Don’t Read Off The Screen

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.

I'm currently available for hire, to help you plan, architect, and build new systems, and for technical writing and articles. You can take a look at some projects I've worked on and some of my writing. If you'd like to talk about your upcoming project, do get in touch.

More in the discussion (powered by webmentions)

  • Stuart Langridge responded at ...and all these suggestions eventually became so thank you everyone who responded to this!
  • Gamer Geek responded at Stuart Langridge: Don’t Read Off The Screen… Friends and enemies, attendees of Tech Mids 2022. Don’t read off the screen.…
  • Matt Andrews responded at
  • Alan Pope responded at I did enjoy the Baz Luhrmann theme of this talk. Very nicely done, worth 5 mins of your time if you ever give talks.
  • Daniel Newns responded at Loved it very very much!
  • Simon Mackie responded at
  • Dave W. responded at When you said... "If they tell you how to speak, take two pinches.".. I heard "... take them to the pictures" (as in cinema). 🤭. Great video!
  • Alan Pope responded at
  • Dave W. responded at
  • Dennis Shimer responded at Do you ever speak, anywhere for any reason. This is worth 5 minutes even if it just reinforces what you already know. Good tips and reminders efficien…
  • Dave Evans responded at
  • Andrew Spencer responded at
  • Nicholas Shiell responded at
  • Stuart Langridge responded at Couldn't have done it without you, pal. Collaborative effort :)
  • Stuart Langridge responded at well, you can take me to the pictures if you like :) I'm glad you liked it!
  • Thomas Meehan responded at
  • MichaelP responded at
  • Hubert SABLONNIÈRE responded at This ⬇️😍
  • Robert Goss responded at Top story: as days pass by — Don’t Read Off The Screen…, see more
  • Hubert SABLONNIÈRE responded at
  • James Henstridge responded at
  • James Henstridge responded at This is a great talk Stuart's done! The Sunscreen Song format works pretty well to get the advice across in the short time frame.
  • Indy responded at
  • Jamu Kakar responded at Don't read off the screen. Some advice on speaking in public: a 5-minute Ignite talk, with music.……
  • Ant responded at
  • Jamu Kakar responded at
  • code brewer responded at Nice summary of nice advice, I found the music to be loud compared to narration - to the extend of drowning it out in parts. So thanks for the link to…
  • Martin Albisetti responded at
  • Stuart Langridge responded at yeah, I'm not fantastic at audio stuff; maybe I should do a remix version with things quieter at some point! I fancy playing with kinetic typography..…
  • Tim Yocum responded at This, from @sil, is fantastic. I don't fancy myself a public speaker - it terrifies me - but this 5-minute video might help change that.…
  • FedericoMenaQuintero responded at
  • Jared responded at
  • Andrew Fray responded at
  • Will Cooke responded at
  • Phil Wolstenholme responded at
  • Stuart Langridge responded at Me too -- this is why I put a bit in the talk () about drinking water and listening to people who tell you to do so, as well as slowing down :-)
  • Chen Zhixiang responded at
  • David Murphy responded at
  • Marcin Juszkiewicz responded at I do not speak at conferences. But other people do. Some of them provide good hints.
  • Marcin Juszkiewicz responded at
  • AzureCrimson ᗢ responded at
  • Gabriel - Simply Secure responded at
  • code brewer responded at One the few occasions I have had to I must say audacity and some YouTubers advice on basic “cleanup” made a massive improvement for me!
  • Stephen Michael Kellat responded at There is a song from the late 90s, early 2000s that comes to mind in reading this……
  • Jamie Tanna responded at Bookmarked... ( {'value': 'Bookmarked\nas days pass by — Don’t Read Off The\xa0Screen\nPost detailsA post by Stuart Langridge (sil)', 'html': 'Bookmarked\nas days pass by — Don’t Read Off The Screen\nPost detailsA post by Stuart Langridge (sil)'}
  • Hidde responded at “your voice is valuable. Tell people your story. The way you see things is unique, just like everybody else”—@sil on public speaking…
  • Hidde responded at I just realised I did my 50th public talk this weekend and everything @sil says is correct.
  • 🇺🇦 responded at "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 99: Wear Sunscreen." Also, read this from @sil:……
  • Colin Watson responded at I did a successful live demo on Tuesday and therefore I assume I've used up my remaining luck for the rest of the year.
  • Michelle Barker responded at “Your technology will betray you if it gets a chance.” Oh yes. 😬
  • Stuart Langridge responded at brave soul!
  • Stuart Langridge responded at this is a flagrantly reckless tempting of fate!
  • Stuart Langridge responded at I'm really glad you thought so :)
  • Stuart Langridge responded at Maybe I should tweet all the lines from it separately :)
  • Simon Willison responded at This five minute lightning talk on public speaking by @sil is so great. Watch the video with sound for the full effect, don't just skip it and read th…
  • Basix responded at "Don’t read off the screen."…
  • Adactio Links responded at as days pass by — Don’t Read Off The Screen…