How to Give a Good Conference Talk

By on April 17, 2014

I talk at a fair amount of conferences. Over the years, I’ve taken notes on how to do it well (this pre-supposes that I do it well, which is very much up for debate).  I figured I’d share these notes.

Now, understand that I give a very specific type of conference presentation, which is 30-50 minutes and always based around a presentation deck (a Power Point).  This might not fit for everyone.  Some of you might be doing a short speech unsupported by any visuals. If so, pick and choose from the sections below.

Also, I don’t offer this list as hard-and-fast rules, nor do I think it’s the only way to do it. This is simply what works for me. I concede that other people may have entirely different ways of doing it.

Here are my notes, edited slightly to make for a better blog post. If you’re staring down a conference presentation, I hope they help you.  (And, in the true spirit of PowerPoint, these are in the form of bullet points, because that’s how I wrote them down originally.)

Questions to Ask the Organizers

The answers to these questions will help you, either explicitly or implicitly. The idea here is that it’s good to get as much background info as you can, because whether you’re aware of it or not, it will influence your talk as you put it together.

Planning Your Talk

Preparing Your Deck

Rehearsing Your Talk

Giving The Actual Talk

If you want some more good tips, take a look at this: 11 Top Tips for a Successful Technical Presentation. In particular, read the comments there – lots of great stuff submitted in the comments. It’s also worth noting that Scott Hanselman is the presenting style that I really try to emulate: he’s so wonderfully relaxed when he talks that you feel like you’re in it with him, rather than being lectured to.

If I could replicate one talk (in vibe and style, not so much content), it would be this one: It’s not what you read, it’s what you ignore. That’s Scott at WebStock 2012 in New Zealand. It’s fantastic.

It helps that Scott has spoken at my company, sitting at my breakroom table. It’s easy to like someone when they do that for you.



  1. Osmyn says:

    Thanks for your post! My process is almost spot on with yours, and you are doing a few things that I will try next time. One thing I do like to do when brainstorming is to write ideas onto sticky notes and put them all over my table. Then, I'll take blank sheets of paper and start grouping the ideas onto pages, which then become my sections for the talk.

    There is a Pluralsight video (paid subscription needed) by John Papa that has some great tips that compliment the information you linked to from Scott.

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