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I'm delivering a tech talk. Any suggestions? ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿ’ก

Hi devs ๐Ÿ‘‹

I'm delivering a tech talk next weekend at DevMela (Mela means Fest in Hindi). It's my first tech talk ever. And it's online.

Do you have any suggestions for me? What to do? What definitely not to do? And more...

Even if you've never yourself spoken at an event, can you think of what you would expect from a speaker? What are some things that speakers do, which end up boring you? Everything will help me!

Leave 'em all in the comments below ๐Ÿ‘‡

PS: I'm speaking on 28th Nov about Cloud Computing and on 29th Nov about Emerging as a Leader, do attend my session if you wish to ๐Ÿ’•

Top comments (18)

stereoplegic profile image
Mike Bybee • Edited
  1. Rehearse as much as you can, with your slides and without (e.g. in front of a mirror - it really helps to examine and refine your own nonverbal cues). It will help you manage time, leave time for Q&A/commentary, and just create a better overall impression of your authority on the subject.
  2. Be genuine. Anecdotes and personalization are endearing and add retention that reciting stats and other dry facts alone cannot. Even better if you're not afraid to go against the "grain"/conventional wisdom.
  3. RELAX. Even if everything possible goes wrong, you're presenting because it's something you know (at least you should).

As an example of points 2 and 3: I gave a talk last October that was completely abysmal in all technical/preparation aspects, but was so well received that I was asked about it all night in the post-con pub crawl.

I went through a chaotic series of events (including a breakup, this will be relevant below) leading up to my talk in a different city I didn't get to drive to until the day of my talk. To make matters worse, my slides (on my desktop) didn't sync up to Google Drive, so I had to rewrite them from scratch on a basic black-on-white slide deck from my phone at a rest stop and on my laptop right after I came screeching into the conf just an hour before my talk. I missed two major points on my deck (remembered one during the talk, discussed the last one during the pub crawl), and even had a typo in my company name. To make matters worserer, there were lots of sound issues with the mic.

Aside from one guy closing his laptop and leaving after I said, "If you came for code samples, you're in the wrong talk; this is an architectural/philosophical discussion," the audience responded well and even discussed it with others who didn't attend but wanted to know more over drinks afterward.

My talk was on simplifying software architecture by avoiding/removing unnecessary complications, and not developing tunnel vision based on a given language/framework/library. While universal in principles, it was presented to a Drupal-centric audience (I haven't used it at all in months, but it put a ton of food on my table in the decade leading up to the talk). I went so far as telling a room of Drupal developers "You may not even need Drupal" (in a conf sponsored by the three largest Drupal hosts - the biggest one also the biggest contributor to the Drupal core and module ecosystem and co-founded by the creator of Drupal - and most of the largest Drupal agencies in Texas), and began the talk explaining that my philosophy had largely been informed by my experience in what, despite ending earlier that week, had been by far the easiest relationship I'd ever had (we handled it like adults and we're still friends).

I also made sure my title and synopsis had impact and some humor to grab attention:

STOP BUILDING MODULES!!! 'How Drupal can coexist in a microservices world' or 'How to progressively decouple your backend'

OK, so the title starts off a little extreme. Don't scrap your module development just yet (if ever). At the same time, think outside the Drop, and not just on the front end.

Inspired by personal experience, a vision of a way forward for Drupal, and this recent article:

  • Drupal's oft-overlooked killer feature, and how it can work wonders for getting a startup to MVP or beyond (hint: it has little or nothing to do with content or even Views)
  • Don't reinvent the wheel
  • But what if you need wings and wheels? - Or maybe some other vehicular metaphor?
  • Who's the gatekeeper? (sorry, needed another metaphor)
  • Is Drupal appropriate for this project at all? {"everyone else at the Drupal event" unsettled Tom meme}

Mike is a software architect and has been a Drupal developer for a decade, a JavaScript developer for nearly two, with prior backgrounds in IT and design. He founded Dominant Design & Development in 2018, and co-founded idealFunction() in 2019.

He has worked with clients ranging from small businesses and tiny, cash-strapped startups to global nonprofits, corporations, and state and federal government. In addition to building its own SaaS products, idealFunction() helps entrepreneurs who have great product ideas but lack the technical chops or staff to refine and/or architect/develop them.

rachelagnihotri profile image

I really appreciate the time you took to write such an elaborate answer. Delivering an awesome talk even when all else is going wrong, is definitely something I'm aiming for and I hope I reach this benchmark someday soon.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

sarthology profile image
Sarthak Sharma

I believe humor is a secret ingredient to deliver a good talk. That helps your audience to get engaged for longer period of time. But if it doesnโ€™t come naturally then try to deliver information in form of story.
P.S All the best, If you need any other help you know where to reach me ๐Ÿ˜Š

rachelagnihotri profile image

Thank you so much for sharing the secret ingredient :P
And storytelling is definitely a good idea!

daveparr profile image
Dave Parr

First off: well done. Commiting to deliver a talk at any public event is a very positive thing to have done. As an organiser of events, we really appreciate when the rest of the community steps up to help an event work.

Second: your prepared display materials are single most important thing to make your talk work, which is tricky because you have to balance for 3 competing goals

  1. To convey enough meaning to your audience to support your speaking
  2. To not try to cram to much in that you effectively are reading from your slides or that your audience are hit with a 'wall of text' that effectively makes you redundant
  3. Giving you enough of an anchor at each part of the talk so that you know what you are supposed to be talking about or leading up to

It's a very fine balance but remember that your slides aren't the focus, YOU are, and your slides are only there to help that.

The other thing to try and do is 'tell a story'. Audiences don't respond to a large set of abstract facts as much as they do to something that has a continuous, developing thread through the work. This is hard to get right when working on 'technical' topics, but of you can do it you will have the audience attention from start to finish.

Good luck!

rachelagnihotri profile image

Thanks for the tips and the luck!
I'll definitely try to incorporate some storytelling in my session.

n_develop profile image
Lars Richter

Hi Rachel.
That is awesome news. Congratulations.
I have a few tips to share with you.

A lot of people say "Don't do live coding. Something will go wrong for sure". I don't agree. I am a big fan of live coding. The secret is: know exactly what you have to do. Practice your demo over and over. Again and again. Also, write a little cheat sheet that will tell you what to do in every step. You can take a quick look at it during the live coding. And then practice more. If you have done the same demo 10 - 20 times, your live coding will be fine. :-) Sure, there is always a chance that something breaks unexpectedly. But you reduce the risk of those things a lot. by practicing.

The same with the talk itself. Practice. It will give you a lot of confidence.

As you can see, a good conference talk takes a lot of preparation. I easily spend 20 hours creating a 45-minute talk.

Last tip: don't put a lot of text on your slides. I like using one big image/picture per slide and almost no text. It's great for keeping the attention of the attendees. They won't read the slide and will instead listen to you. The only downside of this: Nobody can "use"/read your slide deck afterward to reread the main points of your talk.

Good luck. I hope you can enjoy it.

stereoplegic profile image
Mike Bybee • Edited

My very first talk was on about 2 hours of sleep. Instead of standing and delivering a dry, probably absent-minded presentation, I switched gears, sat down, and went with a live demo (on Vagrant - before Docker really came into its own - as a tool not only for local dev but for DevOps and provisioning). It was one of the most talked-about presos of the conference.

rachelagnihotri profile image

I really loved the last tip. Your whole advice was super-useful too. Thank youuuu!

garyroussak profile image


Good on you for doing this - I don't know you, of course, but you will be brilliant, I'm sure.

I don't want to mention the technical side of things - I'm sure you have that covered, given that there are probably as many specialisms in software engineering as there are in medicine these days. There's plenty of interest to talk about!

And I also agree with what others have said about humour, realism and telling true stories rather than just reading verbatim from slides -- all good advice.

But I would add one thing which I'm not sure anyone has mentioned specifically. I know from personal experience that it's an important factor whether you are speaking to a roomful of 200 IT people, making a speech at your daughter's wedding, giving a sermon, or hosting a quiz. I've done all of them and, whilst they're all very different, they all need body language and good use of your voice.

It's easy to see when these things are not right. I've sat in a few audiences where I've wished I could just quietly slip out unnoticed.

When a speaker bows his/her head and looks down at the ground sheepishly, it makes it very hard for your audience to take you seriously - and it makes them uncomfortable. There's no need to stare at people 100% of the time -- that's creepy -- but do spend two-thirds of the time engaging with them a smile (which in your terms I guess means looking at a webcam).

Secondly, we all expect our public speakers to have a few nerves - that's inevitable. That may make you want to get through the talk quicker, but please don't -- resist the temptation. It's a great honour to be asked to do something like this, and it can give you a great sense of power and satisfaction. Make a deliberate to slow down and take time over EVERY word. When you rehearse, you may think "Oh I couldn't possibly go that slow" but you'll be surprised: your audience will feel that you are going a bit too quickly! Cover less and say it more slowly - in the words of the old adage: "Leave 'em wanting more!". Doing this will give you even more confidence and come across as being an expert on your subject matter.

Thirdly, use the humanity in your voice. Don't speak in a monotone and, despite what I said in the last paragraph, don't speak at the same rate throughout. Let the pitch of your voice rise and fall, let the volume get louder and quieter and, when there's an exciting bit, its quite right to speed up a little (as long as you remember to slow down again !).

Enjoy !

rachelagnihotri profile image

Wow, this is some really useful advice. All my rehearsals, I've been going too quick, but now I know not to do that. Thank you, and I love how you ended your comment with "Enjoy"!

developerkaren profile image
Karen Efereyan

A big congratulations to you Rachael. I know you'll do great. I'm having my first ever online tech talk this week too on Women Who Code. I watched a video from them and wrote down some important points. One of them is to not go all out for presentation slides. While prepping my slides, i tried using canva but i found it too flashy for my likeness. So im sticking with google slides. I found a really cool but simple template. Also try to just act normally. They are just humans like you. Next, try to prepare time for questions. I plan to have 8mins for questions. Also take note of some question askers : softballs, challengers, mic hog and contrararian. I wish you the best on your talk.

finnhvman profile image
Bence Szabo • Edited
rachelagnihotri profile image

Thanks for sharing this!

v6 profile image
๐Ÿฆ„N B๐Ÿ›ก

Stand up straight, with your shoulders back, and practice.

sagargnawali profile image
Sagar Gnawali

Present yourself as you would in normal days. ๐Ÿ™‚
And best of luck

klais profile image
Klais Laren

Its cool

margo_hdb profile image
Margo McCabe

Congrats on your first tech talk, you will do great!