Speaking Tips from a Grizzled Speaker

At Codemash this year I gave a talk full of tips for speakers. At first, I was going to write a talk myself full of my own tips and tricks but then I realized that while that was a good idea, I’m not nearly as good as my whole network of amazing and brilliant speakers so I asked them for their best speaker tips. The result was a fantastic talk on speaking with some outstanding glimpses into the minds of some of the best speakers that I know.

I organized these tips into groups and added my own flavor to them.

  • Why do you want to present?
  • How do I write the talk?
  • So how do I get noticed?
  • Are you prepared?
  • Are you ready?
  • Let’s get physical
  • Do you demo?
  • Can you say it?
  • Now what?

It’s a lot of information but it was a fantastic 60 minute talk.

Why do you want to present?

The first thing that you need to think about is why you want to present in the first place. A lot of people want to present just to be famous. Don’t do that. There are better ways to get famous. Present because you have a burning desire to teach and share.


Be passionate about the subject or change it.

– Adam Tuliper

You have to have passion about your topic. If you are not passionate, you need to change your topic or don’t bother speaking.

No, seriously, passion.

Be passionate about your talk or your audience will see that and doubt your credibility.

– Carey Payette

No seriously, if you’re not passionate about your talk, that will come through. Your audience will see that and will not be passionate for you.

Some of the best talks that I’ve ever seen have been where the speaker saw something that they thought was broken in the industry to the point that they had to go tell someone. And then a lot of someones. That passion will carry through in their talks.

Believe what you are saying

Really believe in what you are saying:
Don’t try to spoof/chance your way through something you really don’t know, really don’t believe or really don’t care about. The audience will always see through this and not enjoy the experience.

– David C

Don’t try to fake interest or belief in your topic. If you don’t speak from a point of conviction, the audience will see through it and they won’t believe you either.

Present Less

Present less. Only present when

(a) you really have something to say that is relevant/anticipated by your audience and

(b) a presentation is the best/only way of imparting that something. Far too many self-indulgent presos out there, which could have been circulated by email, phone, or by sitting around a table with a document.

– Rowan Manahan

I agree with all but one word in this tip. You really need to present when you’ve got a relevant topic and a presentation is the best way to convey that information. There’s a lot of self-indulgent presentations and presenters out there who are only presenting because they want to be famous. The audience will see through this most of the time.

The one word that I disagree with is “anticipated”. Remember that the best talks are where the speaker sees something broken. This means, almost by default, that the audience doesn’t anticipate it. It is still relevant to the audience and its what they need to hear even though it’s not what they expected.

Start local

Be realistic about your speaking and where you should be speaking.

Start at local user groups, build up to conferences.

– Corey Haines

This is more important than you might think. Start local and get your speaker muscles flexed and built up before your start speaking at large conferences. I’ve seen nerves get the better of speakers and had them run from a room to go throw up because they got in way over their head.

My first ever talk at a large conference was not my first speaking experience. I had spoken internally at the company I worked for many times. I have a degree in theatre so had been on stage an untold number of times in front of small and large audiences alike. All of that said, at SD West in 1998 I was shaking like a leaf and just barely able to hold it together through the talk. I speed read my talk and finished 50 minutes of content in 35 minutes. I can’t imagine what would have happened if that truly had been my first ever talk.

The secret that most experienced speakers share but don’t tell people is that they are still nervous before every talk. The difference is that they have learned to get all the butterflies flying in the formation and the thrive on that nervous energy.

Learn that skill before you submit to speak at OSCon, Codemash or whatever large conference that you love attending. There are a ton of local user groups that you can start at for your speaking career.

How do I write the talk?

Now that you’ve got an idea for a talk, you need to figure out how to create that talk. There’s a serious temptation to go crack open Powerpoint or your presentation software of choice and start writing. You’re not ready.

Tie back to a single idea

“What do you want them talking about over lunch?” Everything you do needs to tie back to this single idea.

– David Leslie

This is a great tip. This talk doesn’t necessarily follow this best practice but wow it’s a great practice. “What do you want them talking about over lunch?” Write that down as your motto and stick that in your creative space whether that’s your desk or some other space.

Write it down

Pick one objective and write it down. Tie everything back to it.

– Mike Levy

Don’t just think about the one idea, write it down. Litmus test everything you put in your talk against that idea. If it doesn’t drive that ideal, cut it.

Understand your talk before writing

Understand your talk before you open Keynote/PowerPoint/Impress. Mindmaps /outlines on paper or in text editors work wonders for the clarity of the points you are making when you actually come to deliver the talk.

– Rob Allen

Now you’re ready to fire open your favorite presentation software and go, right?


You need to understand your talk before you start writing. I’m not picky about how you tackle this feat but you need to outline it, mind map it, somehow get down what you’re going to say. There’s a great on speaking called Beyond Bullet Points that advocates actually writing a script like you would in a movie. And you story board your movie. And then you make those story boards your talk.

Map it

Do a concept map, not a hierarchical map because that’s an outline

Free association works really well

Plot a course through the map the you want to hit

– Jim Weirich

Jim is one of the speakers that I try to get to go see every chance I get. I’d go watch a talk on toe nail fungus by Jim if I got the chance because every time I’m in a room with him, I can feel my IQ go up. He was kind enough to give me another great glimpse in his head when it comes to speaking.

What he does is he mind maps the talk out. The free association really lets him just get his ideas out there with little to no restriction. The structure of an outline can be very restricting and that shape the direction of the talk whether or not you are aware of it.

Once he gets the mind map done, he plots a course through the mind map for his audience. I have this great visual in my head of the Dawn Voyager (or the great fiction ship of your choice) sailing through the vast ocean that is Jim’s mind sometimes venturing into uncharted territories for all of us and discovering new lands.

Slides are for the audience

If you are using slides they must be 100% for the audience’s benefit and 0% for yours. Anyone using slides as a crutch or a roadmap for their talk should be mercilessly eviscerated on Twitter.

– Rowan Manahan

Now, surely I’m ready to write this deck, right?

Well, no. Are you sure that you need slides at all? Slides should be 100% for the audiences benefit. If you as the speaker are using them as a crutch, it will show.

Font size matters

You can only get 10 or so lines of code onto a slide.

– Rob Allen

There’s so much I could say on this one. It’s not just code on the slide but everything on your slide. Don’t throw up an eye chart of a slide – people will try to read it.

Contrast is a good thing

Projectors have less contrast than monitors; nobody can see pastel colours on a projector.

– Rob Allen

Yes, Rob is from the UK thus that’s the proper spelling of the word that the US folks spell as color.

I’ve been bitten by this more than once. Contrast is really tough to predict on a projector. You need that contrast to make sure that your audience sees what you do have on the screen.

One of the audience members said that he had seen a speaker use this to their advantage. The speaker had set the colors in Visual Studio on comments to be a light yellow so that they could see it on their monitor but the audience couldn’t see it on the overhead. But when the code bits were uncommented, the code color contrast was way up. I don’t know that I recommend that but it was an interesting point.

Kill your darlings

Block out way more time than you think is reasonable for your authoring. “What is written without effort is read without pleasure.” Write 2x what you need and then start killing your darlings.

– Rowan Manahan

Great quote.

Most speakers write just enough to fill the time. There’s a bunch of issues with this. I always have WAY too much content because I realized early on that the weak sauce usually came out first. Its not until I push myself that I start breaking new ground and come up with really great material. And then I need to start cutting. And I know that I’ve got a great talk when I need to start “killing my darling” or to put it in other words, when I’m cutting material that I REALLY want to present because of time.

Speak your mind

Don’t say what you think the audience wants to hear.

– Leon Gersing

If you are saying what you think the audience wants to hear, you are pandering. This goes against everything we started this talk talking about when talking about passion.

Rule of 3

For any talk less than an hour or so, the audience will remember three things. i.e. don’t try to cover too much.

– Rob Allen

This and many talks break this rule to be honest but the reality is that the human brain can only keep track of roughly 5 things, plus or minus 2, in it’s short term memory. That means that by the time you get to the fourth point, the audience member will likely start dropping earlier points to remember the current.

Don’t divide the audiences attention

The audience cannot listen to you and read the words on your slides at the same time. Limit the number of words on the slides.

– Rob Allen

Don’t put up a ton of content and expect your audience to listen to you. Don’t try to talk over a video.

Rather, limit the content on the slide to exactly what will help the audience understand your point.

Listen to standups

Listen to standup comedy and listen to how standups think about how they do what they do. It’s oddly close to the same thing.

– Benjamin Day

Standup comics have a perfect sense of timing. This is critical. You can learn a lot from them.

There’s a documentary by Jerry Seinfeld that shows his process. I’m not a huge fan his comedy really but his process was amazing. He’d write 2-4 minutes of content a day and then go try that material in all kinds of variations with one word difference or a different bit of timing or a different order to the jokes or some other small tweak. He did this at open mic nights for months and months while writing 2 hours of brand new material. If any of us speakers applied that rigor to our talks, they would be amazing.

Come to the darkside

Blank the screen when you want to make a point to make sure that your point land.

– Scott Fuller

I don’t do this in every talk, just when I really want all of the audiences attention on me while I land an incredibly impactful point.

Content is king

I once thought entertainment is the most important.

Then I went to a talk by a speaker that everyone was telling me was horrible. Monotone, quiet, slow.

The content was good but everything else was abysmal

But after the talk, a large number of people came up to her and told her it was the best talk of the conference!

Content is the most important thing.

To have both content and entertainment is the best of both worlds.

– Jim Weirich

I loved the story from Jim. He is an incredibly entertaining speaker but his talks are always crazy full of content.

Tell them…

Tell the what you’re going to tell them

Tell them

Tell them what you told them

– Josh Holmes (and the Toastmasters)

There are too many speakers that don’t have the simple talk sandwich going. First you have to open strong and tell them, this is what you will learn in this talk. Then you’ll give your supporting evidence and teach them what they need to learn. Then you close strong with a summary of what you told them.

So how do I get noticed?

Now that you’ve written that amazing talk and are all gung ho and ready to go, how do you get accepted to a conference?

Tailor your abstract

Building your abstract is much more then just writing a description, tailor it to the conference, make sure is expresses the values that the conference is interested in and it describes the talk to the correct audience.

– Rafael Dohms

Each conference has it’s own personality. Furthermore, when you invest your time to do a talk right, there’s a great chance that you’ll end up giving a given talk more than once.

For both of these reasons, you really need to tailor the abstract for the conference that you’re summiting this time.

Avoid the trendy titles

“Getting X in the backdoor”


“New and improved”

– Scott Fuller

Kitschy titles are gimmicky. Just skip them and focus on provide a solid title. At the bottom of this talk, there’s a reference to the book File –> New –> Presentation by Simon Guest. He’s got an entire chapter on titling a talk.

Proof it

Proof read your slides because your audience will

– Eric Burke

Enough said.


Tell me who you are. Match your bio expertise to the topic.

– Jason Gilmore

It was fantastic to be able to corner Jason Gilmore who has been running the speaker selection for Codemash for 8 years. He knows what dramatically raises the chances of an abstract to get selected.

If you are pitching a .NET talk, your bio really needs to speak to that experience rather than your experience as a gardener or something bizarre like a Java developer.

Suggest something

Don’t ask me what you should to speak about.

– Jason Gilmore

Unless you are approached and asked to speak, don’t ask what should speak about. That’s a quick way get circular filed.

Watch Your !@**!@#$ Language!

Do not use profanity in your abstract

– Jason Gilmore

Even speaker chairs who swear like sailors don’t like to see it in the speaker abstract. Another great way to get your abstract circular filed.

Grok the conference

Review previous conference sessions to understand what appeals to that conference’s panel

– Jason Gilmore

A great way to up your chances is to really understand the ethos of the conference. There’s a high chance that there’s at least overlap in who’s on the conference speaker selection panel. Study what they have selected in the past and as you are tailoring the abstract for the conference, be sure to use their previous selections as a guide. What type of content, sense of humor, length and more…

Spek Anglosh

Proof read your abstract. Spelling and grammar matter.

– Jason Gilmore

It’s a simple thing but definitely do spell and grammar check the abstract.

The title might be all you wrote

Come up with an appealing but too cute title. Needs to describe what the talk is about. The panel, and the audience, might only see the title. Going through 700+ abstracts means that poor titles dramatically lower their chances. Also, good chance only titles are printed on the show bill.

– Jason Gilmore

The title might be the only thing that the speaker panel and/or the attendee sees so it’s important to spend some time on it.

Are you prepared?

Now that you’ve figured out the topic, written your talk and have been accepted, how do you prepare for the talk.

Go deep whether or not your talk does

Dig deep during prep into the inner details ‘why does this work this way’ as someone will inevitably ask. Close with something really cool. Remember right after the cool part to ask people to fill out evals 🙂

– Adam Tuliper

The first question you’re asked will take you deeper than your slides go so make sure that you spend some time studying.

Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters clubs offer a great venue to practice your presentation and to get supportive feedback and tips. Joining Toastmasters also helped make me a ruthless editor as every speech is timed.

– David Leslie

David said this but I whole heartedly agree. I was President of my club back in the late 90s (wow that sounds old when I say it that way). It’s one of the things that has helped my public speaker more than anything.

Identify difficult sections out loud

Deliver your entire talk in advance, speaking aloud, and standing or sitting as you will when you deliver it live. This will identify the points you have trouble articulating. If possible, record this practice presentation and view it after to see how it flows.

– David Giard

This is great advice. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve said something in rehearsal and stopped thinking, “wow, that didn’t make any sense” and have to go back to the drawing board.

Rehearsal brings tranquility

Rehearse at the very least once before the talk, even if you have done it hundreds of times, it gives you a lot more tranquility, every talk is unique every time you present it.

– Rafael Dohms

The better rehearsed you are, the more relaxed you can be.

Block time for rehearsal

Block out way way more time than you think is reasonable for rehearsal. And before anyone says, “I don’t like being over-rehearsed, it makes me sound stale” I would just point out that an average stage production run of 6-8 weeks will only happen after 8-10 weeks of rehearsal. If you want to make this thing worth coming to, if you want to change or open people’s minds, get over yourself and rehearse. Standing up. Out loud.

– Rowan Manahan

It takes time to rehearse. A lot of time. And you need to be comfortable with the material so block the time and do the rehearsal.

Record yourself and watch

Record yourself and watch yourself.
People try to self assess their talks, but it goes very different from an outside perspective. If you are bored watching you so is the rest of audience. also, that cringe you feel while watching, that is the suck leaving your presentation.

– Llewellyn Falco

Recording yourself and watching the tape will be the most excruciatingly painful thing you’ll ever do. I don’t know anyone, including me, who likes their voice on tape. That said, it’s worth it. You’ll be your own worst critic and it will suck but it will help you immeasurably.

Prepare and Practice

Prepare, prepare, prepare and practice, practice, practice:
The more you prepare, the less nervous you will be, the more authentic you will sound and the more chance you will have of engaging the audience.

– David C

Like the others have said…

Should not be the first time for a presentation

Practice. This is especially important if you are speaking at a big conference. You should not be doing a 1st time presentation there. Practice at your local code camps & user groups. I have found that an audience of 2 is just as good as an audience of 200 for delivering and refining my talks

– Llewellyn Falco

And again…

Practice out loud

Practice your talk out loud. Can’t stress this one enough. It’s the only way to know where the talk doesn’t flow quite right and give you an idea of its length.

– Rob Allen

Have we said to practice?

Time it

Some people think it’s 15 minutes and it’s really 2 hours.

Use Camtasia to time it!!!  (Josh added this part)

– Betsy Weber

Make sure to time it because otherwise you’ll have no idea how long your content is actually. You could think it’s way longer or way shorter that it is actually.

Practice in front of people

Practicing in front of people changes how you deliver.

– Adam Ryder

Not only should you practice out loud, you should do it in front of people.

Practice just enough

Don’t over practice until it’s stale. You have to find your own point here. Some people do better thinking on their feet, others need to practice until it’s as close to perfect as they can get it.

– Jim Weirich

There is a possibility that you could become stale in your presentation. Don’t do that. Make sure that you still have passion for the content

Are you ready?

Now that you’ve practiced, you really need to prepare. There’s a ton of little things that range from sports star style superstitions to really practical advice that people don’t think about unless they’ve had an issue with it. All of the advice here leans towards the practical advice.

Prep in advance

Prepare your slides in advance. Make a copy on a flash drive and on the Internet before you even leave for the conference.

– Anna Filina

Belts, suspenders and two hands is the best way to keep your pants up.

Make sure that you have backups of the backups. Actually, I went through 3 machines before I was able to find one that would project correctly on the overhead for my presentation at Codemash.


ALWAYS have a backup adapter (if needed) and/or second system to do presentation from.

– Adam Tuliper

Backup everything.


Careful about the amount of coffee, red bull, … that your consume before you speak. Remember you’ll be on stage for a long time.

– Josh Holmes

This is a real problem. I had this problem once at a VSLive in front of 650 people. It was one of the more embarrassing moments in my entire life. I had to leave the stage and sprint for the toilet. Fun times and a mistake that I really don’t want to ever see anyone make again.


Bring a bottle of water because you will get very dehydrated from talking nonstop and might lose your voice.

– Anna Filina

Now, what is important is water. Speaking for any length of time really dries you out. Make sure have access to water during your talk.

Own the room

Get into the room in advance of your preso and know the space. Learn how the lights work, the AC, the seating, where you can be seen and where you can’t. Project your slides while sitting at the back and see what works and what doesn’t. If they can’t see it, they can’t be persuaded by it … Own the room.

– Rowan Manahan

Get to your room early enough to make the room your own. I’ve seen speakers rearrange chairs because they liked a certain wander pattern and needed the lanes to be free. I’ve seen speakers set up their own audio in a room. There’s a lot that seems like overkill but it’s the best way to make sure that you’re ready for the room and the room is ready for you.


Be sure to check batteries on everything and carry extra. I always have at least 4 AA in my bag.

– Mike Wood

Brink backups for everything that you might need.

Power is a good thing

Bring a power cord/adapter for the target region and plug in your laptop before you start speaking.

– Anna Filina

Before you head out to a new country, make sure that you’ve prepped for that. I didn’t go into detail about this during the talk as I was under time pressure. I went to Canada once and it was a slightly older facility and a slightly older laptop. I did 3 sessions.

A little music

Play some kind of music into the room before you talk. It’s like having a warm-up act and it makes it easier to win over the audience.

– Benjamin Day

It’s not just music but warm up the crowd goes a long way. Some people play music. Some people show funny pictures. I have some standard jokes.

Talk to your audience before hand

I usually make subtle adjustments tailored to each audience. My “trick” is to arrive early and talk to potential attendees (the night before is ideal). These conversations help me adjust my pace, tone, content, and language for the individuals in my audience.

– Alan Seiden

This is a great thing. I don’t do this often enough but when I do, the talk is amazing.

No bling

Remove distractions

  • Badges
  • Watches
  • Phones

– Michael Eaton

Very practical advice.


Examine you zipper. It’s a simple thing but many speakers miss that and it’s just a touch embarrassing.

– PJ Hagerty

‘nough said.

No naked gun moments

Check that your mic is off before going to the restroom.

– Mike Levy

Can’t emphasis this one enough really. 🙂 Anyone who has spoken at large conferences has gotten miced up before the talk and then “nature calls” and you really need to make sure that the mic is off.

Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers

Warm up your mouth before you start

  • Red Leather, Yellow Leather
  • The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • She sells seashells by the sea shore.
  • Freshly-fried flying fish.
  • I slid a sheet, a sheet I slid. Upon the sliden sheet I sit.

– Josh Holmes

As you are speaking, physically getting the words out of your mouth is sometime tough. I know that I get tongue tied all the time. Try some number of these before you get on stage. Better before than during the talk…

Let’s Get Physical

So now you’re ready to get up and present but there’s still a ton of things to think about before you even say a word.

Use a remote clicker

Get a remote clicker, preferably not infra-red, it gives you a lot more freedom and fluidity, allowing you to move.

– Rafael Dohms

Getting away from the lectern and being able to move is a great thing. Using a remote clicker is a key part of that. It keeps you from having to keep running back to the laptop.

Be excited

Trying to hide your nervousness just makes it worse. Instead switch “I’m nervous” with “I’m excited” and tell your audience.

– David Leslie

Moving nervousness to excitement is a fantastic skill. It sounds cheesy but it works.

Breathe from your diaphragm

Nervous people breathe from the shoulders

– Leon Gersing

This one will likely be a blog post unto itself sometime soon. Breathing from the diaphragm is critical. It pulls in all of the air that you can muster. This extra air gives you more energy, allows you to project, speak longer, keeps you from getting breathy and much more.

During the talk, I actually got people up and had the audience do a breathing exercise.

Be yourself

Be yourself and say it your way:

The actual words you speak are only part of the communication with the audience. The real connection is with what comes from inside you.

– David C

Some folks have a “speaker personality” where they change their voice, the way they act, their language and more. Don’t do that. Make sure that you are yourself when you are speaking. That will carry with the audience more than anything you can fake and put on.

Be happy

Let your inner humor come out. Be quirky in a funny way 🙂 Smile.

– Adam Tuliper

Sounds simple but it’s effective.

Barriers between you and the audience

That’s called a lectern 😉 and you shouldn’t hide behind it, since it only creates a barrier between you and your audience. Two barriers, actually, if you count your laptop screen.

– Dirk Haun

Physical barriers, such as your laptop, chairs, lecterns and more between you and your audience put emotional barriers between you and the audience. Connect with them and it will work better.

Move on purpose

I always talk to speakers about their movement on stage. Most people either don’t move frozen behind the podium or they wander like lost puppies on stage. Speakers should move with purpose on stage. When you are moving, make sure that it’s to emphasis the point you are making or at least it’s not detracting from what you are saying.

– Josh Holmes

Many speakers don’t take this seriously. Everything you do on stage is part of your talk whether or not you say it. When I do the speaker workshops, I spend a lot of time working with people about understanding their talk and how their movement helps their audience understand it as well.

If you’re wandering like a lost puppy, what does that say about your talk?

In contrast, if you are moving from one side the stage to the other and then you stop, stand tall with a confident posture and stand your ground when delivering your most important point, it will make an impact.

Face your audience

Face your audience.

– Rob Allen

Make sure that you don’t turn your back on our audience.

Don’t point at the screen (or screens)

While onstage, don’t turn and gesture at the screen, to emphasis a idea or to try to point out a line in the slide. This is a bad idea in general, but is especially useless for bigger audiences where your computer screen is projected on multiple big screens and monitors around the room. Whatever screen you point at, there is a substantial portion of the audience looking at another screen.

– Walt Ritscher

Walt has spoken on a lot of great conferences, some big, some small and he’s got a great point. In general, you shouldn’t point at the screen but especially in large format with multiple screens.

Your audience can read too

“Do not read from the slides” – Best advice ever given to me !

– Erik Hougaard

Your audience can read your slides and it’s insulting to read them for them. It tells me that you haven’t prepped and don’t know the material.

Posing Power

Great TED talk on the power of power poses. Take a strong powerful pose for 2 minutes and it will make you more confident.

Hands on hips with chest up and chin up.

Arms up in celebration

Hold for 10 seconds to 2 minutes!

Search “Ted talk power pose

– Abby Fichtner

I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried this one but it a fun one and Abby says weirdly, it works.

Do you demo?

Do you do demos or not? This is a tough call sometimes. A good demo really lands the point. A poor demo will confuse the audience at best and potentially lose them all together.

Be concise

Be concise and specific in your demos.

– Eric Burke

The best thing you can do is be very tight with your demo where you demo one thing and one thing only.


Don’t sit and write code, use snippets

– Eric Burke

The audience didn’t pay (either with money or their time) to evaluate your typing abilities. They came for your knowledge. That what you need to impart in the most efficient way possible.

Always backup

Have a ready to use final version.

– Carey Payette

Demos can go horribly wrong. Be ready for that. Have your backup and be ready to use it when you need it.

Julia Childs

Have a before and after demo version ready.

– Eric Burke

And have the before and after ready. I go further often and I’ll have a version ready for each step along the way.

Show it, don’t tell it

Run it and show what it does

– Eric Burke

The real reason that you need to do demos. Its far better to show the audience than to try and explain a concept. To that point, when you are doing a long demo in particular, make sure that you show what you’re working to before spending a ton of time building it.

Simple steps

If you need to do a lot of things, do one at a time and run in between

– Eric Burke

and as you are building your demo, make sure that you keep showing your progress as you go.

Right zoom

Zoom the font. There’s a lot of great tools such as ZoomIt out there

– Eric Burke

When you’re trying to show code or anything that matters to the audience, make sure that they can read it. Anything more than about 10 lines of code is probably too small of a font.

Put the demo online

Put it on github and let me pull it so I can play with it myself.

– Eric Burke

It’s never been easier to put the demos online. Do it so that I can go through it in detail later.

Avoid live demos

Don’t do live demos unless you can’t avoid them. If you have to do a live demo, increase your practice 3x. Make it so that you’re not dependent on any third party such as networks or anything that runs in the background.

– Jim Weirich

Jim says, RUN AWAY, unless you have to do a demo. 🙂 And if you have to do a live demo, make sure that you practice it to it’s fullest.

Prop me

Bring a robot… (only he can get away with this in every presentation…)

– Scott Preston

Scott’s one of the few that you can get away with this but it is a good point to bring the right props for your talk.

Can you say it?

And now we finally get to what people expected to actually discuss is this talk which is the actual talking in the talk.

Set expectations

Set the audience’s expectation of what level your talk is aimed at in the abstract and at the beginning of the talk.

– Rob Allen

When you start your talk, you need set expectations.

  • What is the audience going to learn?
  • Is the talk a crazy deep or just an intro talk?

That should all be in the abstract but make sure to reiterate.

Also, are you the expert? Or just enthusiastic about the topic?

If you set expectations correctly, the audience will be not be disappointed.

Open Strong

You’ve got 30 seconds to sell your pitch or it’ll be the Charley Brown teacher… Wa wa wa wa

– Carey Payette

This is very true. There are lot of different ways to open. Tell a joke, tell a story, tell your agenda… But regardless, pitch your talk in the first 30 seconds or your audience will zone out.

Don’t put yourself down

Don’t undermine your own credibility as you are speaking because if you don’t believe in yourself, why will your audience?

– Carey Payette

There’s a lot of self deprecating humor out there. This can be ok but be careful with it as it can undermine your credibility.


Be clear with your diction and enunciate your words

– Eric Burke

It’s hard to listen to someone mumble through the hour. It makes it hard to understand and beyond missing what the speaker is saying, it makes you tired.

Be cognizant of your audience and clear with your words…

Eye contact

Connect with your Audience.

– Josh Holmes

Eye contact is the best way to connect with your audience. Eye contact is tough sometimes though so you need to make sure that the audience thinks that you’re making eye contact. Pick a few folks in the room and rotate between them. A big secret is that you don’t have to actually look at those folks, you can look over their heads and at the distance that you’ll be, nobody will know the difference.


Ask questions of the audience for feedback and give stuff away for answering questions

– Eric Burke

There are a lot of reasons to ask questions of the audience.

At the beginning of the session, ask polling questions to find who who your audience is, what they’re experience is, what they expect and so on. During your session, ask questions to pull your audience in and make sure that they are still understanding what you are saying.

Your audience wants you to succeed

Start strong with energy and confidence. Whether they realize it or not, the audience wants to feel like you’ve got this presentation nailed. If you’re nervous, then they’re nervous.

– Benjamin Day

This is something that speakers forget. The audience came into the room because they want to learn from you. As a result, they really want for you to succeed, otherwise why would they be in the room?

Audiences are incredibly forgiving of many many things. If a demo goes wrong, remember that the audience is on your side. Relax, smile and move on.

When you drop a talking point, get tongue twisted, forget your place or anything else goes wrong, remember that the audience wants you to succeed and is on your side.

Audience can’t download you

You can put your slides online for download. You can put your notes online, and your sample code.

What you can’t put online is your audience, so make them and their questions your priority. Don’t let them derail you to a different topic entirely; but the live experience is a unique opportunity for them to let you know if your message is getting across, and to change course on the fly if it’s not.

– Martin Shoemaker

You can put a lot of things online but the audience came into the room to see you. Make sure that you answer their questions.

You are the tailor

If you are going to do the talk as it is and no variation, you might as well send a video. The reason you are in the room is to tailor it to your audience.

– Josh Holmes

If you don’t tailor your talk and say exactly the same thing over and over, you might as well send a video. There’s a reason that you’re in the room.

Tell a story

OMG…for the love of gawd…know what you want to say and say it EARLY. Get your story figured out and then hang the rest of your talk off of that story. If you don’t have a story, at least create a Top 10 list.

Top ‘n’ lists are instant story. What’s easier to understand than 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc?

– Benjamin Day

Don’t just spew random facts and figures at your audience. You need to tell your audience a story.

Stories and Examples

Stories and Examples over bullet points and ‘’abstract concepts. If you really want to connect with people you are going to need a story or an example to stick with them. No one is going to remember your bullet points. Give a talk called top 10 ****** and then ask someone to name 3 of the 10 things 1/2 hour later, much less when they need your talk a month or two later. But tell an interesting and engaging story and people can remember it years later.

– Llewellyn Falco

This is a great point. People can only remember a handful of things out of a talk. If you have a story, they can remember the story and that will remind them of the points you wanted to make.

Now, if you have a top 10 list, make sure that you land a few things really well.

But have a POINT

Make sure that the story has a point rather than just talking about the fish that you caught last summer.

– Carey Payette

And don’t tell some random cat stories. The stories need to drive your point. Remember that this is what the audience is going to remember from your talk and so it really should drive home your point in a great way.

Watch your crowd

I usually pick a few faces in the crowd to try and measure how I’m going, pick like 5 and watch them, if most of them look bored I try to switch up, or slow down, basically I adapt my style to the reactions I get. But also, be sure to understand audiences. For example, in the US the audience is more reactive, they will nod, comment, even make public remarks if the ambient allows for it (woots and amen and such), where as the Dutch audience will look like your talk is boring, only to tell you afterwards “it was the best talk i ever saw”.

– Rafael Dohms

Make sure that you understand your audience and how they are going to react. And then watch to make sure that they are still with you.

Read the room

Don’t barrel through, stop and look at your audience and make sure that they are still with you.

– Scott Fuller

I start off a lot of presentations reminding the audience that I could blow through the material in about 10 minutes or we can fill the hour with their interaction. If you blow through the material and don’t keep the audience with you, you should have just written an article or sent a video.

Be impactful without slides

Write your talk so that it is impactful without slides. Stories and anecdotes. Slides should be an optional impact multiplier.

– Josh Walsh

Be impactful and give a great talk with or without slides. The slides don’t make the talk, you do. Remember that the slides are for the audience, not you.

And reality is that slides could fail for some reason. If the projector, the laptop, the wires or anything fails and the slides go away, you still need to deliver a great presentation.

Slides follow you

The best presenters talk and their slides change seamlessly behind them – average and crappy speakers change the slide, look at what’s up there and start talking. Slides follow you – not the other way around.

– Rowan Manahan

Get in a flow. You should really grok your talk and know what’s going on behind you without looking. That should be tailored to really just flow along with your talk.

Avoid reading the big screen

You should not need to ever look at the big screen, unless you are deliberately turning your back on the audience to make them look there for a vid or similar.

– Rowan Manahan

If you’re in a flow, you should not ever have to turn around a look at the big screen. The only reason to turn your back on the audience is when you want 100% of their focus and attention on the overhead as in when you want to watch a video.

Look at your screen the right number of times

You should not need to look at your comfort screen, except the occasional peripheral vision glance – that’s what rehearsal is all about.

– Rowan Manahan

Again, get into the flow and really understand your talk.

Laugh it off

When something goes wrong, be sure to laugh it off. Even acknowledge it to the audience and get them on your side with humor rather than just muscling through it and loosing your passion.

Abby told a great story about how she went on auto-pilot while trying to fix an issue rather than stopping, laughing and fixing.

– Abby Fitchner

Remember that your audience wants you to succeed. Don’t get stuck when something goes wrong. It’s a serious temptation to just go on autopilot and just push through.

Stop. Acknowledge what happened. Laugh it off and move forward.

This will keep your audience on your side with you.

Now what?

Not that you’ve delivered your talk strong, what’s next?

Close strong

Close with something really cool. Remember right after the cool part to ask people to fill out evals 🙂

– Adam Tuliper

The last impression that you make is the strongest thing that the audience is going to remember. Make sure that you end strong.

Don’t dine and dash

Do not swoop in and do your talk and run away. The conference organizers and attendees want the speakers to hang out and mingle. If your schedule doesn’t allow that, maybe reconsider submitting.

– Jason Gilmore

You are more than your talk. The majority of the conferences that you get invited to are picking not only the talk but you. They want you as part of their experience. And the audience wants to connect with you as well.


To many speakers obsess. Don’t rush to get the evals and go looking through because you’ll find one that’s negative and it’ll piss you off.

Don’t do that. You just got off stage, enjoy that moment. Relax.

– Josh Holmes

You did a good job. You were passionate about your topic. You wrote a great talk. You figured out how to represent that in slides (if needed). You practiced. You prepped. You imparted your knowledge. People stayed in the room.

Relax and enjoy the moment.

Don’t do what 100% of speakers have done at some point and go digging through the evals looking for the one troll who gave you the worst possible feedback. The reality is that you had a bunch of people in your room and it’s going to be tough to please everyone.

Relax and enjoy the moment.


Revise your talk while it’s fresh. Once you get a couple weeks out, the parts that didn’t flow or felt off topic or were a little awkward for some reason will be forgotten and the next time you’re giving the talk you’ll trip over that same section again…

– Josh Holmes

Now that you’ve taken a day to relax, go ahead and revise the talk. You’ve put in a lot of prep into this talk, don’t throw away that work by just doing the talk once. And when you’re going to be getting read to do it the next time, you will have forgotten the awkward parts of the talk and the other issues with the talk. Revise those before you forget those issues.

Books on presenting

Dirk Haun

Presenting for Geeks


Simon Guest

File -> New -> Presentation

http://bit.ly/joshbookoffer and enter the code: 9DU2GFJP for a 15% discount

Scott Berkun

Confessions of a Public Speaker


There’s a lot of great books on presenting. Some of these are specifically for geeks. Others are just great books.

I highly recommend that you pick up one or more of these and go through them.


Hopefully this has been of use to you. It’s tough to cover EVERYTHING with regards to public speaking, especially in a one hour talk or long blog post.

Definitely feel free to post additional tips it the comments.

Also, I really want to hear about your upcoming talks and how you get on.

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