Speaking at a major conference is a daunting prospect, even for the most accomplished speakers. I had always wanted to participate at a major conference such as SES, SMX, BrightonSEO but never thought I had enough case studies or was well known enough in the industry to be able to stand up in front of a large group and present my ideas in a coherent manner. I had, however, read a lot of posts about public speaking, including those by fellow State of Search blogger, Hannah Smith and founder of State of Search Bas. However, in January this year, I decided to take the plunge and register to speak at SES NY. As with any presentation, preparation is the most important thing. You cannot expect to have a few ideas in your head and then get up and speak clearly and coherently about a topic without having rehearsed it thoroughly.
Preparation is key
Make sure you know what you want to talk about and the duration of the presentation. Think about the best way to present your ideas; is it with power point, or would headline topics suffice? There is always the tendency to put too much on the computer so that the presentation becomes a form of death by power point. It is important to be selective and only put up the key points that you are discussing. A good way to do this is to write note cards and only put down headline topics. Timing yourself and practising your presentation in front of a mirror is a good way of rehearsing. By reading out loud what you have written, you become familiar with what you are going to say and feel more confident about not reading from notes It is important to engage your audience from the very beginning. You need to make eye contact with everyone and make sure that you scan the room and include as many people as possible. If you listen to any good speakers, you will notice that they refer to their notes very rarely and do not talk to the lectern, they appeal directly to their audience and include them in the presentation.
It can be overwhelming, signing up to speak at a conference if you have never spoken at one before. It is important however not be scared or intimidated by this. One of the most important things is not to try and be anyone else in the hope of trying to impress the audience. At the start of the presentation, introduce yourself to the audience, say who you are and your area of expertise. This sets the scene and lets the audience know who you are and what they can expect from the presentation. Make sure you vary the tone and the pace of the presentation, you need to use intonation to highlight the important points and use pauses to make the points more emphatic.
A major part of giving a presentation is to make sure you have genuine case studies that you can share. It is important to share the “how to” parts of any case study so that people in the audience can go and implement the recommendations straight away. Tips to share always win over the audience and help to gain the trust of the participants.
Another useful piece of advice is to think about the topic you want to speak about and see if you can present your information from a different perspective. At SES New York, I spoke about Screw Link building, which is called Relationship Building. I chose to speak about my experience, working on a budget. It is always hard to reach out and build links on a small budget than if you are working in a large agency/company where money is no issue.
Just do it
Putting yourself forward to speak at a conference is a lot to take on, particularly if you have a full time job that needs your complete attention. I had not spoken at any other major search event previously and so I was a little nervous at the thought of getting everything ready. I run Search London and had only spoken at the meet up when I introduced the speakers. I had met Matt McGowan two years earlier as he came to my Search London event. I spoke to him briefly about speaking at SES and he said they were always looking for speakers. It sounds silly but this gave me the confidence to go and pitch for a speaking slot.
The most important point to remember about any public speaking is to focus on the message you want to convey. In order to do this, you need to think about your audience and make sure that what you have to say is relevant to them and their needs. You then need to think about the best way get the information across, without sending everyone to sleep! Start out by giving markers about what you are going to talk about, rather like road signs. ‘The first part of this presentation will deal with….” An audience needs to have an idea about the subject matter and the direction the presentation will take. From that they can start to tune into what you are saying and follow your train of thought.
By the time the conference comes around, a great deal of time will have been spent preparing and rehearsing it, so much that that you may forget to actually enjoy the event. Anyone who has spoken at a conference appreciates the difficulties in facing a large group of unknown people. Your audience is not there to criticise you but listen to you and learn from your experience. Your part is to give advice and help them solve their issues, while at the same time networking for better communication and business opportunities. It was daunting speaking at SES New York, considering I had never spoken at a major event before. However, instead of that preventing me from talking, I decided to take the plunge, do my research, prepare and practice and enjoy speaking at my first ever major conference. I advise you to do the same.