Brendan Dawes
The Art of Form and Code

Things I’ve learnt so far from speaking at conferences

I’ve been lucky enough to speak at various design related events for over thirteen years. Every talk I do I learn new things. I'm no expert but here’s what I’ve learned so far...

When on stage, don’t act like you’re on stage

Speaking on stage is an honour. Chances are the people in the audience are way more talented than you so don’t act like you’re some kind of Demigod descended from the heavens to impart your wisdom to the lucky bastards sat in front of you. You eat, sleep and shit just like everyone else.

Every time a showreel is shown a kitten dies

Nobody, and I mean not even your mum, wants to go to a conference and see you stand on stage, say hello and press a button to show a showreel. It’s lazy. People want to hear your stories; the bits nobody can find on the web, the unknown secret stuff.

Push eject before it's too late

I’ve seen many great talks that suddenly descend into flames when a tech demo goes wrong. It’s not however because of the demo failing but due to the speaker refusing to move past the failure. Instead they repeatedly keep trying to get the thing to work, then, as tech people appear on stage, the audience begins to lose interest and walk out. Forget it. Or better yet do a video of said wonderful thing.

Assume nothing

Don’t assume the AV guy will have that adapter for your Mac or PC. Plan for bad things happening. Carry the correct adapters, backup your presentation, stick it in the cloud (whatever that is), put it on a USB key or give it to your mate Graham for safe-keeping in the glovebox of his Ford Mexico. He owes you from when you helped him with replacing that fence panel anyway.

The Internet will be closed

Don’t ever try and connect to the Internet in your presentation. 9/10 times it will fail because the Wifi at conferences is crap (it’s actually conference law). If there’s something you want to show that requires Internet connectivity make a video of it. They pretty much always work.

When your slides are ready, delete half of them

I always do this, but then I'm in good company – the actor Steve McQueen did this with his scripts. Take all that text out — nobody ever reads it. Your slides are just visual queues for you to say brilliant things. Never ever read text on a screen verbatim. More kittens will die if you do.

Insert silence

Silence and a well timed pause is a very powerful thing. It also adds rhythm. Think about your presentation having a good narrative arc. Like a film. Unless that film is called Mamma Mia, which is shit.

Don't add to the stress of organising a conference

Putting on conferences is hard and stressful - don't make it worse. I have a speaker page at a URL I send to conference organisers. It has everything they could want to know — from my nearest airport, whether I have food allergies (I don’t), my hatred of beer (that's probably specific to me) to frequent flyer numbers as well as speaker bio (short and long), photo and what equipment I bring and what I will need. It stops you having to put this stuff together every time in an email and I’ve found organisers love it. If you leave a good impression then you’re more likely to be asked back.

Remove the ambiguity

Say right up front what your fee is and what else you expect such as travel expenses and hotel accommodation if needed. Organisers appreciate the direct approach. Know your worth.

Never ever do a double-header

Unless you’re both comedy genius’s in the guise of Morecombe & Wise don’t even attempt it. The people in the office said you’re both really funny? They know you and they’re being kind. Two headed presentations kill the flow of any presentation and it’s all about flow. There are exceptions but they are rare.

And finally - never ever sing a musical number before your talk

Musicals are not a valid art form.