If a comedy improv troupe was running conference talks for a company, I imagine them setting this up a bit like this. Also, before we start, this happened to me recently - the names and situation have been changed to protect, well, everyone.

Scenario: You’ve been saddled with giving a talk at a conference which isn’t your own, but the company (and the person originally slated to give the talk) need you to give it.

Props: A banana, and a paper clip


While it’s not likely to happen very often, there may come a time in your #DevRel life that you are tasked with giving a talk that someone else prepared. And by prepared, I mean they’ve been the driving force at the company for a new initiative with the background to match, and are responsible for crafting the messaging, diagrams, and partnerships for said initiative. No big deal, right?

James Van Der Beek knows

This of course recently happened to me, hence why I’m writing this. A bit of background is probably appropriate. I’m the Director of Community and DevRel at Solace . I’m not new to preparing and giving talks on a variety of subjects, and have done so many times over the years. Even with that I still get the jitters and have to change my underwear multiple times in the days leading up to a talk. (Not because I’ve soiled them, mind you. I was told early on that if I wanted to be an adult I should change my underwear daily. And I [almost] always do what my mother tells me.)

So this talk. I had submitted to this conference as it fit what we are doing as a company , and I was prepared to put together a talk and give it. Then, in what can only be described as an epiphany, I thought,

Why not have the person who is leading the charge, the person who is behind our new initiative, give the talk instead?

doctor who brilliant

So I discussed it with them, and they too thought this was a good idea. Boom! I’m amazing, with such wonderful ideas. I reached out to the organizer, who was totally on board (which, quite honestly, is not a normal thing for an organizer to do). So we went with it.

Then, with roughly a month to go before the conference, my coworker reached out and laid the news on me… They weren’t going to be able to attend and speak given a scheduling error on their part with regards to vacation days they were set to be off with family. It happens, and not a big deal, and it happens to every conference speaker at one time or another. They then suggested that I go ahead and give the talk.

oh noooooo

Oh, and I guess I should mention that this came a few days before I was set to take 10 days off, which would further remove valuable prep time from the month-before-the-conference equation. No big deal, right?

It is a big deal.

When you prepare for a talk, you usually pull from a list of already brewing ideas you have (I currently have 2, with a 3rd likely around this topic). That means it’s something that you really feel strongly about, you know the core direction you want to go, and you just need that abstract accepted to give you that push to get started. Not to mention you’ll have quite a few months to start planning, outlining, practicing, redoing, perfecting, and finishing. And then scrap it all the weekend before and start over. But that’s not the point. The point here is that the talk is yours. It’s on your schedule. It’s your baby.

But now, when you’re presented with the need to give someone else’s talk, panic sets in. Everything compresses itself down into a construct that you seemingly have no control over. You’re now working against the clock and your own insecurities.

pull all you dang hair out

Here are a few suggestions to help you deal.

Meet with the creator ASAP.

I’m not talking about a “come to Jesus” moment, though you may end up with one by the end of this endeavor. I’m instead talking about the need to setup a meeting with the talk creator as quickly as possible once you know you need to give the talk. You want to become as familiar as possible with the content. It is highly unlikely that you’ll become an expert, but you at least want to be able to speak to the topic and answer questions in a knowledgeable way. (Note: a free tip here is to not be afraid to ever say “I don’t know” to a question, but never leave it with a period after. Complete that phrase with “but I will find out and get back with you.”)

architect larry

Watch videos of the talk, if available.

This is another great way to learn the content and to internalize it. Don’t try to copy it word for word, because that’s not your voice. One of the things that makes a talk enjoyable is when it takes on the personality of the speaker. Yes, the original talk may not be yours, but it can become yours, if only just for that conference. Watching the video will also give you insight into things like audience questions, what did/didn’t work, etc.

watch the video

Practice. Practice. Oh, and practice.

“Practice makes perfect” is an old saying which really is quite true. The more you practice, the more natural it will become. Start with giving the talk to the original creator, and solicit feedback from them, and even have them come up with questions for you. Take the feedback, and even the questions, and update your talk. Practice again until it’s fluid. Then give it to a few other people and repeat the process. It even helps to record yourself giving the talk and look at your body language and make sure it all flows together the way you want it to. (Note: This is the same whether it’s your first talk, someone else’s talk, or a new talk in your repertoire.)


Don’t go crazy. You got this.

As you build up to the time to give this talk, you’re going to get nervous because you’re giving someone else’s talk, and you’ve had limited amount of time to prepare, but on the plus side - you’ve followed mom’s advice and changed your underwear, right? All of that is normal, all the thoughts and feelings bouncing around inside your head.

i am not a fan of clippy

But the message here is that you can do this. You’ve been practicing, and you’re going to do great.

Keanu riffing

In conclusion.

Preparing a talk to give anywhere is a daunting experience, but giving someone else’s talk takes that to a whole new level. Following these steps will not magically make it a great talk, but they will help you prepare - and maybe, just maybe, the talk will become one that you begin to give because it’s become your own. This helps not only you, but also helps your company with more people spreading the message.

Oh, and eat a banana. They’re a great source of potassium.