I’ve been speaking at conferences for just over four years now, and
have spoken at 14 in the past five months alone. It helps me (and indeed anyone)
to have a pretty regimented checklist of things to do before and after your talk
in order to help things run as smoothly as possible.
This post isn’t intended to help you research, write, prepare, or deliver a talk
well—that’s an entire series of blog posts in itself—but it should help you to
run things a little more consistently and predictably. There’s nothing worse
than being stressed out before a talk.
Before the Talk
Follow the conference on Twitter. You can see any last minute logistical
announcements or changes in real time. It also allows the conference to DM you
if they need to.
Turn up well ahead of time. Turn up at least the break before your slot.
Ideally—really—you’ll arrive first thing in the morning and be present for the
entire event, but at the very least you need to arrive with enough time to
test your slides, familiarise yourself with the venue, etc.
Let the organiser know you’ve arrived. Being a speaker is stressful; being
an organiser is doubly so. As soon as you arrive, go straight to your main
point of contact and let them know that you’ve arrived. It will put their mind
at ease, as well as giving them the opportunity to let you know any final bits
Bring your own water. Nine times out of 10, conferences will provide
plenty of water for speakers. However, you really don’t want to take a gamble
on it. Bring your own water (lots of it) and make sure it’s bottled.
Conferences often provide jugs and glasses of water on-stage, and whilst this
might look a lot smarter, it’s far less practical: pouring yourself water
whilst nervous is difficult, you’re leaving yourself prone to spillages and
accidents, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be drinking a lot of it.
A couple of plastic bottles of your own tucked out of sight are a good idea.
Get mic’ed up ahead of time. Turn up in plenty of time to get your
microphone fitted and tested. Ask your AV person if the microphone is
controlled by them remotely, or if there’s something you need to turn on
Remove your lanyard. Don’t wear your lanyard on-stage. It’s distracting,
will likely look bad in photos, will get in your way, and can cause annoying
noises if you’re wearing certain types of microphone.
Turn off your speakers. Unless you need audio for your talk, mute your
Turn off your wifi. Unless you need it for your talk, turn it off. You
don’t want any FaceTime, Skype, etc. notifications.
Turn off any notifications. In fact, just turn any and all notifications
do not want your screen going to sleep by accident.
Put your phone in airplane mode. Simply putting your phone on silent mode
isn’t good enough, you’ll still feel it vibrating in your pocket if you get a
Wait off-stage. If you’re being introduced by someone, try to wait
slightly off-stage whilst they introduce you. Naturally, this isn’t always
possible, but try avoid standing awkwardly close to them whilst they’re
talking about you.
Thank the MC for their intro. And shake their hand if appropriate. I find
this moment of human interaction just before beginning to speak puts me at
Get out there and enjoy it. If you’re the type to get nervous, there’s not
much to be done about that; you’re gonna be nervous. Just get out there and do
a great job. Have fun.
After the Talk
Thank the audience for their time. This isn’t about you, it’s about them.
Let them know that you’re grateful for their time, that your slides are online
at [location], and that they can grab you during breaks for
Take questions. If there’s a Q&A session, begin taking questions. If you
get a question, take time to listen to it fully; if you don’t hear or
understand it first time around, do not be embarrassed to ask for a repeat or
reword. Repeat the question back to the audience—you can use this as an
opportunity to paraphrase the question to better suit your stance/answer. If
you don’t have an answer, do not try to blag it; let the person know you’re
not sure right now, but you’re keen to look it up and you’ll get back to
Pack up your things efficiently and tidily. Close your laptop lid, pack up
your clicker etc. on top if it, carry if off-stage like a tray.
Get off stage swiftly and smartly. Even if you’re not sure where you’re
meant to head, walk off stage quickly and confidently. If you’ve headed the
wrong way, you can recover from that on your own time; don’t bumble around on
stage in front of everyone.
Return your mic. Stay silent in case it’s still turned on, and make your
way straight to the AV team. Return your mic and thank them for their help and
Share your slides. If the slides are only really of use the attendees who
are in the room, tweet a link to them directly at the conference’s Twitter
This means you don’t end up spamming the rest of your followers who aren’t
present, and the conference can retweet the resources to the attendees.
Thank everyone. The AV team, volunteers, organisers, venue staff, and a
whole lot of other people are jointly responsible for your presence and
success on stage; take the time to thank them for looking after you. As you
leave the venue, smile at and thank as many venue staff as you see:
their work tidying up etc. isn’t over yet.
Go to the afterparty. If there’s an afterparty, even if you don’t feel up
to it, turn up for at least one drink. Show your face, answer any questions
that you can, take feedback (positive and negative) graciously, and just hang
out with people. It’s another of your responsibilities as a speaker.
Give feedback. Let the conference know what you thought of the event, good
or bad (just remain honest, polite, and constructive). Let them know what they
got right; be enthusiastic about sharing the positives. If there are,
unfortunately, any negatives, make sure they’re actually worth bringing up,
and share them privately in an email after the fact. Don’t go bringing down
the mood unless something absolutely needs immediate attention.
These lists are by no means exhaustive, but they’re a pretty easy-to-follow set
of tasks that you should try to follow any time you give a talk. It’ll make your