My "speaker checklist"
02 November 2017

I follow a checklist whenever I am planning to speak at a conference. I am sharing it so that hopefully it can help you too.

The steps marked with 💥 are the one I failed before and don’t want to fail again :) It also let me justify why something that sounds silly may be part of the list!

The checklist is quite long and might seem paranoid or more stressful than helpful, but it’s actually the contrary: the more you anticipate things, the less reasons you have to stress.

Planning the talk

  • I plan on writing up the structure or the story before starting the slides (just like code or books, the structure must come first)
  • 💥 I have planned to finish the first version of my slides at least one month before the talk (because I know that the first version will suck and will be completely rewritten)
  • I have planned to practice the talk from beginning to end at least 10 times: that means at least 10 days (once per day)

Writing the slides

  • 💥 There is an underlying theme, story or structure in my slides: readers should not feel lost in an endless succession of unrelated slides
  • I am using a template or standard design for the slides (unless I know what I am doing)
  • 💥 All content is as big as possible and will be readable from the back of the room
  • 💥 All code is as big as possible and will be readable from the back of the room (yes, code needs its own line because it’s the easiest thing to mess up): ideally less than 5 lines of code per slide
  • 💥 All useless code has been removed
  • Code has syntax highlighting
  • 💥 Unless the conference told me explicitly (with complete certainty) that the projector will be 16:9, I prepared my slides for a 4:3 format (if unsure choose 4:3)
  • I did not use animated gifs, or if I did they play only once and then they stop (there is nothing more distracting than that)
  • Less is more: the slides contain only the most important words that I am going to say, the rest will be said out loud (the audience cannot read and listen at the same time)
  • I have a slide at the beginning to introduce myself (quickly) and I try to make it relevant to the talk (in other words: “Who am I and why am I here talking to you about this topic”)

Practicing the talk

  • 💥 I can answer thes questions “What is the message I want to convey?” (thank you @rgousi) and “Why is that message interesting to the audience?” (thank you @Louis_Remi)
  • I have practiced my talk multiple times until I feel confident
  • 💥 I have practiced my talk without my speaker notes (to simulate the case where I cannot rely on them for some reason the day of the talk)
  • 💥 I have practiced my talk until I consistently deliver it under the allocated time (being too fast is an acceptable outcome, being too long is not because organizers will stop me)
  • I can deliver my talk without reading my slides
  • I have recorded myself and listened to/watched the recording (and cringed at my voice) at least once (this is super helpful)
  • I have practiced my talk in front of somebody at least once (as early as possible), and I have asked for feedback (choose your person carefully, you want brutally honest feedback here)
  • 💥 I have practiced several times with the tool I will use to switch slides (e.g. a remote)
  • 💥 I have practiced my talk holding a fake microphone (because it will be distracting when on stage)
  • 💥 I have practiced drinking water while holding the fake microphone and the remote at the same time (this is super hard when stressed, prepare for this); practice drinking at the right time and away from the microphone if possible
  • 💥 I know which slides to skip if I ever have to (skipping the conclusion or the most interesting parts is the worst, anticipate that)
  • 💥 If I need to use fake names or pronouns I try to alternate genders (or use they) so that I do not always represent developers as males
  • I have practiced to pause or change rhythm on the most important parts
  • 💥 I know the introduction by heart (this is the most stressful moment, the brain will be turned off at that point, it needs to be easy)
  • 💥 I know the conclusion by heart (this is what people will leave with, it needs to be as polished as possible)
  • 💥 I end the talk with “Thank you” or a sentence that starts with those words, that is the universal signal for applause; ending with “Are there any questions?” is awkward because everyone will be unsure if they should clap or if they should stay silent for questions

The day before

  • I have stored the exact same version of my slides in 3 places: on my computer, online and on a USB key
  • 💥 I have tested all 3 versions and made sure they work
  • 💥 I have tested that both offline versions (computer and USB key) work without internet access (remember the CDN you used to load JS or fonts?)
  • I have everything I need to connect my computer to: HDMI, VGA and if necessary Ethernet (tested and working)
  • I have charged my laptop
  • I have checked that my remote is working
  • I am not planning to update my OS or any tool running on my laptop
  • If possible I have checked in the room I will be speaking in
  • 💥 I have chosen my clothes: they are comfortable, I feel good in them and they do not show sweat marks; I am also ready to be in t-shirt or sweater: the stress can make me very hot or very cold and I do not know in advance which one it will be :)

Minutes before

  • I have gone to the bathroom (this is stupid but it’s easy to forget)
  • 💥 I have walked 10 minutes beforehand to evacuate the stress
  • 💥 I have disabled the screen saver of my laptop and made sure it’s not going to sleep
  • I have a clean desktop and neutral background picture
  • I have my remote charged and setup
  • I have all my adapters close by
  • I have my plan B ready: USB key
  • I have my plan C ready: online slides with wifi setup or my phone ready to serve as 4G access point (but keep in mind that most of the time the wifi or 4G doesn’t work in conferences, that’s why it’s plan C)
  • 💥 I have put my phone on “Do not disturb” or airplane mode: never on vibrate, my pocket will vibrate because of Twitter mentions and stuff like that, and it will distract me
  • 💥 I have enabled “Do not disturb” on my laptop to avoid popups (or disabled the wifi)
  • I have closed applications I will not need
  • I have muted my laptop (unless I need to use the audio)
  • 💥 I have opened the slides and they are ready to roll
  • I have a bottle of water ready
  • I arrived in the room in advance (I do not attend a talk in another room right before my talk)
  • 💥 I located the tech person or organizer, I know who to ask for help if there’s a problem while setting up my laptop
  • I am ready to accept that at least 1 thing will go wrong at some point but nobody will remember or even notice

During the talk

  • 💥 I breathe calmly
  • 💥 I drink if I need
  • 💥 I remember not to stress because what matters is the message, not my performance

After the talk

  • I linger a little bit after the talk and engage people that seem like they want to talk to me (unless I don’t feel like it); But I don’t linger in the room if there is another talk right after me, I take the discussion outside
  • 💥 I do not ask people how was my talk: if people were happy with the talk they will say so, if they weren’t that will either force them to lie or force them to say something they might not want (of course this may not apply to everyone)
  • I share my slides on Twitter or the Joind.in event
  • If the talked was recorded I watch the video (and cringe again) and take note of everything I can improve

More

If you speak french you can read the great series written by Pascal Martin on his blog. It covers the topic in more details.

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