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6 things I learned while public speaking

mikulskibartosz profile image Bartosz Mikulski ・4 min read

Next month, I will give a talk about my IoT side project at the DataNatives conference in Berlin, Germany.

It is not the first time I speak at a conference. In fact, this is going to be my fifth conference talk. In addition to that, I was a speaker at a few meetups.

While preparing for those few talks, I have learned a couple of things about public speaking. Obviously, there are billion of things I still have to learn, but maybe I can share something useful for the first-timers.

Introverts are the best speakers

Ok. I am an introvert, so this is a totally biased opinion. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that it is true. As an introvert, you must spend a lot of time preparing for the talk. You don't speak all the time. It is not something that comes easily to you.

The time introverts spend on preparation pays off, and their talks are usually interesting and informative.

On the other hand, extroverts seem to be able to wing the talk. They have some ideas about the topic and just keep talking for 45 minutes.

That is why being an introvert is not an excuse for avoiding public speaking. Overthinking before you say anything is not a problem during public speaking. You prepare everything in advance, so the only thing left to do while being on the stage is just saying what you want to say.

I'm not the only person who has such an opinion. Here is a talk by
Dr. Michelle Dickinson, "Public speaking for quiet people," I highly recommend watching it.

Tell us a story

People love stories. Everybody knows that, but not many speakers remember about it while preparing a talk.

You have to tell a story. It does not matter how cool your idea is if you can't tell a story about it.

It does not even need to be a true story, just make it sound like something that could really happen.

But please... please... don't inform us that you are going to tell us a story.

I remember the time when our scrum master wanted to make team demos a little bit better and taught us about storytelling. After that, almost every sprint demo began with a sentence: "Let me tell you a story," followed by a completely made-up story.

Don't say everything you know during one talk

What happens when a person gives a talk for the first time? They feel that it is the one and only opportunity to share their knowledge with the world. The one and only chance! They can't waste it. They must tell the audience everything they know. Everything!

There is one rule about conference talks: one talk = one idea.

You should focus on one topic because people are not going to remember more than one idea after your talk. You may have 60 minutes for your presentation, but the audience has around 3 minutes long attention span.

They will listen to you a couple of times for twenty seconds. After that, their brains will take a break and think about something different.

They won't remember everything you say, so you should focus on saying the same thing over and over again in slightly different ways. Our brains are naturally good at listening to stories, so if you tell a story, you get a couple of additional minutes of attention.

There is nothing you can do to make people focus on your talk for 60 minutes. Nothing. Just get used to that and make the best use of the few minutes of attention you have.

Three things

A presentation consists of three things: your slides, the things you say, and a handout you give them after the talk. In 2019, instead of the printed handout, we usually show a link to a blog post or GitHub repository.

Those are three different things. Don't read your slides, don't give them a link to the slides. The slides are there just to draw their attention. The slides should be useless without your commentary.

Everything you want them to remember should be written down and shared at the end of the talk. I write a blog post and share a link on Twitter after the talk, so everyone who wants can easily find the content.

Use the microphone

I made that mistake twice. My talk was in a small room, so I thought that I could just speak a little bit louder. The first time I tried it, it was not a bad idea. I was standing next to the audience and basically just having a conversation with them.

The second time I tried talking without the microphone, it was a disaster. A few people left the room while I was speaking. I was embarrassed.

I decided that I must practice using a handheld microphone and get comfortable doing it. Now, I don't have a problem with that at all.

I totally recommend practicing for a few hours if you are not sure how to hold the microphone correctly. When you are on the stage, it is not as easy as it looks like ;)

Listen to the experts

Just play this video and listen to their advice. Everything they say is pure gold.

DataNatives 2019

If you want to hear my next talk at DataNatives, I have a 50% discount code you can use while buying the tickets: DN19_BARTOSZ_MIKULSKI_50

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