30 tips in 30 days on writing and giving talks at conferences.


I am genuinely grateful for the opportunities I've had to speak at conferences around the world, I seriously doubt I would have ever ventured so far from home on my own.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to grow through sharing and exploring.

I'm grateful for all the really amazing people I've met, for the conference organizers and new friends, for the things I've learned from others on these adventures.

And since we're on the topic of gratitude, I do like to close each talk with two little bits of gratitude:

  1. a simple "thank you" at the end of the talk
  2. a follow up Twitter post of gratitude for the conf and attendees.

If you've been following my #30days of #talktips, I am grateful for you and your participation, as well. 

Tomorrow is a new day, time for a new adventure. I hope I'll see you there!




All the practice, all the talks, revisions, edits, methods, tips, tricks, heart-panics, nerves... All the things I do and go through to make my message one that hopefully moves at least one person. I do what works for me. I share my process in hopes that it may help someone else's path. Or at least offer a point of perspective or comparison. Sharing my process also serves as a point of self-documentation, so maybe next year when I look back, I can laugh at myself and think, "Did I really do it that way?"

I change my process a lot. I experiment. Most importantly, I get out there and I speak a lot, because I feel I have things to share and I want to not only get better at this, I want to be really good at it. I love speaking. I feel energized, alive and humbled when I'm up there sharing my stories.

When you do talks, share your learnings along the way. Share what works and what doesn't. Even the embarrassing moments make great lessons and usually, even greater stories.
Share your heart and your path. Make every talk you do a talk of your own.


Some months ago I was having a conversation with a conference organizer. We were talking about my future talk catalogue, and what may work for some of their upcoming events when we got on the topic of feedback. I asked how the feedback from my talks had been so far, and learned that they don't offer feedback to speakers freely because they've been told many speakers don't want it. This surprised me. In the field I've been speaking over the past few years, it's been primarily UX-ers, Designers, and Developers - the very people I imagined would seek out and value feedback the most. 

Plenty of folks do want feedback. I had no idea how many didn't. 
I think learning how to ask for feedback and how to listen to the things that people have to say is one of the most important things I can do as a speaker. Certainly I don't change everything based on a comment or two. Yes, sometimes there are comments that sting a little bit. Often, things are left for me to interpret positive or negative tone.
I quote Eleanor Roosevelt a lot. She said many great things, like this:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Exercise those "consent" muscles, feedback can make us better, stronger, more AMAZING! 


The energy of the room is such an important element of my own talk and my own energy. One thing that is necessary from time to time is do everything differently than I'd planned.

I find the quiet rooms to be some of the most challenging for me. Funny thing, many of the talks that have felt the most off often come back with some of the strongest feedback. Who knew?

At a recent conference speaker Jean MacDonald of AppCampForGIrls, decided on a whim to add an activity to the start of her talk to pump the energy levels up a bit. It went really well and it was super fun.

In my own talks, I've tried things like starting with Q&A instead of diving right into the talk, or playing some music before the start and having some quick conversations with folks in the room. These have always felt pretty good. I tend to decide what approach to take depending on the size of the audience and the setup of the room. Several years ago I did a track session where only 5 people showed up, I ended up ditching my slide deck altogether and engaging more like an abbreviated workshop. It was a spur of the moment decision that ended up being so much FUN! 

Whatever it is you may need to do to shift the energy levels of the room to the needs of your talk and presentation style, you tend to know it right away. Trust your guts on that and make it happen.

What sorts of situations have YOU encountered? I'd love to hear your stories!



I always feel super awkward taking a drink during a talk. I've taken practice to keenly watching for the moment a speaker takes that pause for a sip of water because it's something I still haven't figured out how to feel comfortable doing. I've seen many speakers who do this with grace and style.

In watching some of my own talks back, and also in seeing/attending a lot of talks, awkwardly taking a drink is way better than the weird sound a "dry mouth" can make through a microphone. A worse offense, in my opinion, is the jarringly amplified sound of repetitive throat-clearing. 

Understanding that dry mouth may be a situation we are neither aware of nor have control over, throat-clearing is one we can definitely be more mindful of. Once or twice, usually the audience is often forgiving enough. We do have a little bit of control. Covering the mic or turning your head away from the mic helps A LOT. I loved in this post by friend and fellow speaker Mark Dalrymple, his mention of keeping a bag of throat lozenges handy, just in case. A great many tips in there!

I know. As if we weren't already self-conscious enough, now we have to worry about making weird sounds in the microphone, from conditions we may or may not have control over. This tip is an odd one and may seem petty, but for the sake of audiences everywhere (and how they receive you) it's something many speakers *could* be more mindful of. 


Tips are a funny thing. I write about the things that have worked for me, knowing full well that what works for me may or may not work for those reading. That's OK. We learn from doing, we learn from sharing. I feel like this tip should probably come last in the series of 30, but in the spirit of the tip itself, there's no time like right now.

Today's #talktip: Break all the rules and find your voice.


I swear sometimes, technology is conspiring to embarrass us. It works fine through every practice round, until the moment we're in a room full of people staring at us.

Sometimes I have recurring dreams about everything that could go wrong with a presentation and I wake up wondering why I didn't do this, or that as a solution. All in all, I've had a pretty good run with technology. I used to think forgetting to bring my computer would be the worst possible scenario until I did that. In my limited experience with technology challenges not having it is the least of the problem. The little things tend to be the bigger issue, like your slide-advance remote stops working, or you actually need your notes and you can't get them to show up on the presentation screen. Those are the things that knock you out of your presentation headspace.  

There's likely not a fail-proof tip to offer here, but I offer these bits:
Consider the little technology challenges, be as prepared as you can.

  • Bring your own slide advance remote if you use one, make sure the batteries are fresh.
  • Double check that you've got your computer power cord before you leave the house.
  • Think through "What would happen if this doesn't work" scenarios.
  • Practice enough you don't need the notes.
  • Remember that folks in the audience actually feel for you and are pretty understanding of technology challenges.
  • Smile, it'll be OK.




There are 'zillions of advice bits out in the world about how to have better presence on stage.
Eye contact, energy, volume, posture, articulation, tell great stories!

I've heard most of these dozens of times, I've researched and read books on how to do it better. While I understand most of these things intellectually, actually getting all the goods into one talk, into one performance, is a bit more challenging. I find I have to focus on them individually, slowly, over time. I find I resist or dismiss a good deal of "tips" I read simply because they are not "ME". 

A tip that is very me is to feel "the feels."
I take a moment before hitting the stage to take a deep breath in and FEEL. I feel the energy in the room. I feel each individual, attacking heart beat. I feel my hands shaking. I feel the message intended with my story. I feel the tone I want to send out into the room. 
I'm not sure how that comes out all the time. I've seen a couple videos and there's always room for improvement. It's "the feels", though - all those feels that make me ME. And if I bring that to my talk, I know I'm doing my very best I can in that particular moment.



"This talk was really, really not for me." -Anonymous feedback from the last talk I did.

Amidst a stack of really, really positive feedback from a talk I gave last week on #NoExcuses, this was the one that stood out the most. I'm genuinely grateful for all feedback. It's up to me to decide if it helps me or hurts me.

With this particular feedback, I feel like I totally understand. The topic is definitely not going to strike a chord with everyone in attendance at a tech conference. It's always risky doing talks about life stuff at conferences that are not really about life stuff. I know this going in. Fortunately, more times than not, including this time, the comments are overwhelmingly positive and confirm that I've hit on a topic that isn't talked about enough at trade-skills conferences.  If that were not the case, I'd go back to more tactical/skills based talks. Right now, I'm pushing and exploring my own topic boundaries. 

While not-so-positive feedback is a reality of this line of work (and most lines of work where you put things you create out into the world), feedback is there to help you grow.  

Today's tip: Honest feedback may sting a little, but it will make you better if you allow it to.


Before every single talk I do my heart feels like it is trying to attack and kill me. Or at the very least, it's trying to escape my chest.

I'm terrified. Every. Time.

I've grown to feel some comfort in that feeling of the pre-talk heart attack. That feeling reminds me that I care how I do up there. As much as I know I will not engage and resonate with every single person in the audience, I want to. My pounding, racing heart reminds me that I care about the time the audience is giving me. I care that they feel like they got some value from my efforts.

My tip for today is for those who feel that heart-pounding horror.
Try spinning the feeling of horror into something you trust. That pounding is a reminder that despite your best efforts, you care how this goes and your crazy little heart is giving you enough energy to share with every single person in that audience that wants to accept it.

*Credit for the phrasing *your heart will attack and kill you* goes to Norm MacDonald.




Every single time I'm about 99% of the way "done" with a talk, about 2-3 days before the scheduled run of said talk I second guess myself and almost completely rework/rewrite the talk from the ground up.

Almost every single time I do this I end up going right back to the talk I had ready to go. Instead of using that valuable time to get more comfortable with material I worked hard to put together, I freak out, question everything, try hard to make it better, then realize I'm spinning wheels.

I'm not sure why I do this. Insecurity? Maybe. Desire to do and be better? Probably.
Accept it for what it is. If you put in the time and the thought before hand, if you've practiced and you have material that comes from who you are and what you know AND it's honest, it's going to be OK.

Don't start over the day before your presentation. Stick to what you've got, feel it, trust it, sell it!


Knowing how long your talk needs to be is very important. We talked about that on day 5.
Another important component of time that I've come to really pay keen attention to is: when my talk is happening. 

Speaking time-slot is as important as how long the talk needs to be.  For me, it factors into the content, pace and energy of my anticipated delivery. Am I first up on the first day? Right before lunch? Right after lunch when folks get the lunch hangover? First up the morning after a big networking party with an open bar? Am I the last talk of the conference?

Whenever possible consider the time-slot, not only the talk duration, as you plot out your pace and energy for the talk you plan to give.



Practicing talks is hard for me. I go through all this effort putting the thing together, I feel like if I don't know it by the time I get done making it I'm never going to. And practicing feels weird. Most of the energy that comes out of me during a talk is energy I get from the audience in attendance. And nerves. So... do I even need to practice?

I mentioned recording or reading your talk into your smartphone camera or some other audio or video player in an earlier tip... Awkward as anything, but it works. Another thing I've been experimenting with is playing my recording over and over through headphones while advancing through the slides. The visual + audio association helps cement it all into my brain, thus, there are no surprises when I'm presenting. I've found that to be a good thing. 

Practice may mean something entirely different to you than to me, but whatever it does mean to you, definitely do it. No matter how great you think you are at last-minute preparation, it's remarkably easy to tell who spent time with their material and who didn't.


We all know it's really important to offer credit where credit is due. In speaking at a lot of conferences, I also end up watching a lot of speakers give talks and I've seen quite a few ways folks include credits. Some do a bibliography slide (or two) at the end. Some include a link to their reference in really small text on the slide where the reference is made.

I do a bit of a mix, depending on what I'm talking about. For example, if I've used a photo from the internet, I tend to put the URL where I found the image in the slide notes, (it will show up if people download the slides, which lots of people seem to do.)

In the case of referencing a book, or a quote or story I'm referencing from a book, I tend to show the whole book cover - if I'm really on my game I'll include a link to the book on Amazon in the slide notes. 

This book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Power-Habit-What-Life-Business/dp/081298160X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442407767&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+habit

This book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Power-Habit-What-Life-Business/dp/081298160X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442407767&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+habit

However it gets done, it's an important thing to do.
Don't forget to include credits and attributions in your talk! 


In the very first talks I did, I let a selection of photos I'd taken auto-play in the background while I told a story. My thought was to give the audience something interesting to watch in case I was boring. 

While I still struggle with self-confidence in many ways, I've let go of the idea I'm totally boring and instead work to make sure if I'm going to have slides with my talk, they're minimal and offer some sort of supportive value. I like to make sure my talk is never dependent upon the slides. There's probably a good balance to be found and I'm still playing with that.
Something I learned is, it's really good practice to give talks that have no slides. It's all you. 

Slides done well can enhance your talk. For me, I like to subtly surface a piece of myself in my slides, like making my own artwork. Most of all, I focus on simplicity and I experiment a little here and there to find what feels right for me and my presentation style. 

If you're going to use slides, have some fun with 'em!





I've read, and heard, many times that the gist of a talk's structure is:

  • tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em
  • [stuff you came to tell 'em]
  • tell 'em what you told 'em
  • thank 'em and say goodbye

I've experimented with this and have found it's definitely a good go-to formula, especially if you're just starting out.
I do think there's a little more to those last two bullet points, though. Summarize a talk by recapping, yes. Good stuff. Gratitude - a MUST. I believe there's also got to be something between those last two bullets in a speaker's tone or message that sends the audience off with a really great feeling. If I've taught them something, I try to remind them why what I've shared is useful, or how it can improve their life. If I've shared a personal story, I aim to share the positive outcome not only through your message but also through your voice and energy.  

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -Maya Angelou

Think about how you want your audience to feel.

Seal the deal on why your talk was worth their time. Then thank them and say goodbye.



Once I've got a draft out and I've given it a pretty good run-through on edits, I ask myself questions.
Questions like:
Am I grabbing their attention? Yes? How? Where? Who's attention, exactly, am I grabbing? Still that same person I identified in TalkTip Day 1?
Does that attention-grabbing happen in the right place in the talk? At the beginning? At the end?

Once I've got folks' attention, how am I keeping them engaged? Am I losing them anywhere?

These are some of the questions I ask myself once I've entered the editing phase. Every once in a while answering these ignites a lot of rewriting.

What questions do you ask yourself?


In yesterday's post I touched on editing through different lenses: 
Focus. Clear messaging. Flow. Simplicity. Typos. Accuracy.

For me, changing "lenses" is almost like I'm physically changing a pair of glasses. It's a mental gear shifting, going from one editing mode to another. I carefully review the whole talk for one thing: Focus on my message. I finish, and I do it again, this time only for typos. And again, this time for flow. And so on. Note, I've still not even thought about slide design at this point in my own process. I save that step for last. Then design gets its own round or two of editing.

All this said, I still need a lot of practice on this. Typos still happen from time-to-time. Topics and stories still wonder off a bit here and there. But on the plus side, awareness and thinking about these things helps me become a better talk writer and giver, a tiny little bit with every talk I bring into the world.

Any notes or tips on editing you'd like to share?



I have a lot of thoughts on editing, and since I'm writing these tips in 5-minute bursts, I'll be breaking "edit" out across a few days.

In general, I never stop editing and revising a talk. I get it to a point where I think it's ready enough to give, I give it, I edit it. With some talks, I start over completely, stripping the talk down to focus even MORE than it was already. It's easier to edit when you have feedback. So, something I'm really working on doing more of, is sharing my talk with a few trusted friends in my early editing rounds so that I can get some genuine feedback before I actually give the talk. 

With or without this external feedback, talks need mindful editing.

If I've learned anything about my own process for writing talks it's to give myself enough time to edit the thing through a few different lenses: 
Focus. Clear messaging. Flow. Simplicity. Typos. Accuracy.

What tips do you have about editing talks?