The art of speaking à la Tim (4) - Brace yourself, a talk is coming

August 2, 2016 · Talk Presentation Tips

Rehearsing header

This is part 4 of the "The art of speaking à la Tim" series:

After creating a first version of your talk, comes the hard part, making it click, and there is no two ways around it, the secret sauce is called "rehearse, Rehearse, REHEARSE!"

4. Rehearse

At this point, your talk is far from ready. It might still seem like a concatenation of different ideas. There may be lengthy parts and ups and down for instance. That's OK, and correcting this will throw you back to chapter 3 more than once. But this is the special ingredient that will make your presentation become a "great" talk. If the last section was all about giving the right talk, this one is more about giving the talk right.

4.1. Make it click

"Make it click" means means getting the right content, the right flow, the right transitions, the right tempo, the right jokes etc. all at the same time. And there is no way around it: REHEARSE. UNTIL. BORED. This is an incremental process.

The best way to start is to setup a timer and start talking. Whenever you miss something or instinctively add something to the talk (pay close attention to those additions or subtractions, they are crucial information that hint a flow issues, follow your instinct), make a short note of it and continue. Try to track down the time it took you to deliver the big sections/chapters of the talk. The absolute values are not as much interesting as the relation between the parts. Did you speak 20 min about the first and second ideas each and then 5 min for each of the 3 others? Is this imbalance intended? If not, that's crucial information...

Then, there might be more or less lifting to do. Sometimes it means going back to the drawing board. Sometimes it means throwing a lot of stuff out. Sometimes it's just the transitions that are not right.

When rehearsing, I don't put too much focus on the presenter notes. I let myself speak. Those are there to help the flow, as a small reminder that I wanted to touch on idea X or Y. Those notes tend to shrink a lot during rehearsal, to become just memory-helping-keywords toward the end. I actually just use them when I lost my train of thoughts... what often happens when you answer questions and try to engage the audience a lot during your talk.

4.2. The talk <=> right

Remember the tip above? REHEARSE. UNTIL. BORED. and then rehearse a few more times just in case. I don't want to just deliver a "good talk".

I find recording myself via my webcam very useful. I always learn a lot about my own presenting skills. I'm still trying to cut down those damn "hums" and stand still for instance. But I also love having a pretty good recording of the talk to listen to the days or hours leading into the talk to get into the mood.

In this phase, I want to have the timing right (I always have some kind of timing written down in the presenter notes). I want to plan some slack and know when I should and can accelerate and when not. Since I always try to get some kind of interaction with the audience my timing can very much vary due to this interaction. Thus it is important to know where the rubber can hit the road, when I can cut down some slides to their essence deliver the message in half the time if need be. This is great to make a perfect on-time landing.

Try to keep the jargon and buzzwords to a minimum. Again, you know very well what you are talking about, your audience might not. And if you need those buzzwords, make sure you define them as well.

I finally want to test it on the hardware I will be using (lately on my Microsoft Surface), standing, with the small trackpad instead of a mouse, with the soft cover instead of a real keyboard, with my IDE zoomed in and no ability to have two screens side by side. If you intend on doing some live coding or so, this is much more important for you!

4.3. Some final rules:

Sppeeeeaaakkk ssslllooooowwwwwllllyyyy, if you don't have the impression to be absolutely dumb, you are speaking too fast. Pro-tip: if you time it well, people will have the impression you are thinking out loud, which comes through really great ;) But don't forget to piss on all those rules and do it the way you want!

It's your talk afterall, it should reflect your personality!


The talk is ready. Now onto the D-Day!

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