I give about forty talks a year, at events of varying sizes. Organizing a conference is hard work, and I have enormous respect for the people who ask me to speak at their events. I’m grateful for the opportunity.Over the years, I’ve learned to ask a few questions directly so there aren’t any hidden assumptions or last-minute surprises. Knowing the answers to these questions before I accept the responsibility ensures that I can do my best work for the organizers and the attendees.Will you expect me to provide a copy of my slides in any format other than PDF?Why I’m asking:I’m happy to provide my slides to be shared with conference participants. PDF is the easiest way to provide them, and most conference organizers are satisfied with this approach. Occasionally, however, they’ll ask for the native file. I use Keynote and some custom fonts, so if they want the native file I need to make sure they understand what they’re getting. I cannot provide my slides in PowerPoint, as I don’t use that application. Converting between Keynote and Powerpoint is messy and the layouts break, and for me to rebuild the slides in PowerPoint would take hours.I won’t speak at events that require me to provide my slides in PowerPoint format.Will you expect me to use your template for my slides? If you require that I include your branding on my slides, is it acceptable to include it only on the closing slide or opening slide?Why I’m asking:My slide template has been developed over many years, and contains about 25 master slides with a color palette, typography, and custom builds I’ve lovingly honed. The “template” I get from most conferences includes a title slide and a body slide with two levels of bullet points. In Arial. I want to give the best talk I can, which means I can’t redesign my entire presentation using someone else’s template. If all they require is that I include their logo, the closing “thank you” slide is the easiest place to do so. Next best is an opening slide that I can put before my title slide.I won’t speak at events that expect me to use their template for anything other than the opening and/or closing slide.Will I be presenting from my own computer?Why I’m asking:Sometimes a conference organizer wants to run all the presentations off the same laptop, to speed the transition time between presenters. Often when they ask for the slides in a specific native format, that’s what they’re planning. I find this… nervewracking. I know my layouts, builds, and fonts will render properly on my machine. I know how my presentation remote works and I don’t fear clicking the wrong button. Using another laptop and another clicker adds an element of risk to a situation where I’d like to be totally in control. I won’t speak at events that won’t let me use my own laptop.Will I be able to see the presenter display from the stage?Why I’m asking:I don’t rely on presenter notes when I’m speaking, but I do need to see the next slide. I know many other presenters who must have their notes visible—it’s the most experienced speakers who insist on having them. The setup for some events places the laptop at the back of the room. A monitor visible from the stage shows the slide the audience sees, but not the presenter display. Usually this is motivated by a desire to have a completely bare stage. While I love the freedom to move around on stage, unencumbered by furniture, I need my presenter display. Often I don’t find out about this setup until the day of the event, giving me agita before I get up to perform.I won’t speak at events that can’t work out an AV setup to show the presenter display from the stage.Will I be expected to take Q&A directly from the audience?Why I’m asking:I have hearing loss and I wear hearing aids. Taking questions from the audience in a large room—whether a roving microphone is provided or not—is challenging for me. I struggle to hear the question and often must ask the attendee to repeat him or herself, and I still might not fully understand. I exit the stage on a flat and somewhat embarrassing note—the opposite of how I’d like to end my talk. The best option for me is simply to not take questions, but I also know that attendees value this interaction with the speaker. The next best alternative is for an emcee to repeat the question so that I (and everyone else in the audience) can hear it.I won’t speak at conferences that expect me to take questions directly from the floor, without a moderator to ensure I hear the question accurately.It’s my job to make sure I can give the best talk possible at an event. It’s also my job to ensure I ask the right questions and set myself up for success. If I decline to speak at an event because the setup does’t work for me, it’s not because I’m a prima donna who requires white roses and no brown M&Ms in my dressing room. It’s because I’m taking responsibility for what I need to give a great talk.
08 Jul 2013