Things I learnt from my first conference talk

Recently, I got the chance to speak at c0c0n X security conference on "Problems with Honeypots". This was my first time speaking at a conference (can check this off my wishlist now). The talk went well, (probably) was well received and I would definitely like to speak/present more in coming future.

If you are also speaking for the first time and looking for a resource to get some pointers, allow me to share an excellent blog post by Troy Hunt: Speaker style bingo: 10 presentation anti-patterns.

Here's a quick list of things I learnt:

  • First things first, (almost) no one gets it right the first time. Your first public talk is not going to be a perfect joyride, but it will a great experience. Expect some things going wrong.

  • It's a great learning experience. Whenever you are preparing for your talk, you need to know all there is to know for that topic. There would a good amount of pressure on you to prepare properly, read everything and try your demos again and again. This makes sure you learn, so you can deliver a good talk.

  • Do not underestimate the process of Presentation-making. I thought I had a content and it would be a matter of 1 day to finish it all. Nope! It took me sleepless nights to finish my (probably presentable) slides, despite having all the content in my head.

  • Start early. Here's another of my mistakes. I thought I had a lot of time. From acceptance of my talk to conference date, I had around 50-55 days. I didn't do anything for first 30 days, big mistake, which led to sleepless nights before my talk.

  • Time your presentation well. Since there are back-to-back talks in conferences, you are only going to get the specified amount of time (Or as was my case, even less). You should pace your presentation well so you are able to present everything that you have planned. If you feel you have too many things to cover, consider converting the talk to a workshop (as I should have), if possible. Also, it's plain bad etiquette to eat into someone else's presentation time.

  • It's okay to have not-extraordinary content. Not every single talk in a conference is new/upcoming/etc. topic. It is okay if you feel your talk is not as flashy as other talks. As long as you are sharing something that needs to shared and heard, it should be fine.

  • Be prepared for the unknowns. No matter how well you are prepared, one thing or other could (and probably would) go down. Don't panic at that time. For example, I had prepared extensive notes in my slides (with all the jokes, puns and one-liners). However, at the time of my talk, I was given a low-height table, instead of a podium. Now this meant that I couldn't read notes from my laptop because it would've been awkward if I kept checking my laptop. Anyway, I survived.

  • Just do it. I know it's a cliché, but there's no replacement of learrning by doing. So, go ahead and submit your paper somewhere and Speak! Sure, you will be rejected a few times, but keep learning. Check CFPTime for open Call for Papers (CFP).

All the best and happy hacking!