This document is a guide to people who are going to speak at a conference, and are interested in tips and tricks for composing and delivering a successful talk.
It is intended to be relatively light-weight, focusing on the most common mistakes and useful tips. However, it’s not written in stone - any “rule” will have exceptions! Never feel forced to hammer a talk into a set of rules if you don’t think the circumstances warrant.
You can find other speaker and conference-related information in FAQ.
|In order to avoid...
|Plan for an audience of people who do not share your technical background. At most industry conferences, you can expect your audience to have diverse backgrounds and levels of technical expertise, unless your conference is narrowly focused on some domain.
|Not knowing who your audience is and how to tailor your talk for them.
|Build up context slowly:
Most audience members will be unfamiliar with your topic of expertise.
Spending time at the beginning of your talk on “basic” context and information will actually help you go “faster” at the end, since you already built your foundation.
Consider addressing questions like:
|Assuming your audience has the basic context and knows most of the things that you do.
|Focus on strategic choices of details that tell the important story, and provide links to more detailed resources such as blog posts, papers, code repos, software documentation, etc.
|Too much detail: New speakers often feel like they need to convey every possible detail in a talk, and end up obscuring the important narratives.
|Before you start presenting, let the audience know if you are open to any questions during your talk or you would prefer a Q&A after you finish your talk.
|Without setting this expectation, it may bring some disruption from the audience with questions and may break the flow.
|In order to avoid...
|Use figures, diagrams, plots. Using non-text visuals is often the best possible way to convey information, so strive to replace text with visuals wherever you can. Using figures typically requires more preparation, since it forces you to talk about your slides instead of just reading them. (This is a good thing! See speaking tips below.)
|Wall of text: a slide covered with lots of small-font text that no one can read.
|Keep equations or other math to a minimum and in large font only! Favor diagrams when possible. When you do use math, explain terms, parameters, etc, in non-technical terms. Convey the meaning behind the math; do not show derivations.
|Wall of math: Anybody in the audience who wants to see more math should be referred to source material for further reading.
|If you need to show source code, it should fit easily on the side in 14pt font (or larger!). Otherwise consider some other approach to present your ideas such as block diagrams that convey what the code does.
|Wall of code: Nobody can (or wants to!) read a small-font page of code.
|Make clear diagrams and figures to express what you are trying to show.
|Wall of logos: Dozens of logos on a slide trying to convey some notion of large interoperability or ecosystem. Mostly it is visually confusing and overwhelming.
|Expand all acronyms in slides when they appear for the first time. In order not to lose audience members, provide explanations during the talk about what the acronyms stand for.
|Use of acronyms that the audience does not understand.
|In order to avoid...
|Practice! Practicing your talk several times will make your presentation smoother and will help you be more confident. People in the audience came to your talk to learn and are on your side-- they want you to succeed! They will appreciate your talk if they can tell you have put time, effort, and thought into it, regardless of how experienced you are as a speaker.
|Not being prepared for your talk / Not knowing what you are going to say.
|Talk about your slides, rather than just reading them. The audience could do that on their own! It takes more preparation and practice, but it is a far more effective and engaging presentation style!
|Reading the slides.
|Make eye contact! Engage the audience by looking at them and moving or walking around if possible.
|Staring at your screen or slides.
|Take a deep breath and try to speak in a conversational manner, as if you are talking directly to one of the audience members.
|Speaking too fast, a common effect of being nervous or of trying to include too much detail.
|Speak up! People came to your talk to hear what you have to say. Microphones can compensate for quiet speakers, but your A/V equipment may not be everything you hoped for.
|Speaking too softly and not being heard.
|Don't walk around too much while speaking. Walking “with purpose” is OK. Sometimes this is referred to as “happy feet.”
|The audience being distracted.
|Think about questions you can ask the audience during your talk to engage with them and learn something about them.
|Instead of “Who is not familiar with …” ask “Who is familiar with this and that tool….”. People are usually more afraid to raise their hand when they are the only person in the room not knowing something.
We encourage you to pre-record any demos or special interactions you want to share with your audience. It is always better to walk through the pre-recorded coding, so nothing goes wrong while presenting live and you can focus on what you want to say to the audience.
Common issues that speakers usually experience during a live demo instead of pre-recording it:
How to pre-record a demo:
Common mistakes to avoid:
If you don’t want to pre-record your demo, make sure you use the same hardware while preparing for your session as you plan to use at the conference.