How To Get Your Conference Talk Accepted

How To Get Your Conference Talk Accepted

Getting your conference talk accepted is a major first hurdle, yet many people simply don’t put the effort in here. I’m going to share why this is the first hurdle, why a great deal of effort is needed in your submission and how to go about it like a pro.

There are many people who would like to speak at a conference but have a variety of reasons why they aren’t doing it.

I know I found it almost impossible to stand up in front of a group of people without crumbling just a few years ago but now I’m doing big stages and Keynotes.

It took a lot of learning but also a lot of pushing past comfort zones. That’s why I wrote this guide – to share some of the ideas and techniques that helped me start my journey to public speaking.

How to get started with conference speaking

In the guide I walk through:

  • Finding conferences to submit to
  • Understanding the Call For Papers and Conference Theme
  • Submitting a winning proposal
  • Preparing for the talk
  • Creating the talk
  • Preparing slide decks
  • Preparing to deliver the talk
  • Dealing with nerves
  • Presenting
  • Dealing with questions
  • Some useful resources on presenting

Why Submit To A Conference?

Many people ask me why I speak at conferences and why I’m driven to attend industry events.

What follows are some of the reasons why I, and others, submit to speak at conferences.

Learning about yourself and your limits

When you push yourself outside of your comfort zone you start to see where your limits are.

Many people feel uncomfortable at the thought of speaking to a conference audience – but that’s exactly why so many people do it.

I still don’t always enjoy the process of presenting at a conference, especially the build up to it, but I know that each time I do a talk, I get better. And it becomes less nerve inducing.

Increases self confidence

By completing something as daunting as speaking at a conference many people feel an increase in confidence. This is often related to them pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. Once they push outside and complete the task it makes them realise they are capable of achieving even more.

I know it has made a big difference to me. It also helps in the workplace when you have to facilitate a meeting, or present. The more you present the better you will get – and this will increase your confidence.

Personal development

At some point you will have to do a talk to other people at work anyway, especially so if you’re in the business world. So pre-empting this and learning how to do a presentation can be a good strategy.

I remember in my early years of work I would actively avoid any job interview that required me to do a presentation, purely because I didn’t know how to present well and it scared me.

The reality is it is becoming an essential part of many jobs now, so it’s a fundamentally useful skill to have.

Career advancement

There is no doubt that being good at “public speaking” is a good career advancement.

Being able to present means you can do pitches, sales, marketing presentations, influential talks and group events. A whole host of opportunities present themselves to those prepared to stand up and talk. And being good at the presenting will set you apart from many in your industry.

Even if you’re not actively seeking career advancement speaking at conferences can open up doors you never knew existed.

Share your ideas and thoughts

Many people enter the world of conference speaking because they have an important message to share. They are compelled to bring their message to an audience.

I love to share my message – and you’ll always find your “tribe” who also want to hear it and discuss it.

Get free conference tickets

A great way to get to a conference is to speak at it. Conference tickets can be quite expensive but are often included free for people speaking at the event. It’s therefore a great way to get to an event.

This is exactly why I started to speak at events.

I wanted to go to a conference and speaking at it got me the ticket.

Promote your company, service, brand etc

Speaking at conferences and events can be really good for your brand. Just getting your name out there and spreading your brand around can be rewarding and fruitful.

How To Find A Conference To Submit To

Finding a conference to speak at can be a tricky part of the process.

Here are some ideas on where to find relevant conferences to submit a talk to.

  • Immediate industry journals and other news sources (nursing, teaching, development, marketing)
  • Immediate locale (meet-ups, local events, user groups)
  • Niche industry journals and other news sources (industrial waste in hospitals, coding websites with Ruby on Rails, home schooling)
  • Twitter, Facebook and other social channels (use hashtags and follow interesting people in your community)
  • Your favourite blogs
  • Peers in the company (conference attendees or people who have spoken at the event)
  • Word of mouth at user groups and conferences you’ve been to
  • Previous conferences you have been to

What you’re looking out for is the Call For Papers (CFP).

The Call For Papers is when the conference organisers ask people to submit talks for the conference. Understanding this process is a good step towards getting your conference talk accepted.

The paper is usually your details, an abstract of your talk and some supporting information such as key take-aways.

The call for papers sometimes opens anywhere up to a year in advance of the conference. Some of the call for papers happens just a few months before the conference.

To become aware of the CFP sign up to newsletters or social feeds that will give you plenty of time to get a good submission in.

How To Make Sense Of A Conference Theme

Most conferences have themes.

Some of these themes are really broad. What this means is that no matter what topic you want to talk about you’ll likely be able to shoe-horn it in to the theme.

Some of these themes are very narrow and specific. This is usually the case with niche industries or technologies. Think DevOps in Small Banking Using Sybase Databases With Testing Done Using Excel Spreadsheet and you’re in a niche.

The theme is there as a guide and also to allow the organisers to brand and theme the actual event – it’s a story line that should bind the speakers and topics along a common path.

It is rarely an absolute. There is wiggle room.

If the theme doesn’t fit what you want to talk about it can sometimes be worth submitting a paper still. The conference organisers often have people who will help you tailor the talk to the theme or they sometimes will flat out accept it.

Some conferences are so vast that they focus “tracks” around specific topics. Some of the big Tech conferences have specific track lanes for narrower topics such as entire industries like HR, management, testing, dev etc

Just remember that a conference theme is rarely an absolute. You’ll usually be able to find some angle to pivot your idea towards.

How To Generate Conference Topic Ideas

When I got started on the speaking circuit I struggled to come up with ideas. It’s something I hear a number of people mentioning.

“I’ve got nothing new to say”
“Why would anyone want to hear what I have to say?”

It’s easy to think that you’re not doing anything new, but remember this – nobody is doing the same thing as you – they can’t be – you are you.

Your company is not the same as theirs.

Your thinking, perspective, history, cultural background and upbringing are not the same. So even if you think it’s not new, you’ll still be able to share your story with uniqueness.

What follows are some of the techniques I’ve used to generate topics, ideas and talks.

Brainstorming, outlining, jotting, doodling, sketch noting – whatever your flavour of note taking and idea generation is just start using it. Start with a central topic or idea and let your mind get to work.

Remove as many distractions as you can and give your mind some quiet time to get thinking. Then just pour out your ideas. Don’t filter them. Don’t restrict them (no matter how silly or outlandish). Just let them come out of your head and land on/in your favourite tool.

I love outlining and use a tool called Workflowy to do this. But I sometimes just draw a mind map.

There is no right or wrong way – there is just the way that works for you, at that time.

I once planned an entire Keynote talk on post-it notes. Idea after quote, after slide, after thought, just doodled on post-it notes, which I then re-arranged on the wall in to a coherent talk.

Just go with the flow and do what feels right.

But how do I come up with the idea in the first place?

Consider some of the following. And don’t be afraid to mash them together. In fact, mashing ideas and thoughts together is creativity in action.

  • Your own experience report – probably the easiest and safest talk to do – the one I recommend for newbies.
  • Tools you use
  • Techniques you implement in your work
  • Brainstorm with colleagues over something you do at work
  • What are other people in the industry talking about – can you get inspiration from that?
  • What problems do you have at work – can you talk about them from the stage?
  • How did you get to where you are now – tell the story of the journey?
  • How awesome is your work place – and why is it awesome?
  • What have you learned recently?
  • What process or methodology do you work in and is it good for you right now?
  • What are you most frustrated about in the industry?
  • What do the experts discount? And are they right?
  • What failed and how did you learn from this?

But no-one will listen to me

Despite what you may think there will be many people who want to hear what you have to say.

I work on the basis that if I’ve created positive change in just one person in the audience, then I’ve done well.

The easiest talk to start with is an experience report. No one can (although some may try to) argue with an experience report. It’s your story. It’s what you did. It happened to you.

Consider also that most conferences have a newbie slot for new speakers to fill. This slot is well advertised as a newbie slot and the audience will be less challenging with questions – especially useful if you’re presenting about a contentious topic in your industry. The downside is they tend to have lower attendance, especially if they clash with well known speakers.

How To Write A Good Conference Proposal – and get your conference talk accepted

There are 10 steps to a good conference proposal. I’ll explain each one further.

  1. Read the Call For Papers (CFP) really carefully and extract the important details
  2. Schedule some quiet time to create the proposal submission
  3. Define your purpose, audience and context (PAC)
  4. Outline your topic and rough flow – make sure it flows
  5. Write out a powerful problem statement
  6. Write out the middle detail at a high level
  7. Draw out your key “take-aways” or calls to action
  8. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.
  9. Wait.
  10. Submit and keep a copy

Here they are in more detail.

Read the Call For Papers (CFP) really carefully and extract the important details

Find the CFP and read it really well. Read it several times.

And then create a checklist of all of the very important details.

  • Deadline for submissions
  • Word Count of submission
  • What else is needed (Photo, Author Bio, Links, Supporting Paper) – add these to your to-do list
  • Conference theme
  • Anything else they have asked for?

The deadline is important. Put it in your calendar. Set up reminders weeks before.

The word count is important. Make sure you read it right. Is it “word count” or “character count”. I’ve seen many people get that wrong before. Get clear what it is and stick to it.

Make sure you prepare for the other stuff you’ll need like a speaker bio and a professional headshot. Add them to your To-Do list if you’ve not already got them. Once you do get them keep them safe – you’ll need them again for the next talk.

What’s the theme and will your talk fit in to it? If not, there is still wiggle room, but you stand a better chance of getting your conference talk accepted if you’re close to the main theme.

Schedule some quiet time to create the proposal submission

Once you know the submission date then you should schedule some time to complete the proposal.

Here’s some advice – it always takes longer to craft a good submission than you think.

There’s no point rushing the proposal because this is your first and possibly only chance to make a good impression. You want them to pick you so put in the effort at this stage. It will show and it will make you stand out for all of the right reasons.

Make sure you create the proposal in a document editing tool where you can quickly see word count and save it.

Don’t type the proposal straight in to the webpage. Firstly, you’ll need to check word counts and spelling. Secondly, the submission page usually takes a long time to fill in and it will likely time-out…..and if you haven’t saved it (or copied it to clipboard) then it could be lost. (I’ve done this a few times)

You also need to save a copy of the submission for your own reference as it’s easy to forget the exact detail of your submission, especially if the conference is a year away.

Define your purpose, audience and context (PAC)

What is the purpose of your talk?

  • Is it is teach?
  • To inspire?
  • To educate?
  • To inform?
  • To persuade?
  • To entertain?

It can be one or more of these but remember this :

The more purposes you have the harder it will be to get your communication right

Who is the talk for – what are your audience like?

Define your target audience. If possible create a single “avatar” or “persona” and write the talk for just that person.

  • Are they experienced in your line of work?
  • Are they new to the industry?
  • What type of methodology do they work in?
  • What size of company?

The more you can identify the audience you are trying to communicate to the better your talk will be.

The more audiences you have though, the harder it will be to get your communication right

If you try to please everyone who might be at the conference then you’ll likely please no-one.

Keep it narrow and well defined. And of course, check that your avatar of a person will actually be at the conference.

What context will the talk be delivered?

  • Are you doing a Keynote from a large stage?
  • Are you doing a small user group talk?
  • Are you running a workshop?
  • Are you in a venue with no stage?

You may not know the answers to some of these questions but have a think about the context that the talk will be delivered in. That could be the physical surroundings, the time of day, the native language of the audience, the city, the type of venue, the type of talk.

For example, if you’re delivering a Keynote then you need to make the talk a real “WOW” topic and delivery. The message you communicate, and hence the proposal you submit, should reflect that.

I’ve seen too many talks that were dull, boring, death by slides talks – evidence that the presenter has not considered the context (or the purpose and audience) (or sometimes the conference organisers aren’t picky enough about their talks).

Don’t forget the Purpose, Audience and Context of your proposal

Also remember that your proposal itself is a piece of communication that you want to succeed at it’s purpose.

What is the purpose?

To make the reviewer shout out “YES!” to your proposal.

Are you going to do this through humour, inspiration, persuasion?

Who is the audience?

The reviewers are typically volunteers from your chosen industry or sometimes conference employees.

They will likely know the subject matter well, but don’t fall in to the trap of using lots of jargon – good communicators don’t use jargon unless the KNOW their audience – you likely don’t know them – so keep your language simple.

The reviewers will probably have a number of submissions to review in a short space of time – you want to make it easy for them by grabbing them in the first line and compelling them to say yes.

What would you be thinking reviewing lots of submissions?

What would make a submission stand out for you?

What is the context?

It’s likely your submission will be anonymised so if you’re well known in your industry you can’t rely on your name alone. The submissions will likely be stripped of formatting/images and viewed on screen. All clues on how to write a good proposal. Think through the context and try and bring some of these ideas to your submission.

Outline your topic and rough flow

I tend to outline my entire talk at a really high level before writing the proposal.

I usually find that I want to cover too much or the talk is trying to pull together too many ideas or subjects. By outlining it I can move ideas around and remove excess.

This exercise alone can give you clarity on what it is you’re really trying to say.

It will also give you the detail you need to explain the talk in just a few words for the conference submission.

I try to say just one message. What is the core idea you are communicating? Can you summarise this in one sentence? If not, you’re likely not clear enough in your own mind.

Here’s an image of my study wall outlining a Keynote presentation.

Write out a powerful problem statement

I also like to write out a problem statement.

What problem is your talk solving for someone?

Even an experience report about your own work should solve a problem for your ideal Avatar (audience member).

  • Are they stuck in their career? How did you overcome this problem?
  • Are they lacking the right skills? How did you overcome this problem?
  • Is their business growing, shrinking, changing? How did you deal with this problem?

If you really boil your idea and talk down to the essence, then you’ll likely be close to identifying a problem your audience might have.

With my Keynote talks I tend to focus more on inspiring people to think big than merely problem solving. This is because my own belief is that a Keynote talk should be inspirational.

Write out the middle detail at a high level

There is always a messy middle. The messy middle is the detail, the people involved, the actions, the information you must convey.

At proposal time don’t worry about detailing this. Keep this information at a high level if you don’t have the detail already.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the middle of your talk until you get your conference talk accepted and you start to write it. You’ll only add too much detail if you try and add it to the proposal.

Draw out your key “take-aways” or calls to action

This comes back to the purpose of your talk.

  • What do you want people to do when they leave your talk?
  • What do you want them to take-away?

Don’t try and always come up with tangible take-aways like “they will know how to run this process” or “they will each get a hand out with X on it”.

The take-aways can be as simple as “they will be fired up to look at their own work differently” or “they will be motivated to take on new challenges more readily”.

But you do want them to take something away, so give that “something” some thought and try to come up with a few take-aways.

Many conferences ask for three or four take-aways so it warrants spending time diving in to the real purpose of your talk.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Once you’ve identified the purpose for the talk, the audience of the talk, the context you’ll be delivering it in (and the context they will be receiving it in), and you’ve got your outline and some key take-aways, then you’ll have enough to write the proposal.

You’ll either already have it written by now or at least have some clues about what you want to write – so get it down on paper. Don’t forget the word count limits.

After you’ve written it go through it and edit it. Take away anything that does not add value to the reader.

Then leave it alone and come back to it later. And simplify again.

Keep doing it until only the core essence and message is left. Go too far and you’ll lose much of the meaning. Have too much fluff in there and you’ll make it too noisy for the message to come through.


Once you have it ready and you’re happy then leave it at least 24 hours before you submit it.

Your brain has a wonderful way of working and can often give you further clarity about your submission when you go off and do something else.

If nothing else comes to you then get ready to submit. Otherwise make the changes you need and simplify all over again.

Submit and keep a copy

Now you should have your proposal, your take-aways, your speaker bio and a professional headshot.

And yes, please make sure you get a professional headshot – it makes a big impact. Don’t post a picture of you on the beach, in a bar, with someone else in it or in-front of a flash car. Just be yourself but be professional.

The picture you submit may be used as part of the review process and if you are accepted then it will be the one they put on the website, the flyer, the handouts and other marketing material – make it pop out and shine as a positive advert for you.

Make sure you get different sizes of profile photo also. You may also need a colour photo as some conferences won’t accept black and white photos.

Keep a copy of all of your submissions.

Here’s what I do.

I have a Dropbox folder with my profile photos and author bio in it. I have a folder with each submission in a suitable folder representing the conference.

I made the mistake of not keeping my submission one year and got accepted to the conference. I couldn’t remember what I had submitted and as the submission was via website I had no email record of it either. (queue embarassing email to organisers asking what it was I said I would talk about).

Make sure you answer all of the questions on the submissions page offline. And then copy and paste in to the form. That way you stay on the page for the least time possible avoiding a time-out and you also have a copy of all of the other data you may need again (email address, business name etc). It makes filling in other submissions much quicker.

Make sure you have a professional email address also. Something like firstname.surname@

Then click submit. And wait.

And then suffer speaker’s remorse.

Speaker’s Remorse

Buyer’s remorse is where you buy something and then regret you ever bought it.

It happens to speaker’s too. They submit to a conference and then they get accepted. Speakers remorse.

  • Holy cow. Now what?
  • Why did I do this? I’m committed now…right…what do I do?
  • Should I say I can’t do it anymore?
  • It will be a nightmare.

Or you could look at it another way.

  • I have plenty of time to practice
  • I submitted the talk for a reason – what was it and why was it important?
  • It will be fun
  • I will learn something
  • I will grow from this experience
  • They liked my talk

The Presentation

Now you’ve been accepted you need to create the presentation.

There are some awesome books on creating presentations – check out the references section at the end of this guide – so I won’t go in to major detail here, but what follows my views on how to create a good presentation, how to rehearse and plan, and then how to deliver the talk.

  • Creating the presentation
  • Slides
  • Practice
  • Preparing to talk and dealing with nerves
  • Presenting
  • Questions

Creating the presentation

When creating the presentation always come back to your Purpose, Audience and Context.

Keep all of that at the forefront of your mind as you build your presentation.

Remember that you’re there to communicate a message. And that message needs to be simple.

Try not to over complicate anything and try not to present too many ideas in one presentation.

  • What do you want to tell people?
  • What do you want them to go away with?
And bear in mind that the audience will remember how you make them feel more than what you say.

So try to make them feel good, or bad… if that’s your intention.

Write out your story or presentation first – don’t start with the slides.

The slides will constrain your thinking. The slides should support the presentation – not be the presentation.

If you already have the outline then start with that. Take the outline and fill it in.

Do your research and find quotes, references or data to support your message.

Don’t get stuck researching though – it can be easy to do too much research and not enough creating. Resistance is high – especially if you’re suffering speaker’s remorse.

Try to start with the problem. Build the problem in to something exciting and compelling and emotional. You want to grab the audience and keep them tuned in.

Consider this as a plan:

  • Problem
  • Details of the problem
  • Solution
  • Details of the solution
  • Take-aways

It doesn’t always have to be like that but it’s a good start.

Fill in the presentation and bring it to it’s conclusion in the way that feels right to you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you need to feel good about your own story and presentation.

If you don’t feel good about your presentation, then there’s something not right with it – keep reading, analysing, whittling and waiting and you’ll get it right.

I had a Keynote once that just felt wrong. I was worried about delivering it, not because of nerves but because it just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t work out what was wrong. So I sat and thought about it the night before the talk and it came to me. I ripped out 5 slides and told a different story. It felt right – and it worked. (And thankfully the organisers were cool with me changing it last minute).

Doing a presentation is art.

It’s your art to do with it as you see fit – but remember your purpose, audience and context.

There are many ways to structure a talk – my favourites are:

Consider the following ideas though when building your talk:

  1. Write the talk to be spoken. You will be speaking it so write like you speak. Once you’ve written it out, read through it. And realise you got it wrong 🙂 . Edit it. Read it again.
  2. Use simple language and avoid Jargon. David Ogilvy said this: “Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification,attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” – (
  3. Tell a story – people like stories – they are crucial to how we learn and share knowledge
  4. Use plenty of images in any accompanying slides
  5. Use repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
  6. COIK – Clear Only If Known – don’t assume everyone knows everything you do – explain concepts and ideas well.
  7. Focus on the content not the slides – at least whilst building the talk. Great slides with no content is not good.
  8. Make it tweet-able – use simple and short sentences that can be tweeted. Like it or not the people in the audience will likely be on Twitter.
  9. Use metaphors and similes to explain


I like to use slides. But my slides are minimalist.

If you just had my slides you’d get the idea, but not the detail.

Slides help me to guide the talk and they support what I’m saying. They help to re-enforce the message. They help to document the tweet-ables. They don’t replace me.

One of the best presentations I’ve seen was by Sir Ken Robinson and he used no slides at all. Perfectly done. I’m aspiring to delivering a talk like his one day. Practice. (

Guy Kawasaki offers the following advice on slides:

Use the 10-20-30 concept.

  • 10 Slides
  • 20 Minute talk
  • 30 Point font

I like it as benchmark – but see what works for you. There is no hard and fast rule.

Use big fonts, use nice clear and good quality photos, use text sparingly.

Don’t use clipart. Don’t use transitions, unless for comedy effect. Don’t put lots of text in slides unless you really have to – like they are to be handed out for clients as slide-docs – even then try to resist and create two separate documents.

Death by Powerpoint is just as possible in Keynote or Prezi. The tool is not the problem – it’s the person using it that’s to blame.


  1. Practice the presentation many many many many times.
  2. Run through the presentation with your slides – don’t be afraid to re-write bits.
  3. Learn the opening off by heart. Learning the opening means you’ll keep the nerves at bay longer and you’ll nail that introduction. Fluff the intro and it could send you tumbling.
  4. Learn the closing statement off by heart. You want them to leave with the right message – nail that ending.
  5. Learn the middle to a point you know most of it. For Keynotes I learn the entire thing and treat it like a play.
  6. Use a clicker (a remote device for moving the slides forward or backwards). If you don’t have one, check the venue does. If not, invest in one. They are most useful. If you’ve never used one before though practice with it.
  7. Time it. Time it again. Time it again. Time it again. And re-jig it where necessary. Set markers and milestones so you know how you’re getting on against the overall time. It’s never good to find you’re 15 minutes behind when you get given a 5 minute warning.
  8. When you deliver the presentation it will usually be quicker. Nerves will mean you’ll possibly miss bits, talk faster than normal and skip around the content a little. For a 40 minute talk I aim to have a talk that averages 35 minutes when I time it.
  9. Practice where you will be on the stage. Take the time to plan where you will walk, how you will walk and how quickly you will move. Build this in to the practice and talk.

Preparing to talk

You should now be ready to do the talk. Your slides are done, you’ve rehearsed and hopefully you’ve made it to the venue ok.

Now you need to get prepared to do the talk.

Don’t go in to the talk cold. Consider the following:

  1. Turn up really early to the venue. Don’t leave it to chance that you’ll make it in time. It’s not good to be rushing to your talk – that will just add further stress. I give myself a good hour before the talk.
  2. Scope out the venue. Go and see where you’ll be doing the talk. Walk the stage if you can. Sit in a few of the audience seats to see what parts of the stage they will see.
  3. Speak to the audio crew. Get set up with a radio mic (always try and get one of these if you can – it frees your hands). Test all of the audio and flick through your slides – make sure they look as expected (not all projectors and screens are made equal).
  4. Grab some water and make sure there is some during your talk.
  5. Work on your pre-talk nerves if you have them…. I like to spend the 20 minutes before the talk walking through my talk. I then spend the 5 minutes directly before my talk sitting quietly, breathing deeply and visualising a winning talk. Do what works for you.
  6. Check that the facilitator is introducing you. Don’t introduce yourself – let someone else do it for you. The start of your talk should be your impact statement not you talking about yourself. Give the facilitator the exact words to say and make sure they give you a good introduction.
  7. Dress well for the talk. I like to dress in jeans, shirt and blazer for my talks. Some people prefer shorts and a t-shirt. Do what works for you but remember that you’re a personal brand and your clothing communicates a lot about you. Don’t wear tight clothes that restrict your movement. Don’t wear noisy clothes or shoes that will create noise as you move.


As soon as you take to the stage you’re on. Nail it. Own it.

Stand tall. Be proud. Enjoy the moment. All easier to say than do.

Here’s 8 ideas to play with – I would suggest you read widely about presenting – there are a lot of really good books and resources in the references section of this guide.

  1. Own the introduction. You have practiced it – now deliver it. Nail the introduction and the rest will be a breeze.
  2. Pause. You don’t have to speak slower but try to pause more, especially for emphasis. Speed up, slow down, quiet, loud, pause, repetition – all useful in telling a compelling story.
  3. Don’t ummm and arrrr – if you have rehearsed you’ll see less of this anyway. Try to be conscious of when you are doing this. Try to pause instead.
  4. Don’t apologise if you make a mistake. The audience have not seen your notes or heard your talk so they’ll not know if you made a mistake or got out of sync – not unless you tell them you did – so don’t. Instead take a deep breath, regain your composure and crack on.
  5. Move about the stage. Try not to stand still and avoid standing behind a microphone/lecturn if you can avoid it. Don’t walk around without intent though. It should be deliberate otherwise you’ll just cause a distraction.
  6. Pick your audience members and talk to them. Try to choose someone on the left, right and in the middle. Look in to their eyes and speak to them. Rotate around them but not just left, middle, right, left, middle, right. Mix it up otherwise you’ll look like a robot.
  7. Don’t read your slides. Don’t turn and read your slides. If you have good slides there should be very little text on them. Don’t turn your back to the audience and talk – it comes across as rude.
  8. If you have to draw something, like during a meeting, then draw the item first (with your back turned to the audience) and then turn to explain and talk.
  9. Try to have fun. Try to enjoy the moment. It’s not always easy to enjoy yourself on stage but at least smile – the sheer fact you’re smiling sends a powerful message to your audience.
  10. Speak clearly. Try not the mumble and try to be as clear as possible – especially so if your audience is made of people who don’t speak the same language as you do.
  11. If you have a call to arms like “sign up for my mailing list” or “go here to buy my book” then get this in before the round of applause and end of the presentation. This will allow you to still have the attention of the crowd whilst you ask for them to do something.
  12. Open up for questions.


You’ll likely create a space for people to ask questions. This could be at the beginning of the talk but usually it is at the end.

Here’s a few ideas about dealing with questions.

  1. Let the person ask the complete question before you answer. Try not to interrupt and answer before you have heard the question.
  2. Repeat the question to the wider audience. It’s not uncommon for the wider audience to not hear the question, so repeat the question for the wider audience.
  3. Don’t say “good question” – it makes all other questions look like rubbish questions. Try instead to say “interesting question” or “I’ve never been asked that before” or “thank you for the question”.
  4. Answer the person asking the question. Look at them and answer the question. There is no harm in looking around the wider audience but the answer should be targeted at the person who asked the question.
  5. Have a final slide after the “questions” or end slide with data if you’re talking about something technical. It’s not a problem to skip to that page to show facts relating to your presentation. However, you should be aware that if you’re including facts and figures because you think you’ll get asked a question, then include them in the presentation to start with.
  6. Say “I don’t know”. If you don’t know the answer to the question asked then there is no harm in saying so. It’s also fine to say “No” to a question. If there is something you’re not happy answering then say so – or ask them to meet up after the talk for further details.
  7. Don’t let people waffle on and on. I learned this the hard way when someone asking a question wasn’t actually asking a question – they were making a statement. And it was a long statement. And I should have cut him off and brought the session back to questions – my audience deserved more and I didn’t deliver. Now I know I need to bring it back by interrupting and asking them to get to the question and respect the other audience members. It’s the same thing when you have someone hogging the mic for more than one question.


Speaking at a conference is a great experience. It can help you grow immensely and it can do wonders for your own personal brand or that of the company you represent. It can push you past what is comfortable and it can provide you with great experience to bring in to the work place.

In most industries now it’s becoming common place to present your ideas. And it’s a great skill to have.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this free guide.

Why not head over to my website and subscribe – that way you’ll never miss a post.

Reference list

Davies, G. (2010). The presentation coach : bare knuckle brilliance for every presenter. Chichester, England: Capstone Publishing Ltd (featured in my recommended reading list)

Duarte, N. (2008). Slide:ology : the art and science of creating great presentations. Beijing ; Sebastopol, Ca: O’reilly Media. (featured in my recommended reading list)

Garr Reynolds (2010). Presentation zen design : simple design principles and techniques to enhance your presentations. Berkeley, Calif.: New Riders, Cop. (featured in my recommended reading list)

Kawasaki, G. (2016). Guy Kawasaki. [online] Guy Kawasaki. Available at:

Lavenda, D. (2013). Once Upon A Time At The Office: 10 Storytelling Tips To Help You Be More Persuasive. [online] Fast Company. Available at:

Peters, K. (2010). How to Breathe When Public Speaking. [online] Available at:

Popova, M. (2012a). 10 Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy. [online] The Marginalian. Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan. 2023].

Popova, M. (2012b). How to Give a Great Presentation: Timeless Advice from a Legendary Adman, 1981. [online] The Marginalian. Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan. 2023].

Port, M. (2015). Steal the show : from speeches to job interviews to deal-closing pitches, how to guarantee a standing ovation for all the performances in your life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (featured in my recommended reading list)

Robinson, K. (2006). Do schools kill creativity? [online] Available at:

Young, S.H. (2007). 18 Tips for Killer Presentations. [online] Lifehack. Available at: