Preparing to give a talk as a new speaker

This post was planned a bit with @gemma.hill1987 and @claire.reckless before they gave their first conference talk at TestBash Manchester this year.

I often hear people wanting to apply to conferences but are too nervous and worried about the preparation and being on stage. I think I’ll cover the application process in a separate Club post. This one aims to focus on a few things:

  1. How you felt when you got accepted to the conference?
  2. How did you prepare?
  3. Was there anything on the day you found particularly useful/calming?
  4. How did you feel after your talk?

This isn’t limited to Claire and Gem responding of course, all participation is welcome :smiley:


So I wrote an essay:

How you felt when you got accepted to the conference?

YAY people liked my idea oh god what have I done
Oh crap I’ve got to write a talk
Oh crap I’ve got to give a talk

How did you prepare?

  • Writing about 4000 words of talk and making 30 slides, then cutting down from there - write first, edit later are the words I live by :wink: I also was mostly done by…September? I am a preparer, so the earlier I was done, the better. You may be different! Do what makes you feel best.

  • Practising the talk, both bits of it and in full. I did it in front of people and I recorded it, like it was a podcast, just to get the timing right.

  • Yoga and Mindfulness

Was there anything on the day you found particularly useful/calming?

  • I got to see the room at the start of the day, before anyone was there, which was really good. I could get onto the stage, see how high it was, have a walk about. It was one less unknown to worry about.

  • Richard had asked for my talk so when my laptop refused to connect to the projector, it wasn’t a big thing to swap it over to Richard’s and go from there.

  • I loved the outfit I wore. I felt comfortable in it, I like how it looked, it was one less thing I was worried about.

  • Being able to go out on the balcony and breathe for a while was good

  • Colcannon is a good, nurturing comfort food, so that helped as well :smiley:

How did you feel after your talk?

  • Elated. Exhausted. A wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Other things:

I got some amazing help from the organisers and other members of the community. I got support for everything from actual input into my talk and slides through to listen to me flail over my nerves. Ask for things - ask ridiculous questions - the organisers want to help you out! The community is ridiculously supportive and will chat to you about your fears and ideas and give kind, constructive feedback.

The response to my talk was brilliant, and I want to thank the people who have spoken to me/tweeted/sent me messages. It was…overwhelming and left me speechless. I wasn’t prepared for the response! So if you’re thinking of doing your first talk: be prepared that people will want to talk to you about it! You may need to make an escape to chill directly after the talk to come down from the adrenaline.

Take water with you on stage! You might need it in the space between end of talk and questions.

Don’t take your phone with you, or don’t have it in your pocket at least. People will be tweeting/instagramming/etc, and if you have accounts on those you’ll be getting distracting notifications. I took my phone on stage with me for reasons I’m not sure of (comfort?), but kept it next to my laptop

That’s pretty much everything off the top of my head. There may be more after and I’m happy to answer questions :smiley:

TL;DR: Prep and practice. Look after yourself mentally and physically. Drink plenty of water.


Those are great tips, thank you!

I loved the “don’t take your phone with you” a lot and there’s a personal reason to it:
A few years ago I was speaking at a conference and put the battery pack/sender for the wireless microphone in the same pocket as my phone. Two minutes into the talk the phone started interfering with the microphone and a nice “doot doot doot” sounded from the speaker system.
I quickly realized my mistake and threw my robust old Nokia off the stage. While this woke people up and got me a nice chat with the person that returned my phone to me after the talk I wouldn’t recommend it.

As Gem said: Don’t take your phone with you (or put it in airplane mode, but then what’s the point?)

If I understood the initial post correctly it’s ok to jump in with my own answers to the questions, so here goes:

How you felt when you got accepted to the conference?
I felt so hyper, excited and happy that I actually started dancing at my desk in the Office.
Then I realized what I had gotten myself into and I was scared to death. Imposter Syndrome hit me hard and I felt like I would lower the bar massively because the other speakers would set it so high. Then again that made me prepare even harder.

How did you prepare?
I threw together a rough outline of the talk in PowerPoint and refined it from there.
I wrote every word I was going to say into the notes for each slide (english is not my first language). Then it was many iterations of practicing the talk by reading it out loud, fixing the flow, fixing my word choices, fixing the slides and back to practicing.
Once I got the timing right and didn’t stumble over words any more I practiced the talk whenever I could so I knew every word by heart.
Once I had the final slides in place I practiced the talk on a projector to see how the slides look there.
I was lucky to have the talk accepted at another conference before testbash so I could use the feedback from there to refine the talk even further. (As it doesn’t always work out that way I prefer to present the talk to a smaller group of people beforehand to get their feedback)

Was there anything on the day you found particularly useful/calming?
I gave my talk in Brighton so attending the morning run and enjoying the sea calmed me down a bit (thank you @punkmik for organizing it!)
Also realizing that there are people in the audience that I know helped.
Having a “dress rehearsal” with the handsfree microphone was great, one less thing to worry about before going on stage.

How did you feel after your talk?
So glad that it was over!
Happy that people seemed to like it, that I could answer the questions that came up.
With the stress and the adrenaline being over I crashed a bit and a massive headache set in for the rest of the day. Luckily I had brought painkillers with me (hint to other speakers!) so I could get back to talking with people soon.


I’m slightly more experienced in speaking, but this is an area I’m really interested in. Much like Heather, I’m trying to encourage folks within my team to have a go at this, which means trying to make my approach more transparent - so it loses some of the fear factor.

How you felt when you got accepted to the conference

First of all, always elation. But it erodes really quickly into anxiety - for me my main anxiety is around travelling. Living in NZ it often means a flight, and I hate flying.

Then I go look at what I submitted - it’s usually been a couple of months, so it’s “well, what did I actually say I was going to talk about”.

How did you prepare?

I usually put post it notes of ideas all over my computer / wall as I collect all the points I want. For my last talk, I did a mini walkthrough of the ideas with two friends, like how they storyboard movies. I’ve sometimes found I’m going down a wrong alley, and had to do a rethink.

Likewise will do a dry run with my team. There is no substitute for just doing the talk in front of people.

For my TestBash talk, my son was playing a 20 year younger version of myself (I got the idea from the audiobook of The Princess Diarist, where Carrie Fisher’s daughter does the same). He benefitted from doing it in front of the team, as well as watching me deliver the lines how I’d say it - it’s a bit unique to him, as he was playing me, but reminds me a story from Harry Potter where Helena Bonham Carter got Emma Watson to act out something so she could play a version of Emma “in disguise”.

Was there anything on the day you found particularly useful

Your talk will use a little bit of energy and nerves. I cannot state enough the importance of much like going on a long drive, going for a wee before you’re on stage. Seriously, this is masterclass stuff! You just don’t want to be onstage going “I knew I should have gone before!”.

The bathroom can be a good area to just get some privacy, a little bit of deep breaths. Just remember to zip everything back up afterwards - I’ve been caught out a couple of times.

I like to try to introduce myself to a few people, and encourage folks to be at my talks. When you look out at a room, seeing people and going “I know them” helps. When I did TestBash, I remember seeing my friend Gabrielle in the room, knitting. It threw me for a moment, but then greatly amused me.

How did you feel after your talk

I love mingling with people, but I find I need a little bit of privacy when I can grab it. For me talking is so much energy and adrenaline, it feels like you come to an abrupt stop at the end. It’s nice to give yourself room to come back down to earth.


How you felt when you got accepted to the conference?
Elated! Thrilled! But also like there had been some kind of giant mistake. I couldn’t believe people actually wanted to hear it, but so pleased they did. (I think I referred to this in the talk itself) I felt excited to be doing something new and really getting out of my comfort zone.
Also, fairly nervous, it being such a personal talk I was worried what the response would be.

How did you prepare?

  • I started by mindmapping the talk I wanted to do. Then I spent an awful lot of time over the next few months finding out as much as I could about the research into Impostor Syndrome so I could incorporate this as well as my own experiences.

  • I wrote the talk out as a sort of script, then tried to break it down over different slides, then started to refine this over a number of weeks.
    Once I had put the talk I wanted to do together I spent time talking it through out loud, to myself. This helped me to work out what might not work. Sometimes things in your head don’t sound quite like you imagine they will when you say them out loud! My husband (and the dog) also provided me with a very attentive audience.

  • Jit Gosai, a tester at the BBC, asked me if I’d like to do the talk at the regular BBC Test Craftsmanship session at their Salford offices so it was great to have the chance to present to a proper audience in the run up to Testbash, and Jit was great at providing tips on public speaking, so I owe him a big thanks for that opportunity.

Was there anything on the day you found particularly useful/calming?

  • I’d asked our compere, Leigh, if it would be possible to go and stand on the stage early on in the day, to get a feel for the room. Obviously once the place was filled up with people it wouldn’t be quite the same, but I think it really helped me. Things like knowing the size and height of the stage, as well as the positioning of the screen, and my laptop, helped me feel more prepared.

  • I skipped the talk immediately before mine to take some quiet time to go through my slides again, I was a bit gutted at missing Martin Hynie’s talk as I believe it was amazing but having that time for myself was really valuable.

  • When I was getting ready to go on stage so many people came up to me and wished me luck and said they thought I’d do a great job, so this helped boost my confidence somewhat!

  • Everyone involved in the organisation of the day couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive, even something like asking if I needed a glass of water was so helpful it felt like I didn’t need to think about anything apart from my talk.

  • Just before I started my talk I tried to look round and see who was in the room, were there friendly faces I could look at? Being able to look around the audience while I was speaking and see people I recognised was a massive help.
    Leigh also stood near the back so I knew I wouldn’t just be looking at the floor the whole time.

  • I wore something comfortable. I’d been back and forth about what to wear, but ultimately wanted to make sure I felt like ‘me’, and not having to worry about feeling awkward in my outfit. I almost exclusively wear jeans and boots, so would have felt weird wearing something else.

How did you feel after your talk

  • Proud I’d actually done it, elated(again!), happy that others seemed to find it useful.

  • I was relieved, as I was on fairly late in the day so I’d had lots of time for the nerves to build up!

  • I’d left my phone in my bag at the side of the stage so briefly checked Twitter on my laptop afterwards and it was wonderful to see such a positive response. Thanks to everyone who Tweeted or messaged me with feedback, as Gem said, it was pretty overwhelming.

  • I also felt pretty tired if I’m honest, it had been a busy week and I was surprised how much it took out of me, but it was fantastic to be able to chat with people into the evening about their own experiences with Impostor Syndrome as well as their thoughts on the all the other talks. I felt like I was on a bit of a high for a couple of days afterwards!

Thankyou to everyone involved in the organisation of Testbash Manchester for making my first (and hopefully not last!) speaking experience such a good one. It was something I never thought I’d do, so to have achieved that felt amazing! If you have an idea for a Testbash talk but aren’t sure about submitting, I’d thoroughly recommend you do!


I’ve been giving prepared speeches (rather than presentations) to conferences since the early 1990s, and one tip that I’ve always found helpful concerns your speaking notes or script (assuming you have one).

If you are working from a document prepared in Word (or similar), it might help to reformat the font size to something like 16 or 24 point so if you are given a lectern (and don’t have the benefit of an autocue), you don’t run the risk of having to peer down at your notes so intently, especially if you lose your place!

And if you are speaking to a set time limit (which sometimes happens in more formal conferences), rehearse the speech/presentation beforehand to check how long your delivery actually takes.


Oh man! I don’t think I’m going to be able to give as useful replies as the people here.

How did you feel when you were accepted?
It was a weird one. They approached me! For QCon. Which is a really big deal! I didn’t really know what I was getting into. So I just mostly felt intimidated. And scared. Which was probably good for encouraging me to prepare.

How did you prepare?
Okay. Some pro tips I’ve learned:

  • Think about what you want to say before you write anything. This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised! Write down THREE things you want people to learn from the back of your talk. Keep it focused! Keep your audience in mind!

  • Structure your talk before you write any slides. I love diving straight into slides, but you can end up doing a big rewrite if you don’t think carefully first. Popular structures are “Before, Now, Future” and “Problem, Solution, Lessons learned”.

  • Do lots and lots of research and make sure you know your subject matter REALLY well. This doesn’t just mean stuff you mention in your slides/talk, just try to be generally knowledgeable. I used to be a teacher, and I had almost zero time for practice or memorisation before any lesson. But if you know what you’re talking about, it can get you out of some really sticky situations! If you forget temporarily what you’re talking about, your knowledge will help tremendously. It’ll also help your nerves!

  • PRACTICE. Whenever you can, in front of as many people as you can. Workmates, family, spouses, anyone who will put up with you. Meetups are fantastic. And get feedback! This will ease your nerves when the ‘big’ day comes, and it will seem like much less of a big day. I started doing conferences this year. To practice, I did a few meetups, including a meetup that had more people than my first conference appearance! The conference didn’t seem like such a big deal when i saw everyone in front of me…

  • This one is hard, but: try to find a mentor. If there’s someone at work who’s done public speaking, try to get their wisdom and feedback. The conference might also offer coaching/mentoring/training (QCon were amazing at this but I think they’ve also had some bad experiences!)

Was there anything on the day you found particularly useful/calming?

  • Slow and steady wins the race. It can be tempting to do it really quickly to get it over with, but you seriously reduce the chance of anyone knowing what you’re talking about. Talking quickly also makes you nervous.

  • Visit the place where you’re going to present. Get used to it. Try to spend some time on the stage right before your talk.

  • I just told myself constantly that the audience doesn’t know anywhere near as much as me. It’s easy to get imposter syndrome, but if you’ve done the research, done the practice, and got honest feedback, it’s doubtful you’ve got a bad talk. Think of it like testing - you’ve not just ‘gone into production’, you’ve put it through a rigorous process first.

  • Water! Not too much or you’ll need to wee. But you’ll need it during the talk, as I find my throat gets very dry.

How did you feel after your talk?
Amazing. I can’t tell whether it’s because it actually feels good, or the stress of having it all over suddenly leaves your body. I’ve heard public speaking described as skydiving for introverts. The elation is part of that!


Is it possible to read some of the abstracts submitted that have been accepted @gemma.hill1987 @robertday @heather_reid @the_qa_guy @mike_talks @burythehammer @claire.reckless

Thanks gals & guys :smile:

A great initiative is to also consider getting involved with Speak Easy - a mentor will help you develop your own way of doing things - I’ll try and find out an old one of mine, but they’re a bit oddball (like me).

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Thanks Mike for the link and glad to know I am not the only oddball kicking around this joint :wink:

BTW Kiwi’s unite whanau are in Whakatane

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I managed to find one. BTW - most speakers aren’t being coy when they don’t produce one, it’s just we usually submit these directly on a website, and don’t see them again unless they’re chosen … when we have to ask “well, what did I promise to do?”. Sometimes months will have passed!

I think in a way it’s all around building a business case for your talk - I need to get better at doing my business cases, as I always feel like Oliver asking for more …

Exploring Test Strategy

It’s day one on a new project, everything is shiny and new - there’s even some fashionable new technology you’re looking forward to getting to grips with. Then all of a sudden a heavy hand rests on your shoulder asking "so you’re our testing expert … what are you going to test?’.

This workshop will review several techniques at exploring planning testing, such as,

  • Collecting your initial test ideas
  • Looking for gaps
  • Engaging with others to get the best plan
  • When to look for outside expertise
  • Working with and against your test environment

We’ll explore this, not just through my experience, but through a series of exercises where we plan out some set projects, and put our techniques under the microscope.

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I like to think of it as the equivalent of the blurb you put on the back of a book to try and hook and interest you into buying it.

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Thanks so much Mike it just gives me a general idea as I have never seen one. I submitted an application for mentoring through the link you mentioned, fingers crossed :smile:

BTW - next time I talk abroad, I feel I should really learn just a bit of Te Reo to open with. Bring a bit of our culture with us.

The conference I’m speaking at hasn’t announced their line up yet but once they have I will share it here :slight_smile:

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Thanks Heather :smiley:

Saw the original tweet go out for this one, interesting group of replies :slight_smile:

Hello Kim.

I dug around a bit and found the abstract I submitted for TestBash Brighton 2017.

Let’s talk about ethics and software testing

Testing is a craft which evolves continuously - instead only checking of functional correctness manually testers nowadays also use automation and keep an eye on the so called “-ilities” like usability and accessibility.

Current trends like IoT, Big Data and autonomous driving bring another area into focus:
The ethical examination of the newly developed features.

Users are being subjected to ethically questionable algorithms already and they will become more present in the future. Some of those questionable algorithms made it into mass media and harmed the reputation of companies - something which could have been prevented beforehand.

As with most new areas which testers can work in ethics seems hard to get a grip on. How can ethical implications be tested for? Which guidelines exist already and what to they contain? Does this affect my current software under test or can ethics be ignored?

This talk connects real examples of ethically questionable features with existing codes of ethics. It explains why testers are good ethics advocates, offers starting points for discussions about ethics and offers an approach for the testing of ethical implications of features.

I hope this helps.

I also agree with Mike on the “well, what did I promise to do?”. It wasn’t true for this talk but most of my submissions are based on a rough idea of what I want to talk about. The real work is put into the talk as soon as it got accepted.

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My talk is live now :slight_smile:

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