Advice for New Tech Speakers
Tips and resources I wish I knew when I started.
One of the readers of my Developer Microskills newsletter wrote in and asked me for advice for new speakers building a technical talk. I made a Twitter thread after writing an email response, but I thought I'd take my own advice and turn it into a blog article. I'm sure I'll continue to add to this over time. Here are some tips and my favorite resources, in no particular order. Of course, take what works for you & leave the rest.
- Write the code or sample app first. Everything will derive from that. As you're building it, take note of the order in which you naturally built features and anything that may have stumped you.
- Hammer out a solid outline before you dive too deep into making slides. An outline looks different for different people. Some use pen and paper, some draw pictures, and some use basic slides. Gathering your thoughts into a narrative flow will help a lot when building slides.
- Make basic slides first that you can rearrange, edit, and add to without having to redo a bunch of styling. Figure out the content and how the ideas will flow together first, then add pizazz after.
- Reduce your scope. This is especially true if you're converting a blog article to a talk. 90% of the time an article is going to cover more ground than a talk can. Try to think of the 1-2 key points you're hoping the audience will remember.
- The great John Papa once told me, "Any talk 30 minutes or less is more about the emotion you're trying to create than the actual code." No one will be able to remember the exact lines of code in your talk (that's what the repo is for). You want people to feel like they can do it because you've shown them the way. There's a great book about this called Made to Stick.
- Add visual aids wherever possible. Use larger font sizes and more contrasting colors than your first instinct. It's not only better for accessibility, but also easier for people to follow and learn from. On stage, this is especially important, since you don't know how the size of the screens the audience will be watching.
- Simplify the code you put on slides as much as you can. No one will be able to read it word for word. Use highlighting, images, animation, or boxes to point to the line of code you're talking about. Here's how I animate code.
- Likewise, avoid bullet points and paragraphs of text as much as you can. Think of other creative ways to convey information like boxes of text and diagrams.
- Try not to stress too much about appearing nervous while you're speaking. Remember: people love authenticity, and by and large, the audience is cheering for you to succeed. I've seen so many nervous first time speakers do an INCREDIBLE job, and many, many veteran speakers still get nervous every time. You can do it!
My Favorite Speaking Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Memorable Tech Talks by Nina Zakharenko
- How to Prepare a Talk by Gary Bernhardt
- The Art of Speaking, a free Pluralsight course by Scott Hanselman
- If you're a new speaker looking to get into developer relations, check out my book Getting Started in Developer Relations. It covers the what and why of DevRel, as well as tips on writing CFPs and how to build a personal DevRel strategy.