Preparing for my first ever Conference Talk

Once I read the email from Rosie, I was understandably very excited. I remember reading posts on Twitter last year and was suffering a bit from TestBash envy. Luckily speaking at TestBash this year meant that 2016 didn’t have to be a repeat of that 😉

A few months passed after I received the email and then March 11 started to approach. Time to knuckle down!

Starting Point and Writing the Talk

I first went over my abstract again to “jog my memory” to see the message I was trying to communicate when I had submitted it (note a good few months had passed).

After this I copy-pasted this into a Google Docs and committed to expanding on this document once every few days until I had reached 20 minutes of “talking time”. Initially when I timed myself, it was a 5 minute speech, then 8 minutes, then 11 minutes etc. until I got just over 20 minutes of “talking time”.

Each time I went over it, I asked myself:

  • Is there any useless stuff I can take out? (I did my best to be brutal)
  • What’s good?
  • What can be improved?
  • Does anything need to be reordered to help make the message clearer?
  • Is my talk still consistent with the Abstract? (I wanted to deliver what I set out to)


Throughout February and March, I paced around my apartment many times, as I practiced but also talked to myself through it as I said stuff like “na, take that part out” and “hmm, not sure about that – park it for now then look back later”.

My initial approach was to try and memorise the whole thing. I’ve done this for Toastmasters speeches including the one I gave the week before TestBash, but these are nowhere near as long as the TestBash talk I gave. Toastmasters speeches have mainly been 5-7 minutes, but this talk was going to be at least 20 minutes. Then I tried to focus on editing the slides so they served as good “triggers” while I was giving my presentation.

I practiced on average 1-2x a day in the 2 weeks leading up to TestBash. Usually I would put my laptop on the kitchen bench (as it’s more eye-level) and then practice giving my talk using my arms etc. as if it was the real thing.


Asking for Feedback

I first got feedback from Diana from House of Test about 3 weeks before TestBash. Diana gave me feedback at the end about the slides and some of the ideas I was communicating.

Later, I practiced with Martin Hynie in the two weeks leading up to TestBash.

Martin initially asked me what I wanted feedback on. I said that I’m happy to change the order of things, and expand on ideas or take away from some (e.g. to shorten them) but I wasn’t willing to change anything too drastically. He said that in the first “draft” there wasn’t enough of “me” in it. I was simply reporting things that happened but didn’t give much insight into how I felt about it nor did I really put myself in the picture. He also encouraged me to ask the audience questions –  if I presented the talk without getting feedback from Martin, they would’ve just heard my beautiful kiwi accent for 30 minutes straight.

Dealing with my nerves

Martin suggested that I take some time out shortly before my talk so I could gather my thoughts. I liked the sound of this as I’m very restless when I’m nervous and wanted a way to get rid of some of my pent-up energy.

On the day itself, Emma Armstrong offered to go for a walk with me or spend some time with me – I took her up on that offer. While Bill Matthews was giving his talk (his was right before mine), we went for a walk around the block so I could get a bit of a time-out.

Once we got back, we had about 10-15 minutes to spare. I started doing some power poses from the Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk as I heard they could help in situations like this. Then I paced (to help calm my nerves and improve my step count on Fitbit) before the mic was set up and I went on stage.

How I would improve the preparation process for my next talk

Overall, I am happy with what I did to prepare for my first ever conference talk. The main thing I would focus on next time, is to manage my expectations with regards to my memory. Memorising a 20 minute presentation was probably a bit of a big ask. With that in mind, I would’ve edited my slides to serve as better “triggers” for what I would say next throughout the presentation.

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