The Ultimate Guide To Memorable Tech Talks — Part 5: Planning and Time Estimation

Planning your preparation time before the conference.

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

This is Part 5 of a multi-part Guide to Memorable Tech Talks. Visit the outline for more information.

Key Takeaways

  1. Writing and practicing a talk will take longer than you think. Make time for it in your schedule.
  2. Break up talk-related tasks into small manageable chunks.
  3. Use time-tracking software to stay on track.

Writing proposals and talks and having the time to practice them is a massively time-consuming process. Especially for your first talk, make sure that you have plenty of time. Even though I’ve been doing this for a few years now, crafting talks still takes me an incredible amount of time. It’s the only part of the process that I haven’t really optimized.

That’s the equation: quality content for quality time.

I’d estimate that it takes about 20+ hours to craft a brand new talk, from research to writing slides, and practicing. A deeply technical topic can take even longer because of the time spent on research, accuracy, and terminology.

Make sure that you block off the time on your calendar, as far ahead of the event as possible. I’m a bit time-blind, so I tend to add plenty of calendar reminders for myself, such as one every week before the event. You don’t want the deadline to surprise you.

Consider that the date you should have your talk done is different than the date your talk is due on. I don’t always listen to my own advice in this area, but try to have your talk finished and practiced at least a few days before the actual event. Give yourself a padded time of at least a few days. You never know what could happen: You might get sick, a big deadline could come up at work, or you could end up with a splitting headache that kills your productivity. By planning ahead, you’ll avert a crisis if you’re not able to cram on the talk last minute.

There have been plenty of times where I haven’t listened to this advice and spent the days before my talk locked up in my hotel room, not enjoying spending time with my friends and not enjoying exploring the beautiful city that I’m in. Whenever I procrastinate, I feel miserable and my talk quality suffers as a result.

Make sure you allocate time to practicing the talk, not just writing it. If you don’t have anyone to practice to in person, record yourself speaking and share it with your online friends. You can set up a Hangouts On Air broadcast with unlisted or private visibility so you can control who it’s shared with. Ask for feedback, and take into the account the time it’ll take you to incorporate that feedback. Don’t listen to any and every piece of feedback given: Make sure it actually applies to you, your talk, and your situation. I like to practice a full talk at least two or three times. If you don’t have anyone to watch you practice, make sure that you still practice and that you talk out loud. Remember, you’re building muscle memory.

Putting a large task like “write a talk” on your todo list is a recipe for disaster. For planning and time estimation, break up all the tasks you need to get done and make a checklist. Even better, use a tool like Trello or ClickUp to lay out all the outstanding tasks so that you can zoom out and see the big picture, and zoom back in to see all the relevant details.

If you took on the responsibility of writing a talk, you’re going to have to say “no” a lot. That might mean less social opportunities and less fun. You’ve committed to the conference to deliver high-quality content, and sometimes sacrifices will need to be made. You’re doing this because you want to, because you submitted the proposal, and not for anyone else.

Continue to Part 6: Writing a Talk

Skip to:

  1. Introduction — About me and my journey through technical public speaking.
  2. Choosing a Topic — Selecting a topic you’d like to speak about.
  3. Writing a Conference Proposal (or CFP) — A guide to writing and submitting conference talk proposals.
  4. Tools of the Trade — Tools for brainstorming, creating slides, time-management, and more.
  5. Planning and Time Estimation — How to plan your preparation time before the conference.
  6. Writing a Talk — Writing an engaging talk and captivating slides.
  7. Practice and Delivery — Preparing for and delivering on the big day.

Cloud Developer Advocate @microsoft, software engineer, pythonista, & speaker. Team #emacs. Previously @reddit @meetup @recursecenter. she/her