Career Soft Skills

Becoming a Tech Conference Speaker: Creating Your Presentation


There are already a ton of groups, tips, and blogs that are out there that will help you learn to become a great speaker.  This post won’t go into a lot those topics because simply Googling will you get there.  What I will be doing though is describing the process that I use to come up with my speaking ideas, created my decks, and practicing for the upcoming conferences.

I hope to give you another perspective on taking your speaking to the next level and the tips and tricks I use to get there.  This will be a multipart series on becoming a conference speaker.  This post specifically is about creating your presentation!

Getting Started

Okay,  your title and abstract were selected for a conference and hopefully you have a couple of months to prepare.  If you’re lucky, you’ve already created your presentation and have been practicing it on friends and co-workers.  Maybe you just had a good idea and submitted that before you’ve even started working on the presentation.  I’ve been in both boats and each have their pros and cons.  When submitting, I suggest submitting a bunch of premeditated talks and just one or two ideas for talks.

Premeditated Presentation – Ready to kill it!

This type is where you have already created your presentation and all  you need to do is keep it warm and get feedback for improvement from your friends and peers.  All of the content you want to talk about is already there but you need to tweak it.


  • It’s “Done” – Most of the grunt work is finished so now all it needs is spit and polish
  • Less stressful


  • Easier to procrastinate – I tend to wait to the last minute to practice so the talk tends to get “dusty” and I have to spend more time preparing than I planned.
  • Talk Fatigue – I’ve probably have given the talk a couple of times before so I’m over the topic or less passionate about what I am presenting.

Presentation of Passion – What have I done?

This type is when all you have is an idea for a talk but you have to create everything from scratch.  In general, I would say most people spend about 40 hours creating content for a 1 hour talk.  So keep that in mind when trying to determine if you have enough time to prepare for an upcoming event.


  • It’s easy to be passionate about a topic you’re currently researching and its a new idea.
  • Because of a shortened timeframe, you have some pressure to get stuff done.


  • Super stressful especially if you tend to procrastinate.
  • Sometimes a super positive idea about a topic turns super negative by the time the final presentation is written because the study of it did not go so well.

Pick Your Presenter

There are a host of tools available for creating your slide deck.  My go to is PowerPoint because it is what I am most familiar with.  I’ve used products like Sway and Prezi, and they do produce some quality presentation, I always found I was not creative enough to use them to their fullest potential.  If you have an eye for design, I highly recommend them.  The last thing you want to be spending time on is fighting your presentation software when you should be working on your content.

Tips on creating your slides

Bullet Points Are Headshots to Attention Span

Try to eliminate bullet points from your slides.  I read an article that put it very succinctly and I liked the analogy.


It all sounds very warlike – bombardment, death and so on. The ammunition for these bombardments aren’t real bullets though, but rather ‘bullet points’.
This killing isn’t actually people but the attention of the audience. But if you don’t pay attention, you won’t even notice anything.

So don’t bore your audience to death, instead of bullets try to use nice visuals and try to keep one idea per slide.


No More Than Five Lines

Many novice presenters struggle with this and they load their slides with walls of text.  Unless quoting someone, you should almost never exceed the 5 line rule.  I like to try and stick to 3 lines.  Keeping the number of lines down gives you more room for visual content and it allows you to have increase your font size, especially if you have a large audience.

Don’t Use a Default Template

Many presenters are still using default PowerPoint templates.  There really isn’t anything wrong with that but it can be distracting if session after session at a conference the audience sees the same theme.  You can buy a great theme from place like Creative Market that will take presentation to the next level.  Since I do not have an eye for design, purchasing a custom template really takes the difficulty out creating a slide deck and are generally simple to use.  If your employer is encouraging you to do a talk, ask to see if they will let you expense it!

Preparing Your Presentation

As I said earlier in this post, plan to spend at least 40 hours developing your presentation.  That includes researching your topic if you are not familiar with it, creating your slides, practicing, etc.  If you don’t know your topic well, that number could balloon.  Also, try to anticipate the types of questions you might receive and be prepared to answer those even if you don’t talk about them your presentation.


Tips for Preparation

  • (days / total  # of slides) * 7 = slides per week) –   I use this simple formula to give me a goal to complete every week so that I am sure to be ready by the time the talk is required.  I don’t always complete this goal but it is also a metric on how “prepared” I am for my upcoming talks.
  • When I am required to research my talk, I have a goal to spend at least an hour a day on it.  Some days I am totally unmotivated to work on something after work, this goal helps me spend at least some time working on something so I am always making forward progress.  Many times, I find that after spending an hour I get into a groove and I can work on the presentation longer.  If that doesn’t happen, no big deal at least I spent an hour.
  • Record yourself practicing – You are your harshest critic.  So record yourself and listen to how you speak, where you mess up, and where you have long pauses.  This also lets me hear if my content actually makes sense the way it is being presented.  It also lets you hear where you sound bored which will let you liven it up or change the content to be more exciting.
  • I usually just vomit all of my content in power point and then move stuff around where it starts making sense.  In general, I have way more slides than I need so I can just mix, match, and delete.  Other speakers I know, write out an outline first and then fill in the details.  What works best is what works for you.


Again, I hope to give you another perspective on taking your speaking to the next level and give you some tips and tricks I use to get there.  This will be a multipart series on becoming a conference speaker.


Thanks for reading!


By Brett The Whitt

Brett is a web development consultant and has been working for more than 12 years. He specializes in hybrid mobile app development and using front end frameworks such as AngularJS. Always passionate about continuous education, he has been most recently mentoring and encouraging his co-workers to become better speakers. To further this growth, he leads Lightning Talk Nights and other events at his job at HMB Inc

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