5 Things I Learned from Speaking at My First Conference

Among all of the classes that I was required to take for a Visual Communication degree, there was one crucial communication class missing from our list of courses: public speaking. And boy, would it have come in handy this fall as I was preparing for my first speaking engagement about branding in front of 80+ business owners at the Creative at Heart Conference. After hours of outlining and pinpointing what I wanted to say, rehearsing in front of Jake, and trying to calm the ever-increasing nerves as the conference approached, the presentation went better than I had hoped and it was a great learning experience. Today I'm sharing some firsthand insights with the hope that it might benefit all of you who have or wish to have a speaking engagement in your future.


5 Things I Learned from Speaking at My First Conference - Elle & Company

1. A solid outline goes a long way

I'm a big fan of lists and outlines; they help me collect thoughts and organize my ideas. Just like I do with each blog post, I spent time creating an outline for my presentation to determine what I wanted to speak about. Branding is a very broad topic and there are a several directions you can take when talking about it to a group of people, so I considered which direction would be the most helpful for my audience. I ended up covering the what, why, and how of branding: (1) What is branding? (2) Why is branding important? (3) How do I create a cohesive brand? Once I had an outline and a purpose to work toward, it was much easier to write the rest of the presentation; I just had to fill in the blanks. 

Creating an outline wasn't only helpful for me; I also learned that it was helpful for my audience. I wanted to make it easier for the them to follow along with me and stay engaged, so I designed a simple handout of my outline. It also gave my audience something to walk away with and refer back to when the presentation was over.

2. You aren't as nervous if you know the subject well

Public speaking is a big fear for many of us. I think we all get nervous at the thought of standing up in front of a large group of people and bombing a presentation. Mark Twain says it well: "There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars." 

I received another great piece of advice about nerves as I was preparing for the conference. "You won't be as nervous if you know the subject well." Although I will never run out of things to learn about design and branding, I have had training, education, and experience in this industry. So each time I would start to feel the nerves creeping in, I was comforted by the fact that I know this speaking topic well. I can (and do!) talk about design all day long, so I thought of it as an opportunity to share what I know with a new group of friends. And when I thought about giving other ladies practical tools that could greatly benefit them in their business, those nerves quickly changed to excitement. 

Knowing the subject well also allowed me to leave my flashcards at my seat and talk to the audience unscripted. Thankfully I had my slideshow to help me stay on track, but speaking from experience allowed me to be myself and make the presentation a bit more conversational. 

3. Informative doesn't have to be boring

In preparing for my presentation, my main goal was to give the audience something tangible that they could take away and implement after the conference was over. Branding is something that's frequently talked about and easy to understand in theory, but it's often much harder to put into practice and carry out. I spent a lot of time coming up with 10 ways that those creative entrepreneurs could create a more cohesive brand right away. I put a lot of focus on sharing useful information.

"The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives." Lily Walters

But all of that useful information wouldn't be remembered if I didn't make my presentation engaging. Jake and I watched our fair share of Ted Talks before I left for the Creative at Heart Conference, and while each one was very informative, the most engaging presentations found a way to add a little humor. With that said, you don't have to be a stand-up comedian to make a presentation more engaging, but stories, facts, and examples are all helpful for drawing your audience in. So I added examples throughout my talk and even fit a couple jokes in there (some on purpose, but most on accident). Informative presentations don't have to be boring. 

"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." Carl W. Buechner

4. You're the only one who knows if you deviate from your script

My talk was the last of four on the first day of the conference. Katelyn James kicked off the event as the first speaker, and I remember being blown away by how engaging and motivating her presentation was. When I talked to her afterward, I was shocked to learn that she completely missed some things that she had planned to cover. I would have never known! It was a couple hours before my presentation, and I realized that I was the only one who knew what was on my script. If I missed a point that I had planned on mentioning, no one would ever know but me. So when I overlooked some minor details that I had hoped to mention in my own presentation, I didn't beat myself up because my audience had no idea. 

5. Feedback is a wonderful thing

Feedback before the presentation

Practicing my talk in front of Jake was both awkward and extremely helpful. He helped me with my examples and offered suggestions on how I could explain things better. 

Feedback during the presentation

You don't realize just how important a head nod or a smile is until you're up in front of a large group of strangers with all of their eyes on you. I first encountered this insight when I taught aerobics in college; I depended on those woo's when I asked my class how they were doing. The same was true at the conference; little gestures let me know that my audience was engaged and that people were enjoying it. There were several ladies in particular who kept nodding and laughing at my jokes, and it kept me excited and encouraged as I continued my presentation. 

Feedback after the presentation 

I learned that it's helpful to ask for feedback on what you did well and what you can improve on for the future. This is useful for tweaking your approach and making your next speaking engagement even better.

I'm thrilled to be preparing for my next presentation at Round 2 of the Creative at Heart Conference this March! All of the seats sold out in the first 18 hours, but I have a feeling that there will be many more Creative at Heart conferences in the future. Be sure to visit their site and follow along with them on Instagram and Facebook for news and updates!

Which conferences and presentations have you enjoyed the most? Are there any public speaking tips you've found helpful?