As a somewhat frequent public speaker, I have an internal checklist, besides actual preparation of the presentation. Over time, the list grew longer and longer, as I noticed things at conferences that I would have liked to know in advance. So I’m writing it down to not forget anything in the future, and to share it with other speakers and also conference organizers.

There are three separate checklists.

  • Questions for the organizer are questions about venue and organization that I’d like to clarify with the organizer to be well prepared. If you are a conference organizer, these are the things your speakers will be grateful to know in advance.
  • Checklist before going is mostly my packing list, before leaving home
  • Checklist before talk contains the final preparations at the venue, just before the talk

Questions for the Organizer

Slide Format

Should the slides be 4:3 or 16:9 to use the space efficiently?

Room Brightness

The question is whether dark or bright backgrounds for your slides are more suitable. In a dark room with a bright LCD screen, white backgrounds may hurt the eyes. In an illuminated room, dark backgrounds may be hard to read.

Room and Screen Size

If the screen is relatively small compared to the room and if there are no additional screens, you should not use small fonts. Slides that are not crammed with text and which use big fonts are good anyways, but it’s still good to know.

Screen Setup

Is the full screen visible for the audience when you are standing on stage? Is there a speaker monitor and if so, is it synced, or is it possible to show a different screen, i.e. speaker notes? Can you use your own laptop?

Stage Setup

Are you standing on a stage, above the audience or at ground level? Is there a lectern? Can you move around?

Audio and Video

Is there a headset or a handheld microphone? I’d like to know if I can use my hands freely.

Will the talk be recorded?

Moderation

Will there be moderation in between the sessions? Will the talk be announced? Will the speaker be introduced?

It really makes a difference if there’s a moderator that announces you and your talk, and that moderator is actually prepared. Ben Marks does a great job at MageTitans UK. But I’ve seen everything – from moderators that have no idea about the speaker and topic to no moderator at all and you are expected to just start when it’s your time.

Also, it’s good to know if you have to start by introducing yourself.

Time

How long is the real time for the talk (and is it possible that it will change due to short-term schedule changes)? Is there time reserved for Q&A? How long is the pause between your talk and the next?

Audience

Will the majority be native speakers? Are there cultural differences that one should be aware of? For tech talks, what’s the expected level of experience? The latter is a bit hard to judge and also depends on your abstract. But especially for single-track conferences where the attendees can not choose to watch a different talk, it is important to find a balance between too trivial and too challenging.

Speaker Room

Is there a dedicated room for speakers to retreat for preparations and to lock stuff?

Slide Publishing

Will the slides be published on behalf of the organizer? If so, before the conference, right afterwards, or later? Is it okay, to publish them on your own before?

Checklist before Going

Packing list

  • Laptop with power
  • Country adapter, if necessary
  • HDMI adapter, if necessary
  • Own clicker that works with your laptop
  • Slides, backed up on USB drive

Slide Test

Slides should be functional without internet connection. If in doubt about the light, prepare slides in two versions, with dark and bright background.

Even if your slides are highly interactive with tons of “fireworks”, be ready to present with flat PDf files, there is always a risk of incompatible systems. If you DO need all those bells and whistles, make sure you will do a test drive with the media team at least hour before (see also below: Checklist before Talk).

Slide Upload

Upload the slides in advance (e.g. Slideshare, Speakerdeck, own website). You’ll be able to publish the URL right after your talk on Twitter or elsewhere. But also put the link inside (Shortlink or QR code are helpful). Either on the last slide, or if you want people to be able to follow along on their own devices, on the first one. This will be helpful if the screen is not visible enough for the whole audience.

Checklist before Talk

As a final preparation step before starting, make yourself familiar with the room. Check from the back of the audience if everything on screen and on stage is visible. Is the font size really big enough? Where can you stand without blocking the view of the screen or creating shadows and at the same time still be visible for audience and video (if recorded).

If you updated your slides since sending them to the organizer or want to use your own laptop, make sure you review the version that is ready for presenting with the media team at least one hour before the talk. Often, there will be time reserved for tech checks in the morning before presentations start, otherwise use the coffee or lunch break.

And just before you start:

  • walk around the stage and own it.
  • Make sure that there’s a bottle or glass of water within reach.
  • Take something against sore throat if necessary.
  • Go to the bathroom.
  • Breathe. Relax.

Bonus: Organizer Checklist

Thanks to feedback from Marta Molińska and Kuba Swolinski from the Meet Magento PL organizing team, I could already add a few points to the lists above. They also shared additional thoughts to consider as an organizer to make the experience better for speakers:

  • provide sound time indicators (ex. 10/5 min before end of time)
  • be ready for some technical problems / emergency situations with backup – to avoid silence on stage and confused audience
  • approve with speaker how you introduce the speaker on stage
  • there should be one person responsible for the agenda/speakers that is at the reception desk and may introduce herself/himself to the speakers when they arrive so they know who to address issues or problems

Summary

It’s good to know in advance what to expect as a speaker. Even if things are not always optimal if I know about them in advance, I can prepare myself and deal with the insufficiencies. In the future I will use this checklist to clarify as much as possible beforehand.

As a conference organizer, please make sure to give as much information as possible about the setup in advance to your speakers. This will especially help new speakers to not experience bad surprises.

I’m probably still going to add more to it over time. If you have any additions, feel free to comment!

Fabian Schmengler

Author: Fabian Schmengler

Fabian Schmengler is Magento developer and trainer at integer_net. His focus lies in backend development, conceptual design and test automation.

Fabian was selected repeatedly as a Magento Master in 2018 based on speaking engagements, active participation on StackExchange and contributions to the Magento 2 core.

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