Eight times (soon to be nine), I have talked at a conference or meetup. When it goes well, people sometimes say nice things about my presentation style. So I thought I’d share some thoughts about that.
Just to get this out of the way: what I say has to make sense to me, has to be interesting to me, and has to have been useful to me to learn about. I never know if what I say will make sense, be interesting, or be useful to someone in the audience, but I have to start somewhere. I also have to know a little more about each thing I mention than I share in the talk (see slide 28 from Tim O’Reilly’s talk at Brooklyn Beta).
I try to keep slides simple. Sometimes I just show an image. Here’s a slide from my current talk, Universal Typography, that I show while I verbally summarize my web design background and explain how I stay employed and interested in this work. I only mention Jeffrey’s book in passing, but as a visual it works because it’s a symbol that represents “learning to be a working web designer”.
If I quote someone, I pause a little so the audience can read the quote. If I reference anything that has a URL, I cite the URL prominently near the top of the screen so folks in the back can see (and I use a URL shortener so it’s easier to jot them down). My talks tend to have conceptual content, so illustrations are necessary — but I approach these in a minimum-viable way. I still use one slide that’s just a photo of a sketch I drew on an index card.
It also helps that I know Jeff Veen (because wow)! Jeff encouraged me to give my talks more than once, which I thought would be unfair to attendees. It’s not. Almost nobody has seen the talk, no matter how many times the video has been viewed, and folks who have are happy to see you in person. This has helped me immensely. I can iterate on my minimum-viable slides and gradually fortify my content by incorporating feedback and new things I learn. It gets better every time.
Jeff also directed me to this article by Clay Johnson — it’s how Jeff prepares, and it’s how I prepare too, now. Counting rehearsals and slide keyword run-throughs, I have given my talks maybe a hundred times. Recorded rehearsals allow me to ramble and riff, and later I weigh those points against my notes deck and decide what to keep.
Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker is another great resource. I still remember a sinking feeling just before my first talk at Build in 2010 … at that moment, I remembered one piece of Berkun’s advice and mentally turned my nervousness into excitement about what I had to share with the audience. It totally worked, because I stopped feeling nervous.
I hope some of this encourages you to speak, and feel more confident when you speak. It feels incredible to share your ideas on stage, get paid for it, and have even one person tell you they liked what you had to say.