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Justin Dorfman
Justin Dorfman

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Let's talk about speaking

Note: There are extra line breaks after some nested unordered list. The team is looking into it. Oh and Sticker Mule is hiring =)

My first talk was at WordCamp LA in 2011. Ever since then I kept an Evernote of things I have learned over the years. Hopefully, this might help someone. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


  • Travel the world on someone else’s dime
  • Meet amazing people
  • Get into conferences for free
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Speakers lounge (unlimited food and soft drinks plus connect with other speakers)


  • Practicing
  • Researching
  • Self-doubt
  • Anxiety
  • Layovers


  • Hire a coach

    • Investing in a coach is one of the best things you can do.
    • Pro athletes rely on coaches, amateur speakers should too
    • Find a coach that will give it to you straight and will give you constructive feedback not just “that’s shit”.
    • If you can't afford/find a coach, ask a co-worker or friend who isn't afraid to give you constructive feedback.
  • There’s no such thing as perfect

    • Don't obsess over a transition, design, wording, etc
    • Just get it done
  • Use gifs/meme's sparingly

    • Sometimes an animated gif/meme will work great
    • If every slide is a gif/meme, it gets old
    • Break it up with a real photo
      • Unsplash is great
        • Can be used for commercial and noncommercial purposes.
        • You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit
  • Research

    • Make sure you know exactly what you are talking about
    • Give credit on the slide
    • Anticipate questions that will be asked
  • Conference organizers won’t be sitting there with a stop clock

    • I use to worry that if I only had 20 min, I would get in trouble.
    • Keynotes are carefully timed, a talk with less than 50 people in it won’t.
  • Expect low attendance (not a bad thing)

    • Unless you or the company you work for are well known in the community, expect 2-20 attendees.
    • My 2016 OSCON talk had ~10 people in it
    • Conferences are very competitive, lots of tracks going on, expo halls with food and swag, etc.
    • If more people show up then cool, but set realistic expectations.
    • Honestly it doesn't matter how many people are at your talk, it is the quality.
      • 3 of ~10 at OSCON signed up for an OSI account in the expo hall. 😃
      • I met Gregor who was 1 of 4 people in the audience at OS Bridge.
  • Practice at meetups

    • Just like comedians playing at small clubs before the big show
    • Get feedback e.g. were the slides easy to read? etc
  • Buy an adapter for every type of video in/output

    • Don’t assume the conference will provide you one, they usually don't: Liquid error: internal
  • Turn off all notifications on your laptop and phone

    • Phone: DND + silent mode (not vibrate, silent)
    • Laptop: Close Slack, Skype, basically the only program(s) that should be open are the ones that you will be using during your talk
  • Buy a wireless clicker

  • Don’t walk over to the projected slide and point

    • If you must use a laser, but even that sucks.
    • Use actions/transitions to get the audience's attention.
  • Promote your talk

    • Twitter
      • Tweet mentioning the conference and hashtag
      • Pin tweet Example
      • Update your background image example
      • Organizers appreciate it more than you know.
  • Learn the difference between Standard (4:3) and Widescreen (16:9)

    • It’s no fun having to redo your slides to fit the required slide size
  • Panels are the best

    • No practice or too much preparation needed.
  • Practice every day no matter what

    • After breakfast, just get it out of the way.
    • Ask friends if you can rehearse for them.
    • Practice in the shower. Not joking.
  • Just be you, don’t mimic TED talks or any other speakers

  • If your CFP doesn’t get accepted, don’t take it personally.

  • Have all your videos/slide decks available publicly so you can link to them when organizers ask.

    • If you don't have any, have a friend record you doing a lightning talk at a meetup. They are always looking for people to talk and don't care if you have any experience.
  • Encourage people to ask questions at the end.

    • It could fuck up your flow
    • If you don't have an answer, say something like "That's a great question, I honestly don't know the answer".
      • You can also encourage the audience to give their answer/opinion if you want.
  • If people walk out

    • Try not to focus on it too much
    • Don't shame them i.e. don't say "thanks for walking out asshole"
    • It's almost nothing you did, it just wasn't for them
  • Avoid live demos

    • Even the best can't get them to work 99.99% of the time

Cover Photo by Marcos Luiz

Top comments (2)

helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson

Thank you for posting this, it's great to read about the practical side of speaking - get a clicker, an adaptor, turn off all the things. Incredibly useful :)

jdorfman profile image
Justin Dorfman

My pleasure!