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Keynotes - you should start now

Speaking at conferences is an art and can be scary at times. I've put together a list of advices

My good friend @Vandana Verma did write a very nice article on speaking at conferences. this is a follow up from a conversation we had ...

Vandana Verma on Stage

I receive from my mentee a lot of questions like:

> Am I too young/old to speak at conferences? No

> But if I’m afraid I don’t have anything to share?

Think about use cases, war stories, and other elements any audience might be interested in.

The questions I keep on asking myself are:

> what is the topic I’d like to see at a specific conference?

> If I was person X going at conference/meet-up Y what would like to see/hear?

One of my first talk at Toastmaster UK PMI chapter

I started speaking at my local Toastmaster chapter than joined the cloud security alliance and started flashing out ideas. That gave me the confidence to start speaking about cloud topics and others in meetups and conferences.

I started attending more and more conferences and speaking with speakers and conference organizers...

I made a list of the conference I did like to attend/speak at and the subject matter, a good reference site is UK cybersecurity conferences (it has USA and other conferences as well)

I’ve dived in and used all my sway with the conference organizers :)

I’ve submitted CFP (that is call for papers) and got a lot of rejection. I’ve kept going at it and started getting my first gigs.

I started my own podcast and speaking at other podcasts. I’ve started structuring talks more and more and perfecting them.

Cyber Mentoring Monday Podcast

I started video logs, messages and getting the community involved.

This is by far not a path, but some suggestion. Below find my advices on starting taking and why


Why should you speak at conference/meetup/gathering?

  1. Clarity - committing words on paper force you to convey a message that is clear...maybe is clear in your head but not on paper

  2. Validation - if you have a new idea/concept - ask for validation or see if other peers think about the problem in the same way.

  3. Free opinions - brainstorming an idea at a conference maybe after a talk

  4. Strengthen your network - having a strong network enable you to be cut across recruitment and HR, as well as being able to validate ideas with your peers

  5. Potential new opportunities - having a strong network means when you are looking at the next opportunities you can reach out to people or you can see internal job advert before the rat race networking is key

Networking and Catching up with friends during Black Hat USA

So where do you start:

  1. Know the audience - some topics are super cool but talking about securing Kubernetes clusters or exploiting hardware vulnerabilities at a conference of high level (e.g. Gardner or forester) would miss the mark. Know who is interested in the topic.

  2. If conferences are too scary have a look at local meetups/chapter like OWASP (i love OWASP), ISSA, ISC2, CSA and so on. Also if you are a woman there are tons of groups that support you like WoSEC, infosec Girls, WiCJS Women Cyber Jujitsu

  3. Join a local toastmaster and practice your public speaking skills. Usually, you have friendly faces that give honest comment. this is the very first point to start

My First Metup Talk at Camelot/Many Hats Club Meetup

Now you have an do you convert it into a talk

  1. Avoid the pitfall - title and subtitle come last

  2. Have a skeleton of slides (titles)

  3. Write down the key message and expand the concept

My Talk at White Hall Media ESRM

Suggestion for clarity on your slides

  1. Use 3 bullet point per slide

  2. Don’t use animation if you can or fancy transition

  3. Use pictures - use the comment section

  4. Use metaphors or stories that everyone can relate to

  5. Use stories from work that everyone can relate to

  6. Smile! be human relate (keep this in mind while writing the presentation, humour and jokes - polite - are always welcomed)

Have a look at the dress-code of two difference conferences, the first one (appsec Cali) was very engineering-focused the second (EGR) was very formal

My Talk At Appec Cali
One of my first talk at EGR in London on casino Cybersecurity

Always share the presentation and material before and after the conference. Is good to have a one slide that provides all the information on the talk (name of the conference, name of the talk, time etc...).

Use the look and feel of the conference providers (an added touch of class)

Always remember to ask permission to use the logo and make sure your employee knows that you are representing them (even if you don't use the logo).

My Card for the conference/talk

Before presenting

  1. Practice the talk and record yourself

  2. Practice the talk and commit the key point to paper notes

  3. Make note of the talk in the comment section and summarize the key topics and hook words (lead to the next slide/concept)

  4. Review the video and the talk. Practice consistently over time and make sure the key concepts are sticking

  5. Practice the talk with few people/volunteers or record it and share it. Toastmaster and meetup are great for this early feedback

  6. Don’t worry you will ALWAYS get nervous before a presentation

  7. Prepare the night before but not the same day. you need to reach fresh to the talk

  8. On-time is late and in advance is on time. Many talks require some form of mic up from the organizers...don’t make their life a living hell and arrive 20-30 min before to the stage 1h before to the venue.

  9. Dress appropriately for the conference and audience. Being in a suit is most of the time the safest option but if everyone is dressed-down you might look overly formal and distance the audience and the other way around

  10. Study the room, look at other speakers, imagine your voice in the room and the tone (high or low depending on the audio system)

The podium and the room can be scary, build some confidence before jumping on the stage and remember being nervous is normal

White Hall Media before the beginning

CSA UK AGM @ HSBC UK View from the podium

> stick to the storyline and go over and over! be brutal remove any concept/sentence/word that is unnecessary

> make a summary and abstract for the conference for every talk that you do. focus on

  1. Abstract (100 words)

  2. Long Description (250 words)

  3. Target Audience and Audience Take away (10-15 bullet points)

What preparation looks like

Preparation is key for those conferences

Make Notes




Ask for opinions

Ask for audience

Try again


Preparation on multiple laptops and whiskey :)

During the talk

  1. Engage the audience with questions

  2. Pace yourself and pause... will make you look confident and enable the audience to grab the concepts

  3. Use repetitions (3 times a word/concept) or dramatic pauses

  4. Ask questions and engage the audience during predetermined section/s or in the Q&A (depending on the length of the talk). 15-20 min talk welcome a Q&A at the end 35-45 min talk is better to have multiple sections with questions to keep the audience engaged

  5. Always thank the audience for coming and listening to you. Don’t apologize, instead, thank people for something (e.g. don’t apologize, instead thank the audience for their time, for coming and listening to your talk)

My Cloud Security Talk at Cybersecurity & Cloud expo in London

After the talk

  1. Leave time for questions and network with the audience

  2. Exchange information and ideas! those are golden moment

  3. Always tank the audience for coming and spending time with you.

  4. Thank the conference organizers

  5. Share the material (picture, slides, video) on social media and other media (always check with your employee first)

Ultimately Connect with People! Giving a talk and connecting with people is as important than stage time

Marco Chapelli, myself, Sean Martin from ITSP

Vandana Verma and Myself at OWASP Global

Myself and Tanya Janca at DEFCON27

Networking after the conference: Myself, Daniel Card, Zia Bawani, Amal Kotecha after a conference

Bonus: The Panel Session

Panels are shared session where a coordinator ask a series of questions and stimulate a discussion. Don't be fooled because it looks like a conversation it does require preparation

Usually, the preparation looks like something like this:

Initial discussion with the panel organizer on the subject

Follow up call before the talk with all the panellist and selection of the questions

Preparation before jumping on stage and after with the other panellists (where to sit, who speak first when etc...)

Following my suggestions for panels

  1. Understand the audience and the level. Is ok to ask a series of questions before the talk or before replying to a question to gauge the level of the audience

  2. Make sure your panel coordinator knows exactly how to spell your name when you will speak and what you will be speaking about.

  3. Don't hog the microphone and talk long. Stick to the time agreed so that everyone has a chance to speak

  4. Be polite and thankful for the opportunity to speak. Decide either at the beginning or at the end of the panel: thank the audience, the organizers, panellists and the coordinator.


Panel @ Flat Iron School

Panel At Cybersecurity & Clod Expo North America


I hope the above will encourage more and more people to talk at the meetup and/or conferences.

Remember everyone started somewhere the early the better. One of my biggest regrets is not engaging in talks until late where I felt more than confident...and realize I was not and wasted a lot of opportunities.

if you want to see some of my talk and prep I shamelessly ask to follow my blog or videos

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