Get in the Speaker’s Circle

So if you’ve been in a conference audience and thought, “I think I’d like to do this…”  Kudos.  Make it happen.  Presenting in front of your peers is extremely rewarding and a great way to establish leadership, and promote your expertise.


What to speak about?

Job Story?  Materials? Equipment?  Testing?  Value Engineering? Design-Build?  Go to your strengths. Provide Technical Expertise to an area of your experience and proficiency.  The adage “write what you know” holds sway here.  Subject selection is usually a process not an event.  It may take a few ideas and a shortlist and a start or stop or two to realize what gives you the best opportunity to give a strong presentation you’re comfortable with. Sometimes the topic finds you.  Be patient.

Stick a Toe in.

With the sole purpose of getting your feet wet, think small.  Just get comfortable with the smallest of opportunities.  From the process of preparation to the actual presentation, you’ll be amazed at the lessons of speaking opportunity #1.  Once the presentation is finished and the experience washes over you and the analysis kicks in, you’ll already be a 200% better presenter.


An abstract is a short written piece with the purpose of conveying to the conference or seminar decision-makers what the presentation is to be.  Used frequently for vetting desirable content for programs, these presentation summaries get you thinking and organized, and give the decision-makers a chance to reject, accept, shape or orient your presentation if desired. Be aware you may be required to write a paper for publication for some programs.

Sometimes the selection process is not so formal and is a matter of locating the event program chairperson and asking for a speaking spot on the topic of x.  Knowing the expectations and schedule of the program speakers would be a good thing to find out early in the commitment.


If you have someone available to assist as you prepare for your presentation, by all means, ask for help.  This may be someone in your organization, or if you’re speaking to an association, there may be an abundance of speaking mentors to draw from.  Ask.  Such a person may help to alleviate fears, illustrate the process, visualize the experience and provide tips and pointers to make a first-timer more comfortable at the podium.

Be Prepared

The old scout motto bears citing here.  Preparation is your best friend.  Practice.  Time yourself.  Backup is your best friend.  (Keep both a PowerPoint file and PDF slideshow backup-backup on a USB drive).  And yeah it’s so 1992, but a hardcopy in your pocket or stashed in the podium beforehand – never a bad idea.

The coolest thing I ever saw was an experience Geotechnical Engineer who in light of the AV failure, took a sip of water and took a folded piece of paper out of his coat as he came around and leaned on the side of the podium.  He took the 500+ person audience full of really impressive people skillfully through the technical aspects of his drilled shaft project without skipping a beat.  Who says engineers aren’t cool?

Don’t blame your mother

Turn your phone off.  Guilty.  I was addressing a room full of 300 when my phone went off.  Slightly rattled, I reached into my pocket and hit some button and it stopped.  The full unravel happened 27 seconds later when the caller clearly displeased with not reaching me immediately called back.  Failing to put my finger on whatever button had done the trick the first time, the ring persisted, so I pulled the phone out and looked at the screen and muted the device.  Presentutus interruptus.  The caller?  My mother.

Fortunately, I got a little laugh and a little sympathy from the crowd when I quipped, “Could someone remind me to call my mother back when this is over?”

Anyway, as long as your phone is off, you should do just fine.


PS Need a little more?  Toastmasters International is a resource for learning public-speaking – a nice foundation upon which to build your presentation competencies.

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