drone conference talk

How to give a great drone conference talk (and get invited back next year)

Aerial photographer Fiona Lake is a professional photographer with more than 30 years of experience specializing in agriculture. But her other skill has really boosted her credibility: public speaking. 

Lake has given drone conference talks across 4 continents — and been invited back.

The secret? She gives drone conference talks that are engaging and fresh, and conference organizers want more of them. It’s not just reading from slides, or repeating the same things everyone already knows.

In Part 2 of a 4-part interview series with Lake about speaking at conferences, Lake shares what makes a compelling drone conference talk.

Fiona Lake drone conference
Fiona Lake

Missed Part 1? Last week, Lake shared how to get booked to speak at drone conferences for the first time. Read her insights, and check back next week for Part 3 — how to get paid to speak at drone conferences.

Drone Girl: What makes a good drone conference talk?

Fiona Lake: A good drone conference talk is a combination of useful and relevant information delivered in an engaging/entertaining manner. A better presentation stands out because it is unique. This requires risk taking and challenging the status quo – so courage is essential! Of course, courage should not be confused with fearlessness.

DG: How much is it about presentation and delivery, vs. content? 

FL: Content is always king or queen but originality, honesty and personality ensure maximum impact. Slick presentations and sophisticated videos are often used to pad out time and cloak a lack of substance.  The second problem with fancy presentations is that they’re often wheeled out again and again, without updates, because so much time has been invested in perfecting them and making changes isn’t quick and easy. 

DG:  That’s a good point. It seems like great content is always better than a slick video that isn’t substantive or fresh.

FL: Every audience deserves at least some content that has been tweaked to specifically suit them or introduce something new. So don’t ever run an identical presentation twice – it should always contain some updates, even if only minor. No presentation is ever ‘perfect’.

DG: How do you balance giving an understandable overview to people who have no idea what you’re talking about, vs. giving fresh info to the inevitable experts in the audience?

FL: Drone conference audiences can be very challenging because the full range of experience is often present – from ‘haven’t touched a drone yet’ to very accomplished operators. Engaging these extremes in the one talk isn’t for the faint hearted.

My goal is to impart at least one thing that each attendee takes away and uses to the extent that it changes their business or life to a useful degree. I always aim to be thought provoking. The reality is that you’ll never please everyone, but you must aim high!

DG: What sort of advice do you have for giving a really engaging presentation?

FL: It’s a lot easier for self-employed people to give memorable presentations than company CEOs as their performance is scrutinised by a board, employees and shareholders. People in formal leadership positions often play it so safe their talks are mind numbingly bland, whereas independent operators have the freedom to poke sticks up logs and raise topics others may hesitate to discuss publicly.

DG: That’s true! I always love when people say something a little more juicy or controversial even.

FL: Yes! So don’t waste this advantage! Some conference organisers have told me that frankness is one of the reasons why I’ve received an invitation to speak.

DG: What about engaging with your audience? What could speakers do better?

FL: Don’t just rush in for your own drone conference talk then disappear. I’ve seen many well-paid speakers do this and it shows a real lack of respect for others.  Encourage people to fill in feedback surveys.

DG: Totally! It’s not just about giving a 30 minute talk. It’s about being part of the community!

Fiona Lake drone conference talk australian agriculture
Fiona Lake giving a presentation on Drones in Australian Agriculture

FL: I also take photographs at the conference and post comments on social media, because this can help encourage others to attend next time.  I connect via LinkedIn with conference organisers, speakers and attendees that I have things in common with, and try to introduce people to one another. In person events are all about communicating and the break time can be even more useful than the sessions.  Make conference speaking a collaboration, a partnership. I treat it like any other business relationship.

DG: That’s good advice. Is there any additional advice for getting invited to give a new talk at the same conference next year?

FL: Being invited back means organisers have faith that you will be able to deliver unique content again.  It’s relatively easy to perfect a one trick pony show – it’s a lot more of a challenge to roll up to the same conference and deliver something as refreshingly new, engaging and useful as the previous year’s session. I’m fortunate that ideas have never been a problem for me – my business has been based on spotting gaps and addressing them in a forthright manner. And I like challenges.

DG: Totally! Organizers want the same people to return the next year, so they can’t give them the same talk!

FL: Also, the fundamentals of repeat invitations are of course being professional and giving attendees what they came for. ‘Professional’ means being reliable, punctual and communicating well and in advance. Make the organisers’ job easy.  Respond to queries promptly, supply the requested pic and bio early. Discuss potential issues well before the conference is on. 

DG: Any other tricks to making conference organizers like you enough to invite you back?

FL: Value-adding helps. Add conference details to your website or blog and send out social media posts to boost publicity. Engaging with the conference social media accounts. It’s amazing how few speakers bother to do these things. It seems like less than 10% do, even though it doesn’t take long and is a win/win for everyone involved.

Other recommendations include attending other conference sessions, asking other speakers conversation-starter questions and being available to be asked questions yourself, for the duration.

DG: I think it’s also worth pointing out that sometimes you might not get invited back even if you do all the above things absolutely perfectly, and that’s okay.

FL: Ultimately, conferences need diverse speakers to ensure repeat attendees. They can’t have the same people talking on the same topics every year. But it’s human nature to prefer dealing with someone known to reliably deliver quality over someone who is untested.  I enjoy returning as it feels like meeting up with old friends.

DG: You’ve spoken in many different countries. How do cultural differences impact how you give a presentation?

FL: If speaking at an event in another country it’s vital to research the local industry and understand fundamental cultural differences so that your presentation content and style hits the spot.  If you’re in a country where self-promotion is the norm, then don’t hide your achievements. If in a country where self-promotion is viewed as self-important rudeness, then tone it down. 

For example, Australia is still fundamentally egalitarian, so most people here aren’t impressed just because somebody has a title or assets. In fact, we tend to laugh at self-importance. This can unfortunately be mistaken as disrespect so it’s something we need to be aware of. Most governments have trade departments who can help with typical do’s and don’ts, to help avoid cultural misunderstandings.

DG: Not very many people can say they’ve been invited to speak at drone conferences across 4 continents. You can take it a step further by saying you’ve been invited back to speak at drone conferences on 4 continents. 

FL: I feel very fortunate to have been a speaker at a number of the largest drone conferences in the world. But the most exciting thing has been repeat invitations. I never know if the most recent invitation will be the last and the mouse wheel has to keep smoking, but I make sure I appreciate every conference I attend.

DG: And I’ll give a plug for more you’ve written on this topic! You have a great blog post on public speaking with practical tips on speaking at conferences and workshops.

You’ve mastered the drone conference talk, now get paid for it! Next week, Lake will share how to get paid to speak at drone conferences (and when it’s okay to forego payment). Come back next Friday for Part 3. 

To ensure you don’t miss Part 3 (or any other post on The Drone Girl), enter your email at the top right corner of my site and click subscribe to get each new post delivered straight to your email inbox. If daily emails are too much, you can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter which rounds up posts like these, right here:


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