Giving a talk at an event like Tech Nottingham or a tech conference is a great idea. It’s good for your CV, good for your confidence, it lets people know who you are and it’s a great thing to do for your community. However, the idea of a crowd of your peers hanging on your every word can, at the very least, be a trifle intimidating.
Here are some tips for giving a great talk...
You have more to share than you realise. In the tech community we all work in our own little bubbles - the languages, tools and techniques that are everyday and mundane to you could be a revelation to everyone else. Share your problems, methods and solutions and watch as the eyes of your audience light up in wonderment.
Don’t assume everybody knows about that thing. For the same reason as above. Avoid making assumptions about what everybody already understands; you can easily lose half the room because they don’t know Bash, Git or recognise something that you consider obvious.
Talks make excellent motivation. If you’ve been planning for ages to figure out how to get your Raspberry Pi to send out a text message when the washing machine is done, there’s nothing like the thought of a public appraisal to act as an incentive. Set a date for the talk and everything else will follow.
Know what you want to say. Start by setting out the points you want to make: the beats you want to hit, the ideas you want your audience to walk away with. Once this is done, then fill in the gaps with the problems you had, how you arrived at your conclusions and how they proved to be ultimately valid.
Nobody expects you to be the expert. You don’t need to have written your own Node.js testing framework to talk about how you went about testing Node.js. It doesn’t matter if there are people in the audience who know more about the subject than you do. The audience wants to hear about what problems you had and your experience of solving them. In the end it comes down to what worked for you, what didn’t, and why.
Use slides to illustrate and punctuate. The detail of your talk should be in what you say and the slides are there as support and provide visual emphasis. Remember, your audience can read faster than you can speak, so there’s no point simply reciting each bullet point on the screen verbatim.
Provoke discussion. There will be members of your audience with similar experiences to yours. They will most likely have drawn different conclusions and approached the problem in alternative ways. Open the floor for feedback; it’s an opportunity for you and your peers to walk away with a broader perspective based on your collective experience.
Test the equipment. This is a simple one but oft forgotten. Check the projector, the wifi, your live examples, the microphone (including how to hold it), videos and connections to any external sites and links in situ prior to the talk.
S L O W D O W N . . . This is *so* hard to stick to, especially if you’re nervous. Remember, if you’re talking to a crowd you need to speak more slowly than in a normal conversation and your natural tendency will be to speed up...
Further reading. Tell people where they can learn more and share your slides and examples online.
Stick to your original premise. Keep your tangents short and give the audience the talk they saw advertised and are expecting
Try these out for yourself
If you’ve got an idea for a talk then submit it here: http://www.technottingham.com/speak/ or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org - we'll work with you to make sure it's the best talk it can be.
See how it's done
Tech Nottingham is this Monday! Join us for talks from Alex Lea and Caolan Mcmahon, it's free! Details can be found here: http://www.technottingham.com/events/2014/4/30/tech-nottingham-june-2014-caolan-mcmahon