I had my first large conference speaking experience at CloudNativeCon + KubeCon 2017, and it was an interesting experience in that I learned a lot about myself and how to work effectively in a collaborative fashion with a speaking partner.
I would argue that not only is preparing a talk, and giving it hard; doing so with a speaking partner adds another level of difficulty, but can be rewarding – it adds a whole new dimension of audience engagement if done properly. For example, my speaking partner was able to jump down into the audience with a mic, and encourage a discussion while I kept direction. My speaking partner was also able to act as both an audience member, and a speaker at times – asking questions about statements; and vice versa.
The primary lesson learned for both of us was that agreeing upon a goal of the talk at the beginning is paramount. If you don’t both share a goal – idea generation, content generation, and progress will fork in the road. In addition, stating a goal (even if it seems obvious) is really useful in sticking to a script. Luckily, we both did share the same goal (even though it was discovered late in the game), but lack of stating it made both of us tend to stray from the goal at times – for example, including tangential information in slides, or speaking to side points that were interesting to us as engineers, but arguably besides the point for the audience. Once we had a goal in stone, with every part of the presentation, we could ask, “Does this help us achieve our goal(s) for the audience?”
The other piece that can be difficult besides coordination, is location. My speaking partner and I live in different cities, so live practice was delayed until a few days before our live talk. It was helpful for both of us to talk through sections as if we were presenting over the phone, then practice and learn one an others mannerisms in person afterwards.
Final thoughts. Speaking with a partner is an exercise in empathy, and listening as much or more than a speaking exercise in it self. You are both preparing to expose your thoughts, and feel comfortable together in front of a large amount of people. Before you can do that, you have to be able to do those two things together first, before you can do them in front of an audience.
Listen, relax, and be your self.