Making Conference Speaking More Approachable

Maybe you’ve never presented at a conference before. Maybe you tried it once years ago and want to come back to it. Maybe you’re nervous about public speaking but want to get better at it. Maybe you’ve proposed sessions before but never had an idea selected. There are lots of reasons writing session proposals and speaking at conferences may not be in your comfort zone currently. But if it’s something you want to become more comfortable with, these are some ideas that can help you ease into it.

Collaborate With a Co-Presenter

Getting in front of a room with someone else can help the experience feel more welcoming. As well, if you’re having trouble coming up with a concept that could take up a full session slot, collaborating with someone else – especially if they have a different but complimentary skillset or angle – can help you fill out your idea more.

Talk to Friends and Peers Who’ve Done It Before

They might have tips for writing great proposals, ideas for how to prepare for presenting, or even advice on how to manage feeling nervous. And while not everything works equally well for everyone, chances are there’ll be some advice that works for you.

Reach Out to the Conference Organizers

We can often talk through your session ideas with you and help you get them to a place that will resonate with our audiences (because what might work well at one event may not be as good a fit for another). We’re also happy to share our own speaking preparation tips and what we’ve seen work for other speakers too.

Look For Shorter Presentation Opportunities at Conferences

Presenting at a conference doesn’t always have to involve delivering a full-length traditional session. For instance, at eLearning Guild conferences we have experiences like DemoFest (essentially a science fair presentation on a project) and Mini Presentations (a collection of very short presentations all on a common theme) that involve public speaking, but in ways that may feel more approachable. Getting started with speaking for a shorter length of time or in lots of one-on-one conversations can be a good way to build up your skills.

Look for Local Opportunities to Practice Speaking

You may have ways to practice close to home. Take a conference talk idea on a test drive and run it as a lunch and learn at your organization. If you have a local professional group in your area, see if you can share a talk there. Try out a PechaKucha night. Or even live stream a practice talk online. Anything to get yourself practice with a friendly audience.

Think About Your Proposal at the Start of a Project

Case studies can be a great way to find a topic you’re knowledgable about – I mean, if it’s your project you are sort of the expert in how it happened, right? You can make it even easier on yourself to tell that story if you start thinking about the conference proposal right at the start of the project and build what you’ll need for it as you go. Take notes about your journey and summarize the highlights. Regularly think about what someone else could take from the experience you’re on. Reflect on what went as expected and what you might do differently next time. With this approach, by the end of the project you’ll also have the beginnings of a case study built as well.

Share What You’re Working On Online

If you’re not sure if you have an idea to share that people might be interested in, simply working out loud and seeing what people respond to can give you some guidance. There are lots of ways to share your projects and thoughts online: blog posts, video reflections or tutorials, sharing step-by-step photos, tweeting about your progress, and participating in online discussions are just a few places to start. Chances are you’ll get some engagement that can help you find a topic you’re interested in that others are as well. Plus, all that working out loud means you’ll also have given yourself content that you can then repurpose as part of your session.


These are a few ideas for making both the proposal and the presenting processes a bit easier. What others would you recommend to someone who wants to get into conference speaking?


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