Speaker’s Checklist: Before and After Your Talk

Written by on CSS Wizardry.

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 of information.
  • 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 yourself.
  • 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 machine completely.
  • 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 off completely.
  • Enable Caffeine. You 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 call.
  • 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 ease.
  • 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 questions.
  • 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 them.
  • 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 support.
  • 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 @account. 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 life easier.


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