So You Want to Talk at Conferences

But you don't know where to start

Microphone by Skitterphoto is licensed under the Creative Commons CC0

I was in the same situation. I thought it would be awesome to start talking at conferences. But I got stuck there. It seemed like such a giant task to go into, and I didn’t have a starting point. Thankfully, I wasn’t stuck for long.

RubyConf was coming up and I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to get started speaking at conferences. A fellow team member, Allison, suggested that I start off with a lightning talk. A quick, 5-minute talk would be a great way to get my feet wet. She also gave me lots of other suggestions to get going, and I started planning.

Where to start

To start off, I needed a topic. For this, I went to the whiteboard, along with a couple other people preparing for a lightning talk. We started throwing topics up on the board, both good and bad. Additionally, we took inspiration from past blog posts and projects we were working on. We bounced ideas off each other until we had a good collection.

From there, I could start working on narrowing it down. I picked a couple off the list that I liked the most and wrote up a quick, rough outline for each. From there it was pretty easy to see what topic would be best suited for a 5-minute presentation.

Once my topic was decided, I started putting together my slides and planning out what I wanted to say. I tried a couple different approaches to this. One was to create slides from my outline and then start finding the words to say. The other was to write out generally what I wanted to say, almost in essay form, and then create the slides from that. I found that the latter worked better for me. It was easier to find a flow to the information without trying to confine it to what I had already created.

Putting it all together

Collective Idea - Victoria Gonda.png

Once I had my material put together, I spent a lot of time practicing. I rehearsed the full talk both faster and slower than I normally would in order to get a good sense of my timing. When I did this, I found that my talk was slightly too long and I needed to cut a couple things out. My cat was a great listener, and my teammates offered to let me practice in front of them as well.

Finally, the day came, and I presented my lightning talk, Program Like a Dancer, at RubyConf. Here’s the video if you want to check it out. It was a great experience, and I was able to learn a lot from it.

What about you? How do you prep for conference talks?

Photo of Victoria Gonda

Victoria is a software developer working on mobile and full stack web applications. She enjoys exchanging knowledge through conference talks and writing.