Two Strangers on Napkins - 12 Tips on How to Prepare for Your Talk

With every new submission that comes in we are getting more and more excited for the upcoming 10th anniversary of Berlin Buzzwords. We want to make your Berlin Buzzwords experience better than ever so we have asked some expert speakers (our amazing program committee members and the best barcamp organiser you could ask for: Nick Burch) to share their experience talking on stage: How do they fight stage fright? How do they prepare for their own talk? Which slides should you use and how should you present them in the best way? In the following article you will find their ideas and some links to helpful articles and books.

  1. The audience is on your side. Everybody is a little nervous before a talk, even experienced speakers. Most audiences can tell when you get on stage and are nervous, but remember they are on your side, so don't be afraid.

  2. Tell a story. Try to avoid simply regurgitating information. Figure out a plot, theme and characters to tell a story that gets your message across. This will keep your audience hooked from beginning to end.

  3. Memorize your opening and close and let the rest flow. There is no need to memorize your entire talk. Once you have your story to help you through the presentation, it also helps to have the three or four most important points memorized. Learn about the topic you are going to talk about and make it something that you can present to two strangers on napkins in a simple clear way. When you get to the point of doing the real presentation, it is just more of the same. A bit bigger, maybe, but it‘s more or less the same kind of conversational presentation.

  4. Learn where to pause for impact. Learn where to speed up. Learn where to inflect. If you think a point is particularly important, then give the audience the cue by letting it sink in. Practice helps identify these points, especially if you can observe the audience‘s body language.

  5. Be passionate. Show people you care. Have an opinion. Not everyone has to like you when you are done and that is OK.

  6. Prep your slides. Make sure you have consistent fonts, formats, master templates, etc. If your slides are sloppy the audience's interest will drop.

  7. Keep the intro about yourself short. The audience already knows who you are, if they didn‘t they wouldn't be at your talk! Instead, lead with a hook that gets people engaged. Besides, it isn't about you, it is about your topic.

  8. Get help! Find someone who can give you constructive and honest feedback. This can be difficult short of hiring an actual coach or having a good friend who is a also a speaker (You will find more help at the end of this article). Learn to read people's body language and to ask people directly for feedback.

  9. Don't waste your audience's time. This advice is corollary to #6: Ask yourself as objectively as you can whether someone in the audience truly needs to know what you are about to say. Less is almost always more.

  10. Humor in a talk is tough. Especially for an audience whose first language may not be the same as yours, or where people don't know the idioms of your country. So if humor does not come naturally to you, don‘t force it.

  11. Practice, practice, practice. Try your talk at a meetup first or another small gathering.

  12. Do things that scare you. The terrifying things are the things that get you the furthest.


Stage Fright

If you suffer from stage fright, it will subside gradually if you stick to tips #1 and #2 above.

A good technique for reducing stage fright is to give the same talk several times to different people you know and then to a group you know. Each time you should focus on making it no more than a fairly one-sided conversation, not a big, scary, very formal, do-or-die presentation. This will also help you to get to know your talk so that even if the technical setup fails, you will still be able to hold your presentation.

One key way to avoid stage fright is to make sure that anything can go wrong without knocking you off track. Have a cheat sheet with your talking points and you can talk through any issues.

Slides won't play or monitor borked? - No problem, you can do this from napkins.

Can't remember the script you memorized? - Shouldn't be a problem because you shouldn't have a script. Have 3-4 talking points instead that fit on one large post-it. At that point, there is no script to forget.

Freaked out because being on a stage with lights in your eyes is scary? - Yep. It is kind of. But you have given the same talk like 10 times before and this is just more of the same, but in a strange environment. You can do it.

Previous speaker ran over time and you have to shorten your 30 minute talk by 5+ minutes? - That sucks, but you know your talking points and can just skip through some of the slides a bit faster than usual. Compressing a 45 minute talk into 15 minutes is hard, but dropping 5 minutes off of 30 shouldn't be hard at all. Make sure you have a timer you can see.

Another trick we find helpful for calming nerves is tactile stimulation, for example drinking water (don't overdo this or you might have to pee halfway through your presentation) or pressing neuronal spots, e.g. press your thumb and index finger into your hand to activate a little pain, it's distracting. Accept that you are nervous, it's okay to be. Accept that your talk might not end up as perfect as you had in your mind. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Think positively: I can do this, it'll be over in no time.

If your talk is accepted, we will offer an additional training session before the conference where you can practice your talk and we will give you honest feedback. One of our program committee members with lots of speaking and mentoring experience has volunteered to help us out.

If you have any more questions, please get in touch with us at


Further reading:

free and online:


The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

The Exceptional Presenter: A Proven Fromula to Open Up and Own the Room

Talk like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds


Photo credit: cc-by-sa 3.0 Gregor Fischer/Berlin Buzzwords