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Vaibhav Namburi
Vaibhav Namburi

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A 5 step guide to smashing talks

Let's kick this off. A hot topic to talk about. What's my quick history in this space?

Well today marks 3 years since I first jumped in front of a crowd and "spoke" since then I've done nearly 100 if not more events. These span from 20 people to 600 people (if not more) in a conference room.

As one would expect I've had great events and not-so-great events. So here's my 5 step guide to smashing tech (or non-tech) talks that lead me to be invited to multiple events and even get paid for a few of them.

1. Keep it human & relatable, in an event, everyone’s distracted

If you're doing a technical talk, it can be really exciting to go very deep into the systems you're sharing. However, keep it human and most importantly palpable. An event is a distractive area where there's a lot of moving elements, so if you wanted to go into how you coded something really well, exercise on sharing snippets and corroborating that with a kickass example.

In addition, keep it relatable, attention is more easily drawn to familiarity as to alien topics, so share things common pain points (a simple twitter search will help you)- in short, build a relationship.

Also, it's important to gauge the skill level of your audience so you know how deep you can go. You should ideally do this before accepting the invite, but even if so, make sure you interact with the crowd and ask if they understand (more on this soon)

2. Create a story

The really good talks I've seen always create a story in their slides that build up like a theme song and finally do a big reveal towards the end. This helps you re-think how you breakdown the approach to the presentation.

Let's say you want to talk about compilers and how you created a smart compiler.

I would first talk about problems being faced
I would talk about how I solve them today (share frustrations)
I would talk about how it affects my day to day (try build a relationship)
I would talk about how an ideal solution should look like
I'd share by build approach
And finally, I'd share the end result.

I've walked my audience through a journey of intent, cause, action and outcome.

A story is what is memorable at the end of the day, people will go home and google the techie bits anyway, the reasoning behind it is what will stick with them

3. Have a goal, find out what your audience wants to achieve

This is extremely important because an aimless talk leaves everyone unhappy or confused. This bit you need to understand when you're invited for the talk itself.

I ask every organiser who calls me in, "What is the goal of the talk, what do you want people to walk away with" - this challenges them to really breakdown the outcome they want their audience to get.

If you have the luxury of time, research the background of some of your audiences, maybe add on twitter them ahead of time and ask them questions.

I recently did a talk on Machine Learning for project managers, my goal was to tell them that AI/ML is an enabler and not a threat, and I built my entire story around that topic and more importantly build the entire presentation around Project Managers and their day to day.

I tried to educate them on how they can contribute to the cause and how it'll help them succeed. Some people really liked the approach

4. Interact as much as you can, as often as you can

This one is a tricky one, it depends on the size of the event as well as the theme. For much more formal events like TED you have rules to follow where you can't interact with the audience as much.

But the events I've spoken at, paid or not have always given me opportunities to talk directly to the audience. This can be as simple as asking them to raise their hands if something matches certain criteria.

Ask the audience to provide their version of a problem you're explaining, this can go two ways. Either they over the answer and your talk is "spoilt", or it can give you an opportunity to add onto what they just said.

Be very cautious to never shame them, and make them feel very comfortable to not get it right, by maybe sharing about how confused you were about this topic when you started. Humility goes a long way because of the familiarity it builds.

5. Keep it relevant, share frustrations

Pitching and speaking, hold similar goals. Share a story, excite an audience and convince them your approach is awesome or worth noting.

With that said, really hone in on the problem and more importantly the frustrations. People are drawn more to negative emotion than a positive one.

Look at all the marketing campaigns, they first share the frustration you're facing, they build a connection via your shared interest in pain points and then offer a solution.

Here's a link to one of my favourite talks that cover all of the points I've stated here.

The speaker talks about frustrations from jargon words, talks about how he never understood it and builds a story around how he tried to dig deeper into it and walked through surprises and discoveries. Keeps the content very snippet-y and biteable (digestible content)

For a recent talk I did for VueJS optimisations I kept it extremely relevant by sharing examples about where my projects had issues when it came to scaling, and automatically I saw several people lean in because they faced similar issues (frustrations)

The same can be said about the Project Management talk, people were frustrated with jargon so everything tech was moulded with examples and similarities related to PMs, rather some random example about potatoes.

I went point by point about different optimisations and how and why they helped me.

That's about it here 🙌 These are the things that have personally helped me deliver talks that got really good positive feedback.

Hope they help you in planning your next event!

Here's a happy photo from a really fun event a little while ago!

All the best with your event!

Top comments (4)

abdurrahmaanj profile image
Abdur-Rahmaan Janhangeer

Thanks for sharing 👌

veebuv profile image
Vaibhav Namburi

Glad you liked it!

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Great post! Definitely good advice here.

veebuv profile image
Vaibhav Namburi

Thanks so much @ben ! Really appreciate the kind words!