In part one and two, I talked about building a business case and then building your talk. In part 3, I wanted to hold more of an FAQ regarding travelling, staying healthy, preparing for crowds, and then presenting your talk effectively. This isn’t a complete guide of all things to consider, but rather some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way.
WHO WILL I TALK TO?
Attending a conference for the first time can be stressful, especially if you aren’t sure you will know anyone there. What I have personally found helpful, is heading to the conference speakers page and checking out who’s listed. As I have been to a few conferences, I tend to recognise names and even find a friend among the names. If you don’t have this luxury, another place to look is social media. Asking around for those also attending said conference, connecting with colleagues and checking if a client or friend of a friend is attending can also help reduce the stress.
Lastly, there are communities around that actively seek out new comers, and tell them to say hi, express that it’s ok to come and catch up with them. Honestly, even after the number of conferences I have attended and/or spoken at, I still get nervous. New environments can be challenging, don’t let this discourage you - but recognise that it can be hard, and plan for it.
I AM PRESENTING, WHEN SHOULD I ARRIVE?
Depending on the distance of travel and time change, I prefer to arrive at least 1 day early. When flying to Australia or Asia, I might consider having 2 days, as it’s quite far from where I am based, and if there’s travel delays, I don’t want to arrive too exhausted.
If you’re being paid, many speakers request higher fees for far travelling. If you have expenses covered, speakers travelling far often request one to two days extra.
HOW DO I KEEP FROM GETTING SICK WHILST TRAVELLING?
This question is asked a lot, and whilst it does depend on the season, your body/immune system, and more - a few tricks I have found to help are:
Wearing a scarf: when travelling during the winter, but also autumn/fall and spring time. For me, even a bit of cold on my neck can start the sore throat issues. Drastic temperature changes also cause issue, so be extra vigilant.
Drink soothing drinks: I love tea, so this isn’t really an issue, but if you’re not a tea drinker - find something, even just hot water, that helps sooth. I prefer camomile with honey and lemon for the most soothing option.
Moderate your volume: the challenge with busy environments, such as at a conference, is we tend to raise our voices to be heard. Recognise this is going to happen, and make sure you aren’t overworking your voice. I have had times where I didn’t pay enough attention, and by the end of the conference I’m voiceless. If speaking, this can be a massive issue!
Wash your hands: whilst this should always be done, consider washing at a higher frequency than normal. New environments bring new things for your immune system to deal with - realise that any support you can give yourself to protect against is going to be beneficial.
Regulate your sleep: especially when changing time zones, realise your body needs rest and recovery. Don’t stay up too late the night before a big talk. If you’re more of an introvert, don’t over estimate your available spoons just because you’re having fun.
Eat more often: again, when changing time zones, a lot people ask about jet lag and recovery. I have found eating more often, and changing my schedule to the new time zone immediately more effective than sleep adjustment.
The above is based on my travel experiences, and will vary based on your body needs. Just listen to yourself, and if you really struggle - consider investing in technology to support this. I find my Oura ring useful to monitor my sleeping, but full disclosure I was gifted this as a prize from OreDev.
HOW TO FEEL SAFE WHILST IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
Check with your embassy when travelling to a new country, often they will list travel advisory based on country threat levels. Examples:
If you are from a minority and/or LGBTQ+ group, some countries are not as welcoming as others. Consider this when making travel plans, and make sure to know your rights. My personal safety plans are:
Research locally acceptable clothing,
Emergency contact details for the country and my own embassy,
Register as a traveller with my embassy,
Make sure I know someone in the country whilst there, and
Understand any limitation to my rights as a women.
Personally, I have not had an issue with travelling yet thankfully, but it is always a good idea to check available resources.
IS MY TALK ENOUGH?
This is a bloody hard question, and I don’t think there’s really a yes/no answer. Understanding your audience is vital to judging the right level of complexity, depth, and even the format of how you present it. In part 2 of this series, I talk about the questions you could ask when preparing for your talk - within these questions I ask: who is attending, what are their knowledge level, and/or seniority at the organisation. These exist so you can estimate the level of complexity and depth of knowledge you wish to get into. But here’s the thing, there will always be someone in the audience that doesn’t think you went deep enough, you were technical enough, or maybe that you went too technical or covered a topic they didn’t care for.
If you’re from a minority group, you might even find this more often - as a female speaker I always have at least one audience member make sure to seek me out or report through the feedback form how poorly they viewed my talk. Whilst it’s a challenge to hear this - remember, your role is to build for the variety of the audience, not that one person. Building your talk, and presenting your talk, as close as possible to your abstract is important.
Realise, you are up there speaking because the organisers recognised your value, the audience showed up because they wanted to see you. You are up there for a reason, so remind yourself of this and rock your topic!
I know for a fact I have ended up presenting talks that strayed from the abstract, that maybe weren’t as in depth as I wished I could go, but that’s ok - learn how to do a better job next time.
BEST ADVICE RECEIVED FOR PUBLIC SPEAKING?
“I learned a great tip from a distinguished speaker to walk the room walls before the session, when its empty, stand in the back and several other places and imagine yourself onstage. And keep that picture. And also stand on stage, imagine the room full and look closely at the places you were standing” - Pieter-Jan, Cisco author and fellow Cisco Champion
Check out The ABC’s of Public Speaking from inside Cybersecurity where friends and I discuss public speaking and advice we’ve received that helped us through.