Public Speaking Tips for Technical People

by Alli Treman

One of the great things about Speak Day was that many of the experts who came to speak with us about speaking hadn’t always been experts. Many of them have, and still do, experience many of the same fears about public speaking that we do. Given that background, their tips for presenting at a tech conference, or any other public speaking event, really hit home.

Tips on Knowing Your Material

  • People who know you well can provide suggestions on what to talk about.
  • Your experiences and knowledge areas are unique.
  • Think of speaking as a way to get feedback on a hypothesis you have about a topic.
  • Preparing for a talk is an excellent way to learn new material.

Tips on Confidence as a Woman Speaker

  • Know that you have a right to be there and that you have important things to say and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
  • Know that other women will see you up there and think about participating because you’re there.
  • Be comfortable and passionate about what you’re saying.
  • Understand that often people at tech conferences want to see more women participating.

Tips for Handling Nerves

  • Practice a lot!
  • Practice with coworkers or friends, or on yourself.
  • Record yourself and listen to your voice, or video yourself and watch it.
  • Give the presentation to someone who isn’t in your field.
  • Preparation will make you feel comfortable and successful.
  • Do some yoga before hand.
  • Don’t get too invested in your slide changing mechanism (or your slides, for that matter) since technology often fails, even at tech conferences.
  • Prepare the first few slides from memory and then look for friendly faces in the audience.
  • Ground yourself by taking a deep breath. This can help you avoid nervous behavior such as saying “um” or “and so” or fiddling.
  • Embrace your adrenaline! Put the rush of nervous energy towards what you’re saying and making eye contact with the audience.
  • People don’t expect you to be perfect. They don’t know what you were planning on saying, so they’ll have no idea if you deviate from the plan.

Tips on Q&A Sessions

  • Make sure you leave time at the end of your talk for questions.
  • Ask your peers what questions they have.
  • If someone is derailing the conversation, ask to speak with them about it in person after the talk is over.
  • Anticipate controversy. Know what the controversies and alternative lines of reasoning surrounding your argument are before you give the talk.
  • Be honest if you don’t know the answer: that’s better than making up something.

Tips on Engaging Presentations

  • Make eye-contact. Try to look at everyone (or every section in a bigger presentation) but don’t go back and forth like a sprinkler.
  • Ask your audience questions.
  • Understand your audience so you talk in a way they can understand you.
  • Don’t just include the facts, but explain what the facts mean and why they’re important.
  • Tell a story.
  • Create your presentation materials after you know what you’re going to say.
  • The presentation materials should enhance the talk, but you should be able to give the presentation without them.
  • Keep your slides consistant (such as using all black and white photos).
  • Don’t use Comic Sans.
  • Cats!