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Lessons learned from my first public talk

xoubaman profile image Carlos Gándara ・4 min read

Recently I had my first experience as a speaker in a tech event. The process of preparing and performing my talk learned me several lessons, and that is what this post is about.

The company I work for, Docplanner, organizes a tech meetup each month, usually with one speaker from the company and other from outside. I was the company speaker for this next meetup and we managed to have Matthias Noback as the other one.

This was amazing on many levels. Noback is a very well-known member of the PHP community (and a super nice person by the way) and it was quite a great opportunity to have him as the meetup guest speaker. We agreed on doing a themed meetup about hexagonal architecture, me explaining the concepts, Matthias digging into testing strategies in such architecture. And it happens that a big part of my knowledge about the subject comes from resources made by him.

No pressure at all: first time speaking in a public event, in front of a crowded audience, with the guy I learned a lot from about the topic and introducing it right before him.

The day came, the talks went well and I am happy with the outcome of mine. However, I learned some valuable lessons for the intense weeks preparing the talk and from the talk itself.

Find your way to beat the Blank Page Syndrome

It is well known that facing a blank page and figure out how to begin is one of the hardest parts of writing. There is plenty of advice out there with techniques to overcome it. My two cents about this topic is that there is no silver bullet and each person needs to find her own unblocker.

For me, it was to start with... memes. I knew I had to talk about a ton of technical stuff and show code I would have to write from scratch. I also had several jokes and ideas to make the presentation more appealing -to my judgment at least. For some reason, starting creating a couple of custom memes and adding notes like "this joke goes here" was my catalyzer to break the block and kick off the presentation.

To find your own way of beating this syndrome, try things. Apply different approaches people on the internet propose or go with something that comes to your mind out from the blue. In the worst-case scenario you end up in the same situation, but now you know this technique is not the one that hits the nail for you.

Rehearsal

This one is pretty obvious. Practice as much as possible.

For a number of reasons, I did not practice my talk. Not a single time. Huge mistake.

Although I knew by heart the contents, order, and transitions of my slides, once I was on stage I missed some of them or randomly said incorrect words, got into dead-end speeches, etc. Nothing critical, but it happened. Also, although this eventually turned out ok, without rehearsal you don't know how long the presentation takes.

I am absolutely sure that most of these mistakes could have been prevented with some rehearsal.

Fun fact: I actually started a rehearsal, during a flight the day before the meetup. After half an hour, we got into a turbulence zone I had to close my laptop and stop practicing.

You learn a lot preparing a talk

Although I knew the topic well, I went again over several videos and books about the subject, and read and watch new ones.

It is well known that the fact of explaining a topic to someone else is a fantastic way of consolidating your knowledge about it. Having to explain it to an audience of mostly unknown people is like the most extreme way of doing so.

The learning part may be the outcome I find more valuable after this first experience.

Ask for feedback

After the talk, ask people about their perception of it and how do they think it could have been improved. Once on stage, you don't realize a lot of things that may be happening.

For instance, apparently I was talking several times in a different direction of where the mic was, so people on the back rows probably didn't hear a thing. Also, I lowered my voice when telling some jokes, I guess because my sub-conscience was panicking about people not finding them funny (ones were, others not; that's life).

Next time I will care about these details, thanks to the feedback I received.

Should I simplify the slides?

The day after the meetup was the PHP Barcelona Conference. All the presentations were minimalist compared to mine.

To be fair, my presentation had a lot of code and I was forced to use the company template, that has dark colors that do not benefit cleanliness. On the other hand, now it feels overbloated.

My current standpoint is that I should find a balance between my style and a more minimalist presentation. I am a big supporter of classic-meme-based-communication and don't want to give up on that, but as an attendant, I value clean presentations.

Do it

Talking in public is not for everyone. If you are not absolutely terrified about it, my advice is to do it.

Start in safe spaces, like internal training with your team or a relaxed tech talk with pizzas and some geeky friends. If your company promotes this kind of activities that is a great starting point.

Then you will know better about your abilities and gradually increase the scope if you find you like it.

For me, the learning and the experience were totally worth it.

PS: You can check my presentation here and the one Matthias did here. I plan to write a series of posts about hexagonal architecture, so stay tuned if you have an interest in the topic.

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