Hear this talk performed (with appropriate background music):
Friends and enemies, attendees of Tech Mids 2022.
Don’t read off the screen.
If I could offer you only one piece of advice for why and how you should speak in public, don’t read off the screen would be it. Reading your slides out is guaranteed to make your talk boring, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis in fact other than my own experience, and the million great people who gave me thoughts on Twitter.
I shall dispense this advice… now.
Every meetup in every town is crying out for speakers, and your voice is valuable. Tell people your story. The way you see things is unique, just like everybody else.
Everybody gets nervous about speaking sometimes. Anybody claiming that they don’t is either lying, or trying to sell you something. If you’re nervous, consider that its a mark of wanting to do a good job.
Don’t start by planning what you want to say. Plan what you want people to hear. Then work backwards from there to find out what to say to make that happen.
You can do this. The audience are on your side.
Find your own style. Take bits and pieces from others and make them something of your own.
Slow down. Breathe. You’re going faster than it feels like you are.
Pee beforehand. If you have a trouser fly, check it.
If someone tells you why you should speak, take their words with a pinch of salt, me included. If they tell you how to speak, take two pinches. But small tips are born of someone else’s bad experience. When they say to use a lapel mic, or drink water, or to have a backup, then listen; they had their bad day so that you didn’t have to.
Don’t put up with rambling opinions from questioners. If they have a comment rather than a question, then they should have applied to do a talk themselves. You were asked to be here. Be proud of that.
Practice. And then practice again, and again. If you think you’ve rehearsed enough, you haven’t.
Speak inclusively, so that none of your audience feels that the talk wasn’t for them.
Making things look unrehearsed takes a lot of rehearsal.
Some people script their talks, some people don’t. Whether you prefer bullet points or a soliloquy is up to you. Whichever you choose, remember: don’t just read out your notes. Your talk is a performance, not a recital.
Nobody knows if you make a mistake. Carry on, and correct it when you can. But keep things simple. Someone drowning in information finds it hard to listen.
Live demos anger the gods of speaking. If you can avoid a live demo, do so. Record it in advance, or prep it so that it looks live. Nobody minds at all.
Don’t do a talk only once.
Acting can be useful, if that’s the style you like. Improv classes, stage presence, how you stand and what you do with your hands, all of this can be taught. But put your shoulders back and you’ve got about half of it.
Carry your own HDMI adapter and have a backup copy of your talk. Your technology will betray you if it gets a chance.
Record your practices and watch yourself back. It can be a humbling experience, but you are your own best teacher, if you’re willing to listen.
Try to have a star moment: something that people will remember about what you said and the way you said it. Whether that’s a surprising truth or an excellent joke or a weird gimmick, your goal is to have people walk away remembering what you said. Help them to do that.
Now, go do talks. I’m Stuart Langridge, and you aren’t. So do your talk, your way.
But trust me: don’t read off the screen.