Top tips to help you give a great talk
1. Know your audience
- It's important that you understand who you'll be presenting to and taylor your talk to them. If the audience is likely to be a mix of experience levels, you can't assume that they'll have the background to understand your talk from the outset. Therefore, consider having a slide or two of introductory information to lay a knowledge foundation and provide context for the less experienced members of your audience. Give them the tools they'll need to not get lost during your talk.
2. Tell a story
- How you organize your content makes a big difference to how well it's received.
- Take the time to outline your talk before you write the slides. Make sure it tells a coherent story—from beginning to end. Check that each section or slide makes sense and that you can transition to it from the slide or section before. Lack of good transitions can lose your audience and make it a lot harder for you to present the material.
3. Construct your presentation
- When you're building your presentation, remember this: Slides cost you nothing. Don't be afraid to use more of them. Each slide should hold a single idea, no more, and feel free to extend an idea across multiple slides if that's what makes the most sense for your presentation.
- Don't overload your slides with words or bullet points. The slides are there to guide your performance of the material. They are not there for the audience to read.
- When you do have words on your slides, make the font size quite large. Your goal is to make it easily readable from the back of the room, not to fit a lot of text on the slide, so bump that size up.
- Animated slide transitions and animated gifs can add interest to a talk, but they also can be really annoying and distracting. If you're using slide transitions, make sure it makes sense to do so for the content and you're not just doing it because you think it's fun. If you use animated gifs, either don't keep them on screen for long or use settings on your presentation software to disable gif looping. Either way, excessive animation on the screen moves attention to it rather than where the attention ought to be: on you, the presenter, and the content you are delivering.
4. Practise delivering your talk
- The single largest and most common mistake new presenters make is not practising their talk. Believe me, your audience can tell and they don't like it.
- Simply stepping through your slides and reading them to yourself is not practising. It can help you become more familiar with the material, yes, but presenting a good talk requires more than just knowing the material. You also must be comfortable delivering it. You can't gain that comfort without actually delivering the material out loud, just as you will to your audience.
- Delivering a talk is a performance, therefore you should practise as you'll perform. Get an audience if you can—a meetup, friends, peers, your family, your pets—but even if you can't, then at least go through the same motions you would if you were presenting before an audience. It really does make a huge difference in your final performance and your audience will appreciate it.
- When you do deliver your talk, don't read from your slides or speaker notes. Practising can help a lot to prevent this, since you'll be more comfortable delivering the material and won't need to read your notes.
- Make eye contact with your audience, allowing your gaze to float around the room and meet the eyes of various people in the room. Don't get stuck looking at only one or two people (even if they're your friends). Keep that gaze moving around.
- Keep your posture tall and your stance open. Don't hunch over or hide behind the podium. Your audience will listen to and trust you more if you have that open stance. You won't be hiding anything from them. This stance also makes you appear more confident (no matter how you may feel inside), and audiences react more positively toward confident—but not arrogantly so—speakers.
5. Practise demos
- If your presentation includes a live demo, make sure that you practise it just as you practise the rest of your material. Your demo is a part of the performance you'll be giving your audience and deserves the same level of attention as the rest of your content. Whatever form your demo takes (terminal, IDE, web), make sure it's readable by everyone in the audience. Increase all of the font sizes before your talk starts. Fixing readability during your demo is distracting to your audience.
- Always have a backup plan in case your demo doesn't work. Perhaps have a video you can play (but don't rely on having audio or internet for it), or a scripted automatic version of the demo that you can fall back to.
- Always have a backup plan in case your demo doesn't work.
- And no matter what, please remember: A failed demo does not become a big deal until you make a big deal out of it. If the demo does not work and you shrug and say, "Well, we'll just have to get back to that later if there's time" and then move on with the rest of the content, the audience is unlikely to remember the failure. If you spend five minutes fussing with your demo, pausing occasionally to apologize to the audience, then the failure will likely be memorable.
- It's okay if your demo fails—it happens all the time and audiences are used to it. Having a backup plan, simply not reacting badly to the failure yourself, and in particular spending a lot of time practicing the demo, will ensure that your overall talk is still successful.
6. Consider how to handle Q&A
- As the speaker, you get to decide what makes the most sense for handling questions about your talk. Some speakers like it when people ask questions throughout their talk, while others prefer that the audience save all questions for the end. Once in a while a speaker would prefer no questions from the audience at all, instead asking that people come up to the podium after the talk to have a more private conversation.
- Your preference may change depending on your talk topic and format, but whichever you pick, please do tell the audience near the start of the talk. This sets up their expectations and allows them to write down their questions or otherwise change their questioning tactics.
- Sometimes you end up with an audience member who will not follow your directions and hold their questions to the end, or who otherwise interrupts or disrupts your talk. Their interruptions make you feel uncomfortable, which is bad enough, but they're also ruining the experience for the entire audience, which is unforgivable. As the speaker, it is your responsibility to manage this disruption. Your audience will be grateful if you ask the troublesome individual to please hold their comments for later or to please leave the room. If the offender will not leave the room, ask the room moderator to escort them out.
- At all stages of this process, be firm but empathetic and respectful. The disruptor is being a jerk, but you don't improve the situation by being a jerk back to them.
7. Follow up after the talk
- Share your materials. Do you have slides? Code? Links to projects discussed? Please make sure you share them so people can continue learning from your material.
- Seek out feedback. Find out how the content and your delivery of it was received - talk to your audience afterwards, and we will share the delegate feedback on your talk with you post event.