The countdown to Atlassian Summit has started again. Once again this year, we’re encouraging everyone to submit a speaking abstract for Summit. It’s a great opportunity to improve your speaking skills, present your ideas to a large audience, and get a chance to talk with hundreds of like-minded people at the event.

Applying to be a speaker involves submitting a presentation title and abstract via our online form. We’d love to receive your submission!

With only a few speaking slots available, it’s important to pay attention to how you develop your speaking abstract. And if your topic is selected, you need to be prepared to deliver a great presentation. To that end, I’ve put together some quick tips on how to prepare for an effective Summit presentation. Hopefully these will prove useful to you as you consider your submission or attendance at the conference.

1. Pick a topic that fits in a track

Atlassian’s theme for Summit 2012 is “The Art of the Team”: creating and enabling high-performance teams in every kind of organisation. Your talk can be in the context of using our products, or it can be more generally about helping teams to be more effective.

Within the theme, the conference  is divided into tracks. The tracks for 2012 are noted on the website:

  • The Art of Collaboration
  • JIRA Everywhere
  • Art of Scrum & Kanban
  • The Art of DevOps
  • The Art of Dev Speed
  • High Performance Admin
  • Plugin Developer

It’s important to think about a topic that fits with these tracks and which fits within the general theme of the event. Topics that don’t fit with our theme or quite well inside one of the tracks are unlikely to be selected.

Do: Read the descriptions of the tracks on the website.
Do: Understand why people are coming and think about what you could talk about that would interest people in those areas.
Do: Tell us which track you want to present in.

Don’t: Talk about your pet project, with no relationship to the themes of the conference.
Don’t: Make your topic so vague that it doesn’t clearly fit into any of the tracks.

2. Prepare some high quality slides and present them well

You will need to do a lot of work in the lead-up to the conference to prepare your presentation. A lot of planning and thought should go into the slides and how you will present them. How you present yourself and your content is equally as important as what you’re talking about.

I usually try to start with a bang. Focus the audience on the problem you’ll be presenting about, use a joke or an image to get them engaged. Work out how you’re going to engage the audience at the event and educate them about something that is relevant to them.

Do: Stand up during your presentation, talk loudly and confidently.
Do: Engage the audience with your presentation. Think about the tricks people use to engage an audience when they’re speaking.
Do: Prepare a slide deck that looks like it would be presentable at a conference. We’ll provide a Summit template for all presenters, and you’ll have a chance to polish it with your own content.
Do: Read Presentation Zen and understand what makes slides look attractive and readable.

Don’t: Mumble through your presentation, or stay seated and talk like you would in a meeting.
Don’t: Use a slide website or tool that looks crappy.

3. Talk about what you know

You might believe that the things that you do every day aren’t going to be interesting to others. With so much difference in how people develop software, nothing could be further from the truth. Each organisation approaches development problems in its own way. There always many people who are just starting out – embarking on a new project, or looking to pick up a new way of thinking. Some insight into your collaboration environment, agile project management process, or custom plugin could be just what they need to get off on the right foot.

Don’t be afraid to talk about something which isn’t exactly your day job, but for which you can provide some insight. Technical people often give some of the best presentations on non-technical topics, because they can bring rigour to an area that is often very fluffy.

Do: Think about what you could talk about that other people can’t or won’t talk about.
Do: Review last year’s presentations and talk with your colleagues about what they would like to hear.

Don’t: Think you can only give a technical presentation because you’re “just a developer”.
Don’t: Pick a topic that you can’t talk about confidently.

4. Have a single message or call to action

We want Summit attendees to leave the conference feeling engaged with our products and excited to try out some of the ideas they learned from the conference. Presentations are most effective when they have a single message or call-to-action that feeds into this process.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone attending the conference who might come to your talk. What important insight will they leave with after listening to your talk? Take that insight and build a presentation around it. If your insight is how to solve a particular problem, you can explain what the problem is, talk about the forces at work, then describe your solution to the problem. Your call-to-action is that you’ve given them the tools to solve their problem, now they need to go back to their office and solve it.

Do: Put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. What single thing do you want them to take home?
Do: If you’re solving a problem your audience is facing, explain the problem clearly at the start of your presentation. Explain why it is important.
Do: Include a clear call-to-action at the end of the presentation if it makes sense to do so.

Don’t: Make your presentation a mixed bag of hints and tips with no clear message.
Don’t: Forget that the audience doesn’t care about your problems; they care about their problems.

5. Rehearse your presentation

Rehearsing your presentation might seem lame – you’re going to be standing in a room with a laptop talking to yourself – but it helps in several important ways:

  • It lets you practice exactly what you’re going to say. Often what you thought you were going to say sounds stupid when you say it, and through rehearsals you can come up with a good way to phrase what you want to say.
  • It improves your confidence. Once you’ve run through your presentation in a room by yourself, it’s much simpler to say the same things when you present to an audience. You can present more confidently because you know what you’re going to say next at each point.
  • It allows you to check your time limit. You don’t want to miss the dramatic climax of your presentation because of a time limit. Your rehearsal lets you know how long you’re going to speak for.
  • You can practice your jokes. A good presentation often has a few jokes in it to keep the audience engaged. If your jokes have a spoken component, you can practice your timing and work out exactly what phrasing conveys the joke best.

I’m sure there are more reasons to rehearse too, but these were the ones that came to mind. If you haven’t rehearsed, you’re likely going to fail at tip #2 too – giving a high quality presentation.

Do: Practice your presentation at least four or five times before giving it for real.
Do: Try different ways of phrasing things if your comments sound lame when you say them the first time.
Do: Include some jokes or find other ways to engage the audience while you rehearse.

Don’t: Give your Summit presentation for the first time at the conference.
Don’t: Run out of time because you tried to give a sixty-minute presentation in thirty minutes.

Want to present at Summit?

Great! Submit your presentation idea for Atlassian Summit 2012, and we’ll take it from there. Don’t take it personally if your presentation isn’t selected; there’s only a dozen or so talks that will be picked, and they’re chosen because the abstracts are well written (see #1 above) and because they fit in well and complement the other presentations at the event.

If you have any other presentation tips or questions about the process, please add a comment to this blog. Best of luck!

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