The art of speaking à la Tim (5) - 3-2-1 Talk day

August 4, 2016 · Talk Presentation Tips

This is part 5 of the "The art of speaking à la Tim" series:

Your talk is ready and you're having a blast at the conference. But now is your turn to rock the stage, let's go!

5. On stage

5.1. D-Day preparation

Show up early, if there is a break before the talk, go in your room right away to kick the previous speaker out... or not. Test your whole setup and then take a break. By testing your setup, I mean a lot of things.

First and foremost, there is almost always a person responsible for the room you will be talking in. Find that person, introduce yourself and ask them what you should know. A big part of the points here below will be then already covered.

Then you can get technical. Begin by plugging your computer in and checking that it is getting some power, you don't want to shuffle around during the talk to find your power cord after a "warning 5% battery left" popup or have your audience notice the battery icon in the tray and start betting on whether you will be able to finish before the battery is drained or not.
Then you can move to the projector and check your display. You do have your own connector right? Don't expect every conference to have the one you need. Is the ratio OK? Do you need extended desktops? Do you need presenter notes? Are those displaying all right?

Go to the back of the room and check the screen resolution, the font size, the contrast etc. and don't forget to do the same in every tool you will be using (especially your IDE), not just your slides. Is your IDE still in "dark theme"? It's almost never readable this way, switch to the "light theme" if needed.

If you use sounds, video, extra hardware, internet (be ready for it to go down and know what to do then - check the video below for more about this), check that all those are running. Your code should be checked in "ready to go" in a repository. Check if the repo is clean, if not perform a hard reset. Any OS update pending? Turn off those pesky notifications (and on your phone as well while you're at it).

How's the space around you? Do you need to move? Any chair or cable in your way? Do you need to type? Sit down? Get accustomed to the chair, height and typing. Do you have something to drink? Avoid carbonated drinks, it doesn't do well with stress, speaking and microphones.

A side note on backups. I have my complete presentation material on disk, on a USB stick & checked in on a git repo online. Slides are in HTML5 via Reveal.js and pre-exported in PDF just in case. If ever something happened to my laptop, I know I can restore the whole thing on a third-party computer in a matter of minutes. At a conference this year, I saw a speaker pull out his laptop, open it and stare lividly at the piece of cloth protecting the screen... soaked wet. The laptop didn't boot and getting another laptop talk-ready would have taken him more than 2 hours. In that case he should probably have had a VM ready. Just saying.

Once this is all done, make a last check with the person responsible of the room.

I'm certainly forgetting things. Once this is all done, you can take a final bathroom break (before you put on the microphone). And relax. You've got this.

5.2. "And we're live"

Whenever I can, I will sit with the attendees in the room before the talk starts. It kinds of helps me come down and avoid overthinking... and feel the urge to make small talk to fill the space and say stupid things like the following.

Whatever you do, don't start by apologizing for being [insert-something-here]. It might feel right to tell people "hey, I have no idea what I am doing here" upfront. But the only thing this really does is to put them into a state of "(s)he has no idea what (s)he is doing". If you need to put in the fact that you are not an expert in the field, care for it in the intro by framing the talk so that nobody sets his/her expectations at the wrong level.

Don't stare at your feet. Raise your head and pick an anchor spot at the back of the room. Then go eyes hunting. In that order. The anchor point is there for you to hold yourself onto. This is a reassuring point, it's not looking back at you with questioning eyes and it will definitely not ask you trick questions. It's a safe heaven. Use it if you must. If you can, it's better to go eyes hunting. Search for the persons scrutinizing you and drinking your every word. Use those as a motivator. Those can become your anchor points as well (thanks Louise).

Polishing your intro is very reassuring. Your body then knows how to start, even if your mind isn't in fully in it yet. It helps to find your rhythm. The rest will follow. Keep cool, you will forget things and/or talk too much. Don't worry about it and rely on your preparation.

If you can, use the screen. And if you can, avoid the use of a pointer. I love to point at the screen and use body language to refer to it, literally moving toward the screen and pointing at some elements. It may sound obvious, don't point on your laptop ;)

If you get some questions, take your time answering it. Make sure you understood them correctly. If needed, repeat them for everyone to hear.

Don't worry. You've got this!

6. Other resources

I'm convinced I'm forgetting things, but hey, there should be some room for you to correct me in the comments below. I had a hard time finding the top videos I'd like to share with you, specially when some colleagues bombed me with great new ones I didn't know at the very last minute:

  • The art of speaking from Scott Hanselman. Scott is a very proficient speaker (and interviewer, and blogger and...) and one of my role models in this regard. He has talked all over the world at major conferences and some of his talks are more standup comedy than anything else. The art of speaking shows how Scott would prepare and hold a 10 min talk on a subject he didn't know before, with 60 min preparation. You will find many ideas presented in this series again there, and some.
  • Troy Hunt is a growing figure in the Security space, which every appearance will invariably send people resetting their passwords right and left. Troy was invited to hold a Keynote at NDC this year and was kind enough to record one of his final rehearsals. The keynote at NDC is also online, so you can watch both alternatively. It's fun to see how close yet very different those two are.
  • I couldn't leave this video from the top 3 (or 4): how to sound smart in your TEDx Talk from Will Stephen. This is a very funny presentation about foolproof presentation skills to make you sound brilliant -- even if you are literally saying nothing. It's impossible to describe, go watch it. Now. This is a very good example of the level of "polish" you can reach.
  • Finally the short version of a talk given by John Cleese (Monthy Python) on Creativity. A very, Very, VERY inspiring talk about the refining process of creativity, the danger of interruptions, the need for idle time and boundaries etc. this will help you tremendously with Part 1 and 2 of this series (thanks Horst)!

7. How about you?

  • Have you jumped in speaking publicly yet? What do you think about this list? Anything to add?
  • If you didn't present yet, why not?
  • If you need help, I'd be happy to give you a hand! Give me some hints and I'll be there ;)

If this helped you in any way, I'do love to hear it as well. Please let me know!

Feel free to comment below and share this series everywhere you go! And if you think I should be speaking somewhere, let me know!


This was part 5, if you missed the other ones, here is the whole serie:

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