Support for Speakers

I've been a conference speaker for 10 years; I've given many talks, been to many events, organised a few events, and now have Opinions (TM) about conference speaking. This tweet showed up in my feed when someone tweeted at me to thank me for my support in their talks.

My approach to supporting other speakers is not really about the audience I would like (we're all different!), but more about making two things happen:

  • someone being the best they can be
  • them getting credit for that

In fact I've been a speaker coach and mentor for a few years and have variously watched rehearsals, suggested where to stand and not stand, walked nervous speakers around outside before their talk, fetched water ... all sorts of things. However this twitter thread (I got a bunch of tweets and the replies are also great) shows that _anyone_ can give great support to any speaker, whether you know them or not. Here are my favourite three things to do to support anyone giving a talk.

Show up

This is the easy part. Vote with your feet. Put yourself in the room, and prepare to pay attention. Put away your laptop, direct your attention to the speaker. Sit where they can see you, smile and nod. I get a lot of thanks from random people for this and ... it's easy! I'm there to listen anyway, so it costs me nothing to offer a little support while I am there. Don't overdo it, but this is honestly a nice thing to do, and you can do it for strangers, anyone.

It can also mean a lot to people whose content you already know when you attend their talk anyway. If your colleague is giving a talk, attend their talk and show your support. Trust me, this means a lot.

Amplify the speaker

This part is also very easy, go to the talk, listen for something that you think is particularly helpful or meaningful. Now share that with your networks! Bonus points if you include a quote or a photo (either of the slide or the speaker - but make it flattering!).

My professional network is mostly on twitter, so I'd be tweeting but depending on the event, LinkedIn or another outlet might be a better fit. If it's a colleague and you have internal systems (we use Workplace and Slack) then make sure you mention it on there to give some internal visibility to other members of the company of the work that this person is doing.

Try to be kind; unless it's a comedy show, try to tweet actual talk content rather than jokes, mistakes, or funny slides. Tweets about someone's appearance, even if it's a compliment, are never helpful.

Kick-start the Q&A

This one is a bit harder but is still something that anyone can do for anyone else. At the end of a talk, if there are questions at the event, the audience needs to transform from listening mode to conversation mode. This is much harder than you'd think if there's a sudden silence when questions are invited!

How can you help? Ask the first question if there isn't one!! Put up your hand and say "I was really interested when you talked about X, do you have a particular use case example you can share with us?" or "Can you tell me a bit more about the testing frameworks for this tool?" or "I'm using X but Y looks really great. Do you have any advice for transitioning over?" or really anything that isn't too niche and that the speaker stands some chance of having something to say in response. It really doesn't have to be valuable (trust me!) just a) an actual question and b) loosely related to the topic. Help yourself by jotting down a lightweight question during the talk if you can think of one - then you are ready if you are needed!

As if by magic, we're now in conversation mode and Q&A can proceed successfully. You made this happen!

Supporting speakers

It was strange to me to be thanked for these things. Why would I not want to support a speaker to deliver the best talk? I'm attending/consuming the talk after all! There's nothing here that needs any special knowledge or skill - anyone can take these tips to any future talk and make a positive difference, and I hope that you will :)

One thought on “Support for Speakers

  1. Great tips! As a developer conference organizer and speaker I have one thing to add. If there are evaluations for the session or event, fill them out. As a speaker, getting tangible feedback after the event helped me get better. As an organizer, I use that data to help figure out who to invite back and who could be great with a little additional coaching.

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