Public speaking is not the same as a lecture, it's not a spoken version of your blog post and it's not a good idea to rant and vent. You literally have a stage and an audience so it's more of a performance then you might think. Most talks are either inspirational, emotional and informative.
How to start speaking
Finding events to speak
Big events aren’t likely to take a chance on an inexperienced speaker.
- Start small and join a local meet-up group, it's a great way to practice.
- Submit to Call for Papers. CFP's are generally accepted but always remain skeptical.
- Conferences ask you to speak. This is a reall priviled position to be in. Remember, you are not obligated to say yes.
I think everyone can learn to be a good speaker trough practice, but speaking at conferences isn't for everyone and that's totally okay.
Reasons for speaking
You probably have a love of sharing knowledge and speaking is one of the best ways to do that. You believe in something and want others to share that feeling. Try to avoid starting with something you know nothing about.
When I started teaching I did a ton of free speaking at local meet-ups and guest lectures and companies. Creating and giving a talk is a massive commitment and time investment. Not to mention the research, content preparation and traveling time. That's why I have become quite picky on which events I speak at.
- You want to explain a technical topic in an easier manner to a wide audience. Take something complicated and try to make it as simple as possible. The best way to learn is to teach it to other people.
- Pitch new ideas to your audience. They audience will take the idea and adopt it and share it with other people that have similar interests.
- Tell a story, probably a personal story with a case study. Talk about how you struggled with something and figured it out. It will help people learning the same topic.
- You'll learn a ton of new skills while watching other talks, traveling to places, build your network, meet people in the industry that you respect and meet friends you only know trough the internet.
The flip side of the coin:
Creating and giving a talk is a massive commitment and time investment. Not to mention the research, content preparation and traveling time. If speaking isn't your profession be careful about what commitments you make.
Preparing a talk
There are two aspects to preparing a talk: the content and the presentation. First think about what you want to say not how to present the material.
Hot topics are usually not that good subjects. Hop topics will mean many people will talk about them. Convert a popular blog posts you've written to a talk. You can also test out ideas in blog posts.
Keep a list and note down al of your ideas with resources.
How you prepare is very personal, this is just what works for me.
What is something only you can talk about?
Creating and giving a talk is a massive commitment and time investment. Not to mention the research, content preparation and traveling time.
Rehearse out loud. Just by hearing your words you get to know the flow of the talk. Start a timer and deliver your presentation to no one. If you don't have the time at least rehearse the first couple of slides. This will be awkward at first but record yourself giving the talk, either with a smartphone or just pop open quicktime and record the screen and audio.
Then rehearse with a couple of friends or co-workers.
People will forget most things you've said. Make the talk around one central idea. Focus on the 'what' you want to talk about and then explain why you want to talk about it and how (the best format).
Find something you are intrinsically motivated in. Recognition or getting a raise are not good motivators. It's easier to pick a topic for something you are already inspired by. It's convincing to talk about something you are passionate about.
You can pick a topic you know well, or pick a new topic you've been wanting to learn. Pick something that you are passionate about and that you feel comfortable with. You don't need to be an expert on it.
Talks don't have to be technical, I like workshops more for code-heavy and technical things.
You should definitely rehearse your talk. Rehearsing will take out the 'kinks', see how things differ from written form versus speaking and see if you can fit everything in the allocated time frame.
That's why I have become quite picky on which events I speak at.
Don't worry too much about having a different unique concept. It's okay to take an existing concept and talk abour your own perspectives.
- Get everything out of your head. Use something like a mind-map or A3 paper or mindnotes. Just make sure it's not a blank file where you put things from top to bottom. You don't wany any order.
- Group similar ideas together like 'chunks'. Those are topics or sections that will form your presentation.
- Write a rough outline with everything you want to include. It's ok to remove things along the way and filter.
- Structure the talk and move around the chunks and section so they will feel like a coherent story.
- Create the slides. Nice slides are a good thing but make sure you have a template and don't start from scratch each time. Don't let this be the main source of time when preparing a talk. Slides are not the talk. Don't use the slides as a defence mechanism.
The making of the outline also helps you find 'gaps' in your talk.
Ask the organisers if you will be introduced, otherwise put the introduction in your slides. No lengthy introduction but talk a bit yourself.
Ever wondered why Ted Talks are only 20 minutes? Because, people have limited attention. Run too long and their attention moves.
Your talk is a performance. Use gestures, use intentions. Be a bit more theatrical than usual.
A performance doesn’t necessarily mean being loud and waving hands. Being calm is even better, people will feel the emotional conviction behind the talk.
- Pacing a presentation is one of the hardest things to do. The golden rule is that you can't go 'to slow'. Never ever rush. You don't want to rush your conclusion.
- Move but try to stand still. Never ever move in front of the screen. Make it natural movement. Lots of moving your feet makes you look nervous.
- Confidence monitors are great since you won't have to turn around to see what's on your slides. Or look at the speaker lectern to see the slide that's next up.
- Look at the audience and make eye contact. Don't look at your notes and slides all the time. The more eyes you see the better. Look around the room, talk to all sections of the audience. If it's a very large audience just look at the wall just above the audience.
- Make sure you have a Talk Toolkit with a presenter remote and every dongle you can imagine. Also double check the tech and equipment they have at the event. Even ask the organisers for technical specifications.
- Check if the audio and video works, if you're wi-fi is enabled if you want to show a webpage.
- Ask or research what the stage will look like. Do they have confidence monitors? How wide and large is the stage? Can you look at the notes?
- Ask what microphones are available and what type, do they have clip-ons or do you have to hold one? The most common mics are lapel mics and countryman mics. Remember that they usually have a transmitter pack that needs to clip on your trousers.
- What to wear? Clothing is very personal, wear what you are comfortable with. If youre not sure, try to dress one level smarter.
- Use your voice and body as a tool to keep things interesting.
- Minimize 'euhm' and be aware of your speaking patterns. This can only be improved trough practice.
- After you are done clear the stage, pack your stuff and make room for the next speaker. At the university there
Improve your presentations
If you give a talk again learn from the questions you get afterwards (in-person or tweets for example) and see if you can improve. Maybe some explanations need to be clearer or pick different examples to illustrate your point. Praise for a presentation might be a good thing but even better are questions. Recording your talk will catch your speaking patterns, it will change your perspective.
Many people are visual oriented, so I usually have a ton of images and diagrams to make concepts more clear. You want your slides to accompany your talk, not be the focal point.
- Create 'landmark slides' that act as timing milestones. Don't use real time-of-day timings.
- Write quotable slidest that people can take pictures of to share on social media.
- Typograpohy is the biggest thing people get wrong. You can’t go too big, use contrast and don't use many words.
- Use different colors for different sections.
Never ever pay to speak.
Life can be messy and it's okay to pull out. I always try to do it well in advance. I try to find a replacement speaker.
- Visit the room and watch someone else present on the same stage.
- Learn from questions of the audience to tweak your presentation.
- Talks get better with practice. Instead of making a whole new talk try to give the same talk a couple of times.
- I personally don't like 'here are 7 or 12 things' talks and then go trough each bullet.
- Don't try to start with a whole background story and biography. I like to 'pack it' while I'm giving my talk.
- Case studies work really well to explain topics or do a deep dive.
- Nerves are natural, all you can do is manage them.
- I personally choose to have many slides with a small amounts on each. I like the fast-paced flow.
- Don't try to be the expert but be a storyteller. A good talk is about failure and your process, not the expertise.
- When you give a tech talk, nobody cares about the technical stuff. Technical stuff only matters in the context of a story.
- Add your personal story but don't make the talk about you but about the story.
- I write my speaker notes in bullet points, not full sentences. This gives enough room for improvisation but enough structure to keep coming back to.
Books & Resources
Cclick on the in-line links in this guide to go to relevant articles. Here is a list of books and other resources that helped me set-up this guide.
- Notist Advent speaker tips
- Peparing a conference talk by Jeremy Keith
- Don’t Pay To Speak At Commercial Events
- Andy Budd Twitter Thread
- Ladybug Podcast about speaking at conferences
- You're paying to speak by Remy Sharp
- Speaking At Technical Conferences by Emma Bostion
- Public Speaking as a Developer by Ali Spittel
- Your Perfect Tech Talk with Saron Yitbarek
- Preparing for a Tech Talk by Dan Abramov
- Speaking.io by Zach Holman
- A few tricks about public speaking and stage technology
— Danny de Vries