Presenting at Conferences for Dummies

I was watching Defcon Unlocked Presentations and was inspired to blog about it.

The conversation centered around new people and especially women and minorities who feel like their message or their voice is unsuited for public consumption, especially at large conference venues. Many people who I greatly respect weighed in on this topic, and I'd recommend it for watching. This is my take.

Know your message. Cater to an audience. You're not an imposter. Inspire people. Take it seriously. Don't be afraid of failure. Know your support. Design with intent. Presenting is a skill.

1) Know your message. It's not about counting the 'ums.' It's about knowing what you want to sa, and saying it succinctly, or with humor. It's like Zen meditation. The more you think about not thinking, the harder it's going to be. Instead of thinking about how often you're saying "um," think about the point you're trying to get across, and have a plan about how you're going to do that.

2) Cater to an audience. Presentations aren't about you, they're about the audience. Too many people with great research get stuck in their heads when they present. It's your research. It's your thoughts. But, people come to a presentation instead of reading a blog post or a whitepaper or a git repo because they want to be entertained, and they want the kind of context they can't get more effectively from these other media. Why is your point relevant to them?

3) You're not an imposter. Not believing in or understanding your message's relevance and value is a huge problem for new speakers, especially women and minority contributors. The idea that everyone knows what you know, or no one would care about what you know is probably one of the biggest blockers, especially for new people. Go talk to people about your ideas in smaller settings to test out whether that's true or not. Fact check yourself. Use Twitter as a sounding board if you have to, but go outside your friend circle. You'll find someone DOES care about what you know, and someone DOESN'T know everything you know.

4) Inspire. Great presentations should make your audience leave with a question or an inspiration. If you are trying to teach someone how to do something, ask if it would work better with an interactive class instead of a presentation. Then write and deliver that class! If you made a cool new tool, what is the implication of your tool's use? Address that in your demos, your talking points. What about your topic should inspire people to contribute to it? What should this new knowledge make people want to do? You're not only presenting data, you should be motivating the audience.

5) Take it seriously. Don't lose your sense of humor; but don't change your demo last minute and break something and not try to fix it; don't get out of control drunk when you present; don't wait until three days before your conference to do any of your programming, research, or planning; don't say anything that you wouldn't want repeated to your mother, to a cop, to a judge, to your employer.  If you're not sure, from a legal standpoint, talk to EFF or your lawyer. Remember that cameras are everywhere, the Internet will haunt you for decades, and your integrity is on the line.

6) Don't be afraid of failure. Everyone screws up on stage. Everyone. Chances are, your favorite presentations have been delivered a dozen times before you saw them. The Demo Gods hate everyone. Do your best, and know it was your best, and you'll survive unscathed. Test yourself in a smaller venue first. B-sides are great in infosec.

7) Know your support. Know who your con contacts are. You should have a speaker liason or a conference organizer who is there to make sure any concerns you have (AV, location, etc.) are addressed. Know how to reach them and use them. Someone from your conference should be available to help you deal with trolls. If you have friends, make sure they know you're speaking. Most of us will come to support you! Your friends, your conference, and your audience at large should have your back.

8) Design with intent. Cute pictures are cute, but data matters. If you're going to use a presentation deck, make sure it's relevant and supports what you're saying in a way that is meaningful (even if the point is to add humor), but don't read your slides. Make sure your audience can read your slides (if you can't suss out your words/intention using a fullscreen view on your laptop from 10 to 12 feet away, the audience can't either). Vet your deck and your preso with pros. Proving Grounds track at B-Sides will assign you a mentor. Heck, I'll give you a critique if you need it.

9) Presenting is a skill. Just like a sport, or a talent, presenting requires practice before you get better. People who do this well weren't born doing it well. Acknowledge that you will get better. You won't be perfect when you first start. Be patient and learn from your mistakes, but don't be afraid to try.


Philips Huges said...

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Philips Huges said...

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