I’ve been fortunate to build a fairly successful career as a public speaker. I’ve given talks all over the world, and I’ve had amazing adventures meeting incredible people. I’ve done all of this while maintaining a full time job as an engineering manager. So, I speak about software development based on my actual experience instead of just spouting theories from the stage.
Because I’m not a full time public speaker, I have to be very efficient in how I handle scheduling opportunities to speak. I have to quickly understand what the event organizers need from me and get the information that will help me present the best version of myself on their stage at the event. So, I’ve become very good at confirming a few things early in the process.
1 - Title
This may seem obvious, but it’s vital to confirm the title of the presentation you’re giving. I subscribe to the idea that speakers should write a great talk and give it multiple times. For example, one of my most popular talks is called Lending Privilege, and I’ve given it countless times. When I’m asked to give it, the title of the talk they want me to give is usually just “Lending Privilege”.
However, there have been times when I’m asked to put a spin on my talk. For example, I’ve given “Lending Privilege” at family coding camps, and I often change the title to something like “Lending Privilege: Family Edition”. I also tailor the content as needed. Confirming the title the event organizers are expecting avoids an awkward situation when I’m introduced on stage with a different title than I have on my slides.
2 - Date and Time
Again, this may seem obvious, but the date and time of the presentation is crucial to confirm up front. I sometimes get speaking opportunities in rapid succession, and I have an entire document that I use to track them. It’s also important to make sure to remember that event organizers talk about time relative to their local time rather than your home timezone.
For international events, I also make check to see if there are any major holidays in the country I’m visiting close to the time of the event. It’s possible that finding a hotel or even flying into the country can be difficult or impossible if a major local holiday is going on. This information helps me book my travel in an informed way.
3 - Location
While you need to confirm the city and country you’ll need to get to in order to speak at an event, you want to make sure that you know the address of the venue. Furthermore, you should confirm the entrance you’ll need to use as well as the floor of the room in which you’ll be speaking.
I’ll often pull up Google Street View just to make sure I have a visual picture of the venue. I then zoom in to make sure I know the exact door specified by the event organizers that I should use to enter the building. You don’t want to be on the schedule to give the opening keynote early in the morning and find yourself locked out because you’re at the wrong entrance. This is especially important in foreign cities that specify street addresses differently than what you’re used to in your home country.
4 - Audio/Video Equipment
You’ll need to confirm the audio setup used by the venue in the room where you’ll be speaking. Most places will have a standard setup with a podium and a big projector behind you that will show your slides. However, what connector do you need to hook your laptop to their system? Will you even need your laptop at all because they will provide one for you? Will a clicker be provided, too?
I personally prefer to use my own equipment (laptop,clicker, etc.) because it removes variables and reduces risk. I rehearse using my own equipment, and I know it works. There’s a lot of uncertainty if I use someone else’s gear.
5 - Sensitive Subjects
Whether you’re speaking to tech communities at conferences or employees at corporate events, you should ask if there are any sensitive subjects. Communities sometimes go through public controversies, and you should be aware about how the event organizers view the different points of view about those controversies. If you’re giving a talk at a company, you should know if there have been any recent layoffs or if an acquisition is on the horizon. Learning this helps you modify your level of empathy to match any trauma the audience has experienced (or will experience in the future).
These five items are critical things speakers need to confirm with event organizers far in advance, but there are many more details you’ll need to nail down. I’ve open sourced on GitHub the speaker agreement template (written in LaTeX) that I use to align with the needs of the event. This is document is extremely useful for making sure you and the event organizers are on the same page.