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Approaches to a large speaking event

Are you interested in speaking at larger events and curious how one gets asked. Here is the backstory to the moment I got what I consider “my big break”. Also, it didn’t just happen there were several talks that lead to this moment.

How I was approached:

I got an email from LinkedIn inbox request to connect from person named Vehbi who lives in Istanbul. HUH? Who do I know from there? I have a philosophy that I’ll open my doors to anyone. Which means I’m all ears. So I accept. I get this message on Jan 3rd 2015:

Original LinkedIn message

I remember preparing a list of people to recommend. Who do I know? Oh I know several people who would be great. I replied:

“Sure i’ll add you. Please note i’m in meetings for most of the day. I’ll ping you when I can” – me

Approaches for you to consider:

We exchanged handles and agreed to ping each other on Skype. Moments later we hopped on a video call and while I was prepared to share names of well known designers. He insisted he wanted… ME! (Yeah I know the message clearly says me. duh moment) Their team had watched the recording of the Worktech Westcoast 2014 talk which is why they reached out.

Often a video if you speaking is the key to get into an event. Most coordinators want to see how you present in front of an audience. If you are just starting out record yourself speaking and upload it. Other options are to see if there is a local event you can speak at and find a friend to record it. Upload it! Put yourself out there! Even better is finding an event that will be recorded so you can link to it.

This person then introduced me to the coordinators. I wanted clarity in the details. If you also get the opportunity small or large PLEASE make sure you ask similar questions to the event organizers!

Where is this event?
Get a sense of the location and set up. Is it a stage? Auditorium? Open Space? Where does the audience sit? Stadium style? or tables? Will you be comfortable and flexible for the arrangement? Will it be dark or semi-lighted? For me it is important that I feel confident in the space and get a sense of how I can move in it. I will practice in a similar arrangement to prepare for how I will show up.

The UXIstanbul event was in a hotel where we were staying. The stage was large and the end of a ballroom. I also had two large double screens displaying my presentations. My presentation had bold slides with large text. A few of them were coloured too light and was illegible. Watch out for that! Also lights were shining super bright and the room was dark!

What is the theme of the event?
It is important that you know how you can connect to the theme of the event. The coordinators have a goal in mind. Ask questions to get more clarity. Sometimes the organizers leave room for you to decide but it is important to ask questions. Why they decided to run the event? What is the purpose of the event?

If that is not helpful ask questions such as: What are other speakers sharing? What would you like the audience to get out of the experience? Ask the coordinators and team their opinions as well. They are working on creating a successful event as well. One of my favourite questions to ask yourself and others is: If an attendee would post or share what they learned, what would they say post event? This will help you curate a topic and modify your presentation to best connect to the event theme.

The UX Istanbul 2015 event was the first UX event in Turkey and in Eastern Europe. They wanted to bring the conversation of UX to the community. My topic was a good intro that lead to the process of innovation for product decisions at Microsoft. I’ll honestly admit that for this event I had little context to the purpose. So, I picked a passion product that I was working on at Skype Microsoft. Sometimes it is picking a topic that you have a sense of purpose for and tell your story about it.

Who will attend?
How many people do you expect? What disciplines will they represent? What is the average age? Why do you think they will attend? Get a sense who is attending are they beginners or seasoned experts. If you are designer speaking to engineers you might want to modify your talk to connect a bit more with your audience. If you are speaking to seasoned experts try not to educate or teach relatively basic learnings.

UX Istanbul 2015 event was attended by local businesses in Turkey and Eastern Europe. Which meant that not everyone spoke english! Actually this one I was not prepared for. I was translated by live translators in the back of the room. That means that if I had a joke the punchline would take about 30 seconds to be realized by the audience. Thats a long delay. Even longer than expected. In this case know that you may want to pause more than normal.

How does your talk relate to the event schedule?
Find out how much time you have. Is it 20 minutes and 5 minutes of questions? Are questions even possible? What will happen before and after? Also note an afternoon talk after a long day of talks might want to lighten the mood with your talks. Are their other talks going on at the same time? If so you can consider having a catchy title to gain more attendees.

I was told I had about 50 minutes and questions. This means for my presentation style I had about 60 slides. My presentations are image heavy and I say a sentence on each slide. I would recommend figuring out your pace and practicing. I usually recommend 1 slide per minute or fewer slides for most people. As far as topic related tips, I was naive and didn’t know the other speakers or their topics. I watched their talks and tried to connect but I wasn’t that successful at it.

Bonus: Research on the topics before you. If you can attend them in person you can try to ad-hoc connections to them.

After gaining more clarity, I agreed to the event. It was one of my better presentations. 😍 For the event context, read the summary of the UX Istanbul 2015.

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