Perhaps I’ve been spoilt, but most of the speakers at the technical meetups and conferences that I go to have something to say and say it well. I’ve also been to hundreds of Toastmasters meetings and I’ve heard many speakers at all levels.
I went to a tech meetup tonight and I sat through two bad hour-long presentations. The first speaker should have eliminated the first 20 minutes of his talk, a self-indulgent ramble about various other projects that he had attempted, which shed no light on his main topic. He could easily have eliminated another 15 minutes from the rest of his talk and it would have been the better for it. Many people, including myself, were obviously bored and paid more attention to their phones than the speaker. The speaker had some mildly interesting points to share, but I can’t claim that I learned much.
The second talk likewise was too long. I left before the end, after nearly half the audience had gone. This speaker was more nervous than the first, and he was also unfocused and disorganized. His demos were clumsy and imparted little to the audience.
Tips for would-be technical speakers:
- Have something to say. Know what your point is. What do you want us to take away from your speech?
- Rehearse, dammit. Don’t just write some slides. Speaking the words aloud will focus your thoughts.
- Rehearse in front of someone who will give you constructive feedback about your content and delivery.
- Record your rehearsal and watch the video. Your phone has a video camera, so no excuses. You will learn a lot from watching yourself.
- Rehearse your demos even more than your speech.
- What are you demoing?
- Why are you demoing this?
- Why should we care?
- Are your slides legible when you’re standing at least 10 feet away from your monitor?
- Get to the room early and debug the inevitable problems with projectors and audio.
- Advice often given to writers is to kill your darlings—remove the parts of your manuscript that you may love but which do not advance the plot. Likewise, remove extraneous slides and bullet points from your presentation.