Before we jump into the hows of public speaking, perhaps we should answer the question of "Why." If you've heard me speak or have read my book, you know that asking this question is near and dear to my heart. After all, if you don't know why you're doing something, how do you know whether or not you're going about accomplishing it in the proper ways?
Grace Kwan tackles the question of why you, too, should speak at a conference in this great write-up of her own experience discovering that she had something valuable to say. She not only addresses a handful of reasons why public speaking is worth the investment (for you as well as your company!) but also gives a few quick tips on how to get started.
Don't have time to read through all of this information before your talk on Monday? No sweat. Take a look at these two comprehensive articles about speaking, from submitting the best possible CFP to delivering a world-class speech:
-The Ultimate Guide to Memorable Tech Talks. This 7-part guide from Nina Zakharenko takes a deep dive into not only how to give a fantastic talk, but how to choose the right topic and manage your time wisely along the way.
-On Conference Speaking. Hynek Schlawack lays out his 10 phases of speaking in this example-driven essay. His preparation technique is one that I aspire to recreate in my own talk prep routine!
Getting a CFP accepted is half the battle when it comes to speaking at conferences. After all, if you can't get your talks accepted, you won't be winding up on stage anytime soon. But how do you know what conference organizers are looking for? Jono Bacon offers up 7 recommendations. Here's my favorite:
Submit sessions that are interesting, engaging, and challenging, but don’t resort to clickbait titles and topics. Break the mold of what people normally talk about and how they discuss it, but stay classy.
Conference speaking veteran and event organizer Mariko Kosaka suggests fleshing out CFP ideas with friends and colleagues in this great Twitter thread. From floating proposals to getting bias checks, using your community to level up your abstracts is a fantastic way to test-drive possible conference talks!
Let's be honest: the best CFPs clearly explain what's in it for the attendees. But why does it seem so difficult to distill that information? Bridget Kromhout talks about how to crack the CFP nut in this practical, tip-filled blogpost.
What’s in it for their attendees? If your talk proposal lays that out clearly, it increases your chances of being selected to speak. So for every talk proposal, make sure you can articulate what your actionable takeaways are.
This tweet from Natalie Panek emphasizes the storytelling element of Developer Relations.
When I give a talk, I assume the audience does not know a lot about the subject. I try to frame the problem in a context that is relatable, instead of focusing on details. Storytelling rather than a technical narrative gives me a better chance of getting buy-in from the audience!
The best speakers are storytellers, because they understand how to make their content relatable to everyone in the room. And as Natalie points out, storytelling increases the chances of getting buy-in from the audience, which increases your chances of finding those "DevRel Qualified Leads" to introduce back to your colleagues after your talk.
I live and die by checklists in so many aspects of my personal and professional life, so this checklist from Speakerhub quickly found its way into my heart! From making backups of your presentation in multiple places to requesting event photos for use on your personal website, they haven't left anything out.
The tagline of this piece -- Pragmatic advice for anyone taking the stage -- is spot on. While many articles on speaking focus on the practical to-do items, Gant Laborde breaks down a few intuitive but oft-forgotten components of speaking, including taking care of yourself and adjusting the energy level of your talk based on when you're scheduled to speak.
Don't include words.
Only include a handful of words.
Include a summary slide so that everyone knows what the key takeaways are.
Use gifs to engage people.
Don't have movement in your slides.
There are so many differing opinions when it comes to slides that it's hard to know which ones to follow, but when someone like Aaron Weyenberg, former UX Lead at TED, takes the time to share wisdom, you better believe I stop to listen!
In this blogpost, he offers up 10 tips for making an effective slide deck. The first five tips tackle the big, overarching goals that you'll want to keep in mind as you're creating your slides, while the last five dig into tips and tricks that will, as he says, "make your presentation sing."
We so often focus on what we should be saying on stage. What about the things we should be careful to avoid? Concepts that may seem second-nature to us can often be new or unusual for attendees, as Chris Heilman reminds us in this blogpost. In it, he not only takes the time to make us aware of phrases that may be unintentionally destructive but also suggests alternatives phrases to use.
The Fear of Public Speaking
Many of us are familiar with the butterflies that hit our stomach 30 minutes before we go on stage. Some folks handle these butterflies with a specific warm-up routine to pump themselves up. Others focus on running through their talk over and over again, reminding themselves that they know what they're doing. Still others never feel these nerves at all!
But for those of us who do, they can be debilitating at times. So how do we learn to deal with them, or better yet, get rid of them entirely? These two articles from speaking veterans walk through a variety of suggestions that you can try before your next speaking gig. Let's go tackle those nerves!
-How to Manage Your Fear of Public Speaking. Sarah Milstein walks through clear-cut tips for how to mitigate nerves on the day of your talk, from making the audience look awesome to reducing adrenaline to planting yourself on stage.
-A 20 step plan to being viscerally horrified of public speaking and giving a talk anyway. Dave Josephsen shares his tried-and-true 20-step plan to getting through a public speaking engagement which anyone can implement, given that you have 3 weeks to prep, software with a “speaker notes” feature and an external faux-projector screen to practice with.
Live coding is risky business, even for the most experienced of speakers. Lucky for us, Matthew Gilliard put together a list of tips to implement prior to your talk as well as a handful of things to do if things start to go sideways, as they so often do.
As a conference speaker, we have a unique opportunity to connect with attendees, influence decisions, and give people a chance to reconsider their biases. This is a huge responsibility which can seem overwhelming at times for those of us who are introverts, but it's important that we take on the mantle rather than "helicopter" in and out of conferences, sticking around only for our talk.
Emily Freeman includes this item in a great list of what she terms "speaker cardinal sins." While like most things, we need to balance it with self-care, it's a reality check that all of us can use as we get jaded and road-weary during conference season.
Whether it's the first or fifth time you've given a particular talk, feedback can be difficult to parse. Some people swear by the "never read the comments!" policy, while others make some comfort food and dive in head-first. Either way, it can sometimes be difficult to know what feedback is useful and what should have been deleted by the conference organizers.
In this blogpost, Hayley Denbraver tells the story of how she wound up giving a tech talk multiple times in three months. In addition to collecting all of the various data points and viewing them holistically, she suggests sticking around after your talk to connect with conference goers one-on-one. This practice of getting personalized feedback onsite, combined with listening to your talk afterward so that you can improve on your particular speaking quirks, will go a long way toward making your next speaking experience even better than the last!
Jessica Rose has many years of public speaking experience and has done her fair share of mentorship in the space as well. Her wealth of knowledge is a great way to wrap up this "Best of: Speaking" newsletter. I'd encourage you to peruse it in your spare time, as you'll find gems such as these:
Try to avoid slides with huge chunks of bullet-pointed text. If you are using bullet points, have them reveal as you get to them verbally.
People can read faster can you can speak, they'll read ahead of you and tune out if your next point is on the slide.
If you're taking your talk overseas, jokes are going to need to be localized.
Check videos of other talks or uni lectures in your language to see what people laugh at there.
Q&A can feel scary. But you’re the boss. Most of the audience wants what’s best for you. But you’ve got the upper hand against Q&A griefers.
If someone starts saying they’ve got a comment, not a question, just say “I want to reserve this time for questions”
And if you're still not convinced that you're ready to start speaking at conferences, I'll leave you with this wisdom:
Don't despair, shy folks! If public speaking isn't something you want to do, you can gain some of the same benefits through building demos, writing, mentoring or contributing to projects.