March 08, 2018
This post is part of a series about preparing technical talks; the introduction is here.
Today, I’ll be covering the final steps of my process: practice and delivery.
In the time I’ve been writing this series, Gary Bernhardt published an outstanding blog post, How to Prepare a Talk. Gary hits most of the major points I would make. I’d recommend it to any aspiring speaker.
Practice is everything. I rehearse each section of my talk at least five times, and then run through the entire talk without stopping another 10-20 times prior to any presentation. I do every rehearsal with a timer, at a podium, projecting my slides onto something (even just a television screen), even wearing the type of clothing I’ll be wearing at the presentation.
I practice setting up my equipment, including plugging in the HDMI cable or Airplay, putting my devices into Airplane/silent mode, setting up live coding, and switching display preferences. These little things can be hard to do smoothly when standing in front of 300 people.
I practice handling loss of Internet, my presentation software crashing, and even losing my physical computer.
I practice staying in a time window by writing timestamps (for example: T: 10:30) in the presenter notes of each transition point in the talk. If I’m ahead of the timestamp, I breathe and drink water. If I’m behind, I speed up and start policing my digressions.
Every minute of my talk has been practiced again and again. It’s the only way I know how to present, and it works.
If you get a chance, deliver the talk once to a real audience. For a Meetup talk, deliver it first to your coworkers or friends. For a conference talk, deliver it once at a Meetup. Leave time for Q & A in the practice run; the questions your audience asks are very valuable. Answer them preemptively on the next run, or add a section addressing common counterarguments or edge cases. The end result will be a tighter, stronger argument.
If I’ve been practicing, delivery is an afterthought. When I’m onstage, I feel unstoppable, despite nerves. There are some great tips in the aforementioned blog post about eating and drinking. My best advice is to practice. Practice, so that you can enjoy actual the moment onstage.
Two techniques I avoid: live coding (or technical stunts of any kind) and audience Q & A. Both of these bring uncertainty (and energy) into a live talk. I avoid them because I don’t feel seasoned enough onstage to control the hairy situations that can arise when I share control with extra hardware, software, and other people. I’ve seen it go wrong many times.
Thank you for reading this series. I’ll conclude with this Tweet from Saron:
Reminder: you don't have to be amazing to apply. Plenty of mediocre people with impressively high self confidence win everyday because they applied and you didn't. Throw your hat in the ring.— Saron (@saronyitbarek) March 3, 2018
Public speaking isn’t magic. It’s a skill anybody can get better at. The personal and professional benefits I’ve accrued have been worth every moment of self-doubt and nervousness. Give it a try, and let me know how you do.