10 tips for hosting an engaging talk at a conference

Hosting a talk at a conference is a great networking tool for bloggers. It puts you in front of a lot of other influencers. It postures you as an expert. It allows you to talk about your brand and expertise in a room full of colleagues. It is also a great starting point for working and expanding on your public speaking skills.

Here are a few pointers for making the best of a speaking opportunity at a blog conference:

1. Know your audience

You want to know your audience, and you also want to know how your topic is relevant to them. Who are the people coming to this conference, and what are they hoping to get out of it? It’s not a bad idea to crowdsource a bit if the conference has a Facebook page (or even from your own.) Talk to others familiar with the conference and get an idea of what information people really want to know about your topic. For example, if you are speaking on podcasting, find out what conference-goers want to know about this. Do they want help with monetization? Do they need tips on production? Are they beginners, or are most of them already podcasting? Knowing who is coming and what information they are seeking can help you tailor your topic so that it feels relevant to your audience.

2. Do your research

Make sure that you have really drilled into the topic you are speaking on so that you have a broad knowledge base. For example, perhaps you are speaking on monetization, but your experience lies mostly in ad networks. Make sure you’ve researched all avenues (affiliate sales, consulting, sponsored posts, etc.) so that you are not limited to your own experience, Ask other colleagues in the field for advice, read articles on the subject, and show up with solid information.

3. Give real numbers

It can be incredibly frustrating to go to a presentation on blogging when the speaker closely guards numbers around monetization, traffic, followers, and page views. If you are not comfortable sharing your own, take a poll or find another way to aggregate numbers. You are not doing anyone any favors by standing up to speak on a topic but then being vague.

4. Give real stories

Numbers and facts are important, but in order to really engage an audience and hold their attention, you need to tell some stories as well. Authenticity and humor goes a long way. Share with a level of vulnerability, whether you are talking about setting up work hours or the challenges of being a small business owner, and make the material relatable – your listeners will appreciate it and tune in to what you have to say.

5. Make visuals (and include your branding)

There is something to be said for good Powerpoint slides (or Keynote, if that is your jam.) Slides help keep the audience tracking with what you are saying, but they are also the perfect way to keep you on track as well. Slides can act as your own notes. Make sure to include your branding on every slide page, and also consider including your social handles in a small corner of each slide. If your audience is enjoying what you have to say, they are more prone to tweet quotes if they know your handle.

6. Consider a panel or conversation

If the idea of delivering a solo keynote fills you with fear, consider doing a panel or a conversation with a trusted colleague. A conversation allows you time to gather your thoughts, check your notes, and remember key points while someone else is momentarily in the spotlight. It can be much less anxiety-provoking than speaking alone, and it’s a great way to dip your toes in the waters of public speaking.

7. Leave time for Q&A

A time of question and answer has a lot of benefits: it’s conversational and allows you to be off-the-cuff instead of preparing a longer speech, it allows people to drill into areas in which they want more information, and it can be much less nerve-wracking than trying to memorize a longer speech. It’s a great idea to leave about one-fourth of your time to questions and answers. However, always be prepared just in case you get a quiet room with no questions.

8. Be authentic

Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Infuse the talk with your own personality and personal experiences. If there is something you don’t know, admit it. Share your own ups, downs, and wins, but also talk about the challenges you’ve faced.

9. Bring a big clock

Nothing is worse than standing up in front of a crowd and having no idea how much time is left. Don’t assume there will be a readable (or working) clock in the room, and don’t rely on checking your phone or watch – it’s not a good look for a speaker to be visibly checking the time. Find a small clock you can set on the podium, or ask a friend to give you visual cues of how much time is left at regular intervals.

10. Get a good night’s sleep the day before

It’s so tempting at a conference to catch up with friends, go to parties, and chat late into the night. but try to tone it down the night before you speak. Nerves and exhaustion are a bad combination and can lead to brain fog and anxiety. Show up rested, and your thoughts will be much clearer.