Three Things to Remember when Doing Lightning Talks

If you are going to do a lightning talk (ten minutes or less, usually), remember three things: 

  1. Write down a list of three things you want people to remember form your talk. THen choose the most important one.
  2. Focus on teaching only that one thing. Everything else will be left on the cutting room floor. 
  3. Have a good story to start with. You have to have a reason why you are doing this talk. A good story should start with a problem that needs to be solved. and then the solution of that problem, and how it relates to this talk.

Added bonus points: 

  1. Unlike in real life, It is better to finish early than too late. The audience will appreciate you saving their time. But they will hate you for wasting it above the allotted slot. Sometimes. 
  2. Be unique. Have something that makes you unique. The subject usually isn't. So only the way of delivery can be. 

You Will Be Cast Aside

If you're a speaker you need to get used to the idea that you are a form of commodity. You can be of high value one day, and low value on another day. The same conference that you spoke at for the past three years may decide not to accept your talks the year after, for a myriad of reasons. Almost always there is nothing personal involved, unless you screwed up something socially, that is.

Why not?

So why would a conference choose not to accept you this year? Here is a just a short set of reasons of the millions possible:

  • They want a fresh face, to rebrand the conference for new audiences
  • The topic you are speaking on is passe this year, or is not the main topic of the conference this year
  • If a training company is organising the conference, they may have an inclination to get speakers who are also training for them. this is just good marketing. sucks, but that's life.
  • A much more well known speaker got the last slot.
  • It costs too much to fly you in.
  • You got low scores in the previous conference.
  • There are new organisers and they have no idea who you are.
  • You submitted too late, and all the great talk topics have been claimed. so your topic is already done by someone else, even if they are not as well known.
  • You ask for payment, when others don't. (pretentious if they don't know you)
  • Others ask for payment, and you don't (perception of low quality)

What can you do?

  • If you realize your subject of talk is becoming less relevant, it's time to reinvent yourself, learn some new things that people will find useful and start talking about them. If I have enough, I will write a whole post just about reinventing yourself.
  • If this is your first time at that conference, and you usually ask for money, maybe don't ask for it. let them see all the good things you bring, then ask for money next time.
  • Find new conferences and venues.

Speaker Dinners are Important

As a speaker, if you get invited to a conference related speaker dinner, show up.Even if you're tired. Even if you just want to lock yourself in the hotel room and watch porn for the rest of the evening. Even if you have a talk the next morning.


Show up, because some of the people that can make the most important new connections for your next speaking engagements will be there. Other speakers, and other people who are looking for opportunities to connect and do business.

At the very least, a speaker dinner is a big chance to get future gigs. On top of that it could be fun and you could meet some truly interesting people. people as interesting as you, which is how they got to speak at the conference in the first place.

I almost always am surprised by how fun and useful a speaker dinner is, and I force myself to go. I know I will regret not going the day after.

I am always greatful to be speaking somewhere. So take the next paragraph with a tounge in cheek.

Expect speaker dinners (especially in Europe and scandinavia) to usually be at places that are just a bit too fancy, with food that is too expensive, slowly served, and which will likely leave you wanting to get a pizza late. I frankly don't know why conference organisers insist on taking speakers to such expensive fancy places. Most speakers I know are just dying for a good pizza or steak, and good conversation.