10 tips on speaking at your next tech conference

Drapers digital conference

Speaking at a tech conference can be challenging for even the most seasoned presenter. After all, it’s not just the words you need to consider, but the logistics too. If you’ve got a conference coming up, think about the software you’re using to present, whether you need to send across anything before hand, and what you need to bring with you on the day.

With coronavirus disrupting live conferences for the foreseeable future, it also pays to be prepared for any virtual migration your event might make, and how to prepare for a smooth delivery over the internet.

1. Calm your nerves

The first step in preparing for any conference is knowing how to calm your nerves. Motivational speaker and success coach Paul Scadding says: “There’s no doubt public speaking can be very nerve-racking, but you can ease your nerves by taking control of your breathing.

“You only breathe slowly when you are calm, relaxed and safe, so you can encourage your body to feel this way by being conscious of your breathing and taking slow deep breaths. When I go out to speak to crowds of people I remind myself of my purpose, that I am there to inspire and uplift people, and that feeling soon replaces the fears.”

2. Reframe your thoughts

Nerves are inevitable; we’re only human, after all. But we do have the power to transform nervous energy into something we can use to our advantage.

Lee Chambers, Environmental Psychologist, Wellbeing Consultant and Founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, says: “When you’re feeling nervous, tell yourself “I’m excited” – it is much easier to transition from nervous to excited, as they are both high arousal states, just one is negative and one is positive.

“By telling yourself you’re excited, you will keep the performance state, but your butterflies won’t feel like moths, and you will actually move psychological state. Telling yourself to calm down is counterproductive and very hard to do because it is a low arousal state, the polar opposite of nervousness.”

3. Prepare correctly, and prepare well

There’s a famous saying – “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, which couldn’t be more fitting for public speakers. Preparation is key, from planning and logistics to on-the-day delivery.

Presentation Skills Trainer Simon Raybould of Presentation Genius says, “When creating your presentation, RESIST the instinct to fire up the tech first! Design your presentation old-school analogue and sort out your content before you even THINK of turning on your tech to pull together your slides. Also, as daft as it sounds, don’t trust the tech. Ask the obvious questions such as which version of PowerPoint they’re using and how you’ll be miked up.”

Rob Weatherhead, a Freelance Digital Consultant, continues and elaborates on this point: “Is it an auditorium, a classroom set up, a large hall with a stage? And what is the tech set up?  Will you have a lectern? A clicker?  Do they want a pdf, powerpoint?

“Understanding all of these points will make the day go more smoothly and allow you to focus on your delivery. Having tech issues can lead to you launching into your talk unprepared and flustered.”

Porter Tun conference

4. Get familiar with your event

While it’s easy to focus on your part of the conference, there are many benefits in familiarising yourself with the event as a whole. Rob Weatherhead says: “Communicate with the organisers. A lot of the time speakers have an initial conversation with the organisers about topics, and then nothing until D-Day. As a speaker I would always recommend staying in touch with them as it will help you understand more about the event, who might be at your talk and what other content is going to be presented.

“Ask them how ticket sales are going, who else is lined up to speak, what types of job titles the attendees have.  All of this will help make the day itself less of a shock but also help you tailor your content to the best possible fit.”

5. Don’t assume universal knowledge

In most scenarios, attendees will be at your conference to learn something new and insightful from an industry expert, so it’s important to meet them where they are rather than where they want to be.

Simon Raybould elaborates: “Remember that tech is broad and your knowledge is deep. Just because it’s a tech conference you can’t assume everyone has the same tech background as you – or even any tech background at all! Fight the “curse of the expert” – where you know so much about something you lose the ability to tell the audience what’s important. Generally speaking, they don’t care how it works as much as they care that it works… and what’s in it for them.”

Rob Weatherhead also explains, “If there is a single, or small number of key tips you want people to take away from your talk, then do two things – make it clear up front, and repeat them through the talk. Don’t leave your audience reading between the lines for points, and repeat them so they hit home.”

conference sugar rooms

6. Practice makes perfect

Running through your speech ahead of the day allows you to build confidence and iron out the finer details of your presentation. The last thing you want is to forget key points, or rush over something that requires particular attention.

Judith Quin, Vocal Confidence and Communication Specialist at Your Whole Voice, emphasises the importance of practice. “Practice your talk out loud – properly out loud at full volume – and a bit slower than feels natural.  This helps on two levels. Firstly, it gets the speech in to your muscle memory, so your mouth will know what’s coming next, even if you don’t and secondly, when the nerves/adrenaline kick in you will speak quicker – but it won’t be as fast as if you practiced at normal pace.”

7. Think about your delivery

Now that you’ve prepared your speech, familiarised yourself with the technology, and learnt more of the wider context of the event, it’s time to consider your delivery. Lee Chambers says, “It’s all about connection, not perfection. You might have a room full of people, eyes looking at you. But you are only actually speaking to one person at a time, connecting with them by sharing your story, insight, or information. You don’t have to pretend to be a perfect public speaker, as this doesn’t connect with anyone as it appears unauthentic.

“Aim to express, not impress: You are speaking and have value to share. Express this from within you, rather than trying to impress people, and when you make the slip up that almost always occurs in these situations, you can just laugh and carry on. Most people aren’t thinking about you, they are listening to what you say and thinking of how that translates to their world.”

8. Speak about your beliefs

If you’re on a panel, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the other people speaking – you’re there for a reason, and your opinion is valued. Simon Lockwood, Creative Marketing Director at The Brewery, says, “I think it is important to try and be original and true to your beliefs, especially when on a panel. You don’t have to go along with the consensus; if you have something to say that offers a different angle, then as long as you can back it up and aren’t being deliberately contradictory, you should go your own way and stand by your own thoughts and opinions. This will give you much more credibility and be far more interesting for the audience, who will want to hear other theories and thoughts.

9. It’s okay to mess up.

In spite of all of these tips, it’s important to know that mistakes are okay. Founder of The Happy Me Project and self-development coach and speaker Holly Matthews says: “Remember the audience is on your side, they’re there to learn, to laugh, to be educated by what you have to say. It’s OK to mess it up. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Your audience aren’t perfect and they don’t expect you to be. If you do get ‘stuck’, take a breath, smile and start again.”

10. Be your true self

Overall, just be yourself. Paul Scadding concludes: “If you want to engage the audience, the best tip I can give is to be yourself, be authentic and share what you know. It’s good to remain professional, but people can see right through vague, cheesy sales pitches, so make sure you focus on genuinely adding value. Speak from the heart and share your expertise. The information that you have and what you know could be life changing for someone else. The things that you have mastered could spare others time, money, mishaps and a painful learning curve.”

Lee Chambers supports this sentiment, saying, “Be you, amplified: Speaking is the perfect time for you to get on a stage and just be yourself. Don’t try and learn hand movements and rigid routines, as you will just look like a robot in the headlights. Take a breath, step out there and speak clearly, from your heart and stand proud of the opportunity to share something with the world.”

Technology conferences and events previously hosted at The Brewery:

PHP UK Conference


GitLab Commit London

Pocket Gamer Connects

Booking.com Technology Playmaker Awards

Drapers Digital Festival

Rakuten Dealmaker

Salesforce London’s Calling

Tealium Digital Velocity

The Edtech Summit

Get in touch

The Brewery is a premium London event venue that’s ideal for hosting conferences that take the “bored” out of boardroom. Find out more about our conference spaces, or get in touch to find out how we can help you deliver your best event yet.