But then one person in the audience likes what they hear or asks a really insightful question, and then next year they're giving their own talk about your work because they're using it and you realise it was worth it.
And I think a counterpoint to this, as a conference attendee, is that if you walk by a room and it's embarrassingly empty, then jump in, make eye contact with the speaker while they're talking, and ask a good question afterward, to help them out.
I'd much rather see a format where talks can be viewed or subscribed to individually, rated, and open to feedback/discussion.
One of those approaches is guaranteed to never get anything.
If you're just looking for presentations there are tons of webinars and virtual events.
I'd argue that there are some practices that are sub-optimal but it's really hard to avoid some time slots being inherently better than other. And TBH to the degree that having sub-optimal time slots means there can be more speaker slots, that's not necessarily a bad tradeoff for a lot of speakers.
0. There's a critical mass of people so it doesn't feel too small--say, at least 10 people, and
1. The room isn't so big that those 10 or so people are spread out with a bunch of empty chairs between them; empty chairs suck the energy right out of the room
One solution is to have dramatically fewer sessions during those "death slots," so that the few people who show up at those times aren't divided up between too many rooms.
His talk on lock-free wait-free data structures and programming violently changed by direction of my programming for the next decade.
I shudder to think that I almost decided to skip the session that day...
Fortunately I had presented other sessions on previous days, so I had something to compare it to.
And a random personal anecdote:
I had a really difficult time even at toastmasters dealing with my Uhms and Umms. Having someone count them somewhat works, but I decided to experiment by just watching my daily speech to be the same “quality” as public speech, and try to suppress the garbage words even during no-stress moments.
It took maybe half a year of practice, but as a result I started to speak slower and (probably :) clearer in the day to day life, and this during the public speaking too, with zero effort.
Edit-append: the most useful exercise is taking the projector, presenting in an empty room as if for the crowd, recording this “from a seat” and watching yourself. Extremely weird at first, but you very quickly see the areas to focus on. And since you must rehearse any talk anyway several times (at least that is the case for me), it is a zero-cost and high return activity.
There are two things at play with being too fast:
first, you know what you are talking about (thus are giving a talk) - and tend to want to give as much info as possible.
the second, and more important one, is the adrenaline rush that every performance gives.
It probably is this:
Consequently rehearsals help (they remove the worry about what to say)
Also one thing that helped me a lot is taking “dominant” poses five minutes before getting on stage. I can’t find the study that claimed it to work - but it did.
Later I have read the research that had claimed it didn’t work - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28946020/ is one of the studies I could find quickly, but for me this technique still works, so maybe it’s the power of the placebo :)
I definitely found the big room effect scary at first even if I should probably have felt less pressure than presenting to my CEO in a small room.
The key seems to be repetition - just do it, realize it is OK, and do it again.
Maybe one day, I'll make a post to HN describing my first talk to a big crowd and how much I enjoyed it :)
"I was the last talk of the last day. Only about a dozen people attended that talk."
From the title I thought literally NOBODY showed up. I've done talks at 8am on Saturday in a room built for several hundred people where only about a dozen showed up and it didn't even occur to me to be upset. I was surprised & happy that many people showed up! I guess my expectations are low.
Dozen people or so? So long as at least a few of them are paying attention, I'm fine with that. I've had small audiences where I've ended up chatting with people for 30 minutes afterwards. I'm fine with that.
I'm reading through your comments. Thank you for sharing your insights and stories. Would love to do a follow up post at some point.
I was invited to speak at a VR conference last minute a few years back. It was a good opportunity so I flew out to SF (from LA) for the day. My company had just finished research that would be interesting to the attendees and, frankly, positioned my startup in a strong light in front of the niche investors who I hoped would be there.
This was so last minute that I didn’t even have a deck completed. Instead of going to the first half of the conference I holed up in a coffee shop and worked on the presentation. When I get to the conference it is the end of the day so I don’t bother checking in.
I head to the room where I’m to speak and watch the second half of that prevention. He leaves. It’s 5pm. The room clears out and I setup. I never like that small conference, self-service mad-dash to hook into HDMI and hope the connectors work, but all is well and I’m ready to go on time.
No one enters.
Literally not one person.
I poke my head out and people are milling about, you can tell it’s time to go home. I notice the sign in front of the room that lists the presentations. I’m not on it. The one prior was the last of the night.
So I wheel the TV out into the hallway and present to everyone and no one all at once. I’m good at projecting my voice and actually drew in 10 or so people for the entire presentation. I carnival barked at investors I recognized (from their LinkedIn. I made flash cards of them, we’d never actually met) and sort of captured their attention. Security thinks about saying something. I run through my talk, someone even asks a question and that was that.
Somehow the organizers never actually booked me. They said they did, it just never made its way to the program. Had I gone to registration to get a badge I would have learned that fact earlier. It’s probably for the best that I didn’t.
This story would have been awesome if I found a lead investor from it, but in the end that company didnt work out. It is my favorite conference story though, with my presentation to an entirely Chinese-speaking audience coming in second. Good times.
One time, we booked a show in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. We asked a few other acts to play, and they all came in from 50 - 100 miles away. We promoted the show beforehand using all the normal channels we used, and even handed out fliers at other local shows.
The acts all show up. The bartender shows up. The sound person shows up. No one else rolls in. We wait, but nothing. Not a single paying entrant after a couple hours.
All the acts performed anyway. And nobody ended up showing up.
I don't know about other folks, but I can rarely get out to conferences for time/money/family reasons, but I'll often watch the talks online.
If you give a good talk and it's recorded and online, with luck you'll eventually find an audience.
1) make the title salacious as I can;
2) engage those "survivors" more. In the past when in Vegas I've ordered a tray of drinks and offered them up as prizes for participating (this also works during early morning session of the last day of a big conference... Highest rated session lol);
3) depending on size (like less than 50) give them things I wouldn't necessarily give to a captive huge group, like templates, checklists, etc.
4) make damn sure my content is exciting. This means making especially not boring slides. Give them a progress bar at the bottom.
5) be more conversational, especially if it's less than 50.
Anyway, my few cents ;)
The challenge at multi-day conferences is that it's just a reality that many people will take off early for travel and other reasons. So any big talk you put in the end may get some more people in seats at breakout but is also going to attract fewer people, less coverage, etc. than it would earlier in the event.
But it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Once I submit and paper and was accepted, I assumed they'd relented. But day one of conference I was gone from the schedule - the session time slot was blank.
This. I've only given one real conference talk—a lightning talk at Globus World 2019—but I do wish I had a recording of it.
Sometimes to an audience with 100s half the people are on their laptop or phone. And can’t give you feedback as they listen to your talk.
Well, maybe most people can't even access what his events are about?
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