow network connections or no internet at all unless you tether to your phone. If you plan to tether to your phone make sure to test it out more than once to make sure it works. If you are going to be downloading anything, make sure to have an already downloaded copy in case you do have no internet.

If you are doing any kind of demos, have a one click reset button.

If giving the talk outside of Intel, make sure to have backup copies of your slides, demos, etc on either a usb drive just in case something happens with your computer and you are able to find a someone that can loan you one that you might have a chance to still give the talk that you would have from your laptop.

Phase 6: Giving the Talk

Now is the fun part, giving the actual talk. Remember to breath and that everyone in the audience is rooting for you to do well. If you have done all of the prep work then you will be able to work through anything that comes up.

  1. If the content is something that you can give out, have your material available online for people to have as soon as you are done with your talk.
  2. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to say you have not look what they are asking or that you are not sure and can get back to them later with an answer.
  3. Make sure to have a water bottle with you. Beside your throat getting horse, it is a great way to add a pause into the talk without it feeling awkward to you.
  4. Make sure to pace yourself and not rush. It is extremely easy to rush through a talk and finish in half the time.

Dialogue & Discussion

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