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Getting on stage – the definitive guide

Ole Michaelis's profile picture Ole Michaelis on

In the previous posts I've discussed how to make great slides and what is important when using animations in slides as a last post of this series I want to point out in this post what I do before I go on stage and give a talk, what I've seen others doing, or not doing, in order to give a great conference presentation.

The very first and also the most important one is

Rehearse & Practice

Once you are done with your slide deck, you need to practice – period. I can't state enough how important this is, and this is true no matter how often you have been on stage before. You will only realize if the structure and flow of the talk makes sense and form a good story when you have given the talk.

Also note that when I say practice I'm talking about giving the whole talk, and it does not matter if some one is listening or not, but what matter is to say every word out loud. Our brain works like that, your brain will take that short cut and not form the one sentence to it's completion. Here is what works for me: I get myself comfortable and start Keynote in the rehearsal mode, I think that is particular important so you can see if your notes work that way you planned it. I also use the remote and ask the questions I may ask out loud. When I find something weird in the flow I have pen and paper close by, note the slide number and what I want to change. So that I can move on with the talk. Because it is also important to test if the length of the talk fits the time slot the conference gave you.

I do this at least three times for a new talk and at least once before the day of the conference for a talk I've given before. Pro tip: Hotel ironing boards work great as standing desks. If you've done that you really should feel ready for that day.

At the day of the event I have a small ritual I usually follow. Here's the points.


Preparation is key, and depending on the conference the preparation may vary but a few general things are key for me.

Prepare your laptop

About an hour before my talk I get my laptop out and prepare it: closing all apps that I wont need (like Slack, the browser and so on), disable all notification (with Do Not Disturb), and if I don't need it I disable the wi-fi. Just to be safe.

Getting ready

Be at your assigned room as early as possible, around 20 minutes works for me. I always feel stage temperature is about 1000ºF so get my hoodie off. I've also seen people taking their shoes off, that's cool too. Connect your laptop the the projector and get the audio ready, ask the conference or AV team for help if needed. Especially when the talk is recorded make sure to get the mic cables where they belong (answer: under your shirt, or at your back) to not look super stupid on tape. I always get up the title slide, so people know they are in the right (or wrong) room when they enter.

Empty your pocket

It seems strange to talk about these details, but for me it matters. I feel better without a heavy phone or keychain in my pocket. Also put your phone in flight mode, there is nothing more distracting then a vibrating thing in your pocket when you try to make a point. People may tweet about you.

Now your ready to take the stage! I try to be super precise on time, but that might be a 🇩🇪 thing.

Take the stage

Go on stage, say who you are, and why you are here. It's better start with something you know to reduce the likelihood that you forget something. Once you are up there it's your show, don't be afraid to take over the room especially when people are rude, like talking very loud to each other or trying to distract you. The majority of the audience is there to listen to what you promised to tell them about.

It's your show!

Expect the unexpected

I've seen the weirdest things happening at conferences, from a fire alarm that goes on during you being on stage to AV getting shut down completely. And do not get me started about live coding. Rest assured that no one will blame you if these things happen. Remember that it's your show and if the fire alarm goes off, well, leave the building and continue outside or wait until everyone gets ready again. Being on stage is a very good position to become the leader of a group. Remember:

It's your show!

Track your time

As a fellow conference attendee, I must ask you one thing: please finish on time. Going a bit over time, happens or running short 5 minutes is not a big deal. But you know the length of the slot before hand, so please plan for exactly that length. I've seem people flying though slides with the comment "Oh, that is not important", and I always wonder why THE F*CK it's in your deck then? Unless you had this fire alarm thing going on, it is your responsibility to keep track of time.

Now that you've hopefully finished on time, indicate when you are done, and that now is the time for everyone to cheer if they feel like it. Often people and the talk with: "and I'm now ready to take some questions". This seriously always ends in a weird situation where the audience does not know if they should clap now or not, and everyone is just confused. After the cheering you can move to the last step of the journey.

Q & A

Some conferences might ask you to plan for 5 minutes of Q&A, some don't. I always try to respect the wish of the conference. I've a very opinionated view on Q&A because I feel that the questions asked is is 99% of the cases only interesting for 2 people: The one who asks the question and the speaker. Others will get distracted pretty quickly, also you open up the space for trolls, so many people don't have an actual question, but rather want to add something because they think they do know it better.

Here is what I always offer the conference to do: Invite the audience to find you after your talk, or even during the entire event, you should stay around anyways and make yourself approachable. That's how I usually get to the most interesting discussions.

If you just start with giving talks, or just feel uncomfortable taking questions, ask the conference organizer if you can do it that way. I works in 99% of the cases.

If you want, or are asked to take questions, make sure to repeat the question. Even if the talk is not recorded, within the audience it's often hard to listen to people speaking in a direction away from you. It also helps to clarify if you got the question correctly and it gives you some more minutes to think about it.

Further reading

That was a lot of stuff, but that was also only what I do. There are tons of other great resources out there, if you want to learn and read more please check out: by Zach Holman.

I hope you found this series helpful, and if you ever find someone of the DNSimple team at a conference, please make sure to say "hi"!

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Ole Michaelis's profile picture

Ole Michaelis

Conference junkie, user groupie and boardgame geek also knows how to juggle. Oh, and software.

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