In part one I talked about how to find a topic, how to find out what to include and how to prepare your talk.
Now it’s time to talk about what to do when actually giving your talk.
Preparation, part one
Once you have found a topic and decided to prepare a talk it’s time to do the hard work. What aspects do you want to talk about? What’s the main point you want to make? How do you plan to present? How many slides do you want to include? What do you put on them?
Think about these questions before creating your presentation.
What aspects do you want to talk about?
The typical time slot for a talk and a conference is somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. Let’s face it: If you have found a topic you’re passionate about you will most likely not be able to cover all the details in that timeframe - so think about the main ideas you want to convey.
People attending a conference have a busy schedule. If you hear eight or maybe even ten talks a day you’re not going to remember every detail from every talk you’ve heard - so don’t put every little fact into your presentation. Concentrate on the bigger themes, the great ideas.
Also think about the audience: Do they need very detailed knowledge about the topic you’re talking about?
For example, when elaborating about the integration of an LDAP based authentication provider into a Spring Security application you’re narrowing down the people who might be interested in the topic dramatically. That may be completely fine for a hard core technical conference but may be overkill for a general technical event.
What’s the main point you want to make?
As already mentioned before: If you’re hearing eight or ten talks a day you’re not going to remember a lot of details. If you’re lucky then people will remember one or two ideas from your talk. So think about what these ideas should be and structure your presentation around these ideas.
Start off with your main ideas in the agenda, come back to those ideas again and again during your presentation and wrap-up your presentation with these ideas.
Make these ideas easy to grasp. Do not try to let people take away that for integrating LDAP into a Spring Security architecture they have to extend the GlobalAuthenticationConfigurerAdapter - let them take away that an integration can be done easily and that they will have fewer hassles than when using manual user management.
How do you plan to present?
People are always receptive for a good story - so try telling them a good story.
Include funny anecdotes, bring examples from reality and don’t be shy to tell people what mistakes you made and how you screwed up. Let your audience learn from your mistakes.
How many slides do you want to include? What do you put on them?
Always remember: PowerPoint (or any other presentation program) is just a tool. Your slides are not the ultimate deliverable.
The ultimate deliverable is your presentation - the slides should support your presentation but should never replace it. This also means that without your presentation your slides should be meaningless - remember, they’re only supporting.
So, how many slides should you include?
The answer is simple: As few as possible, as many as needed.
What should you put on them? As little as possible.
Try to have only a few words per slide and actively try to avoid bullet points. Yes, it’s challenging but try to think of the last presentations you’ve seen: Which ones did you really like? The ones with ten bullet points and multiple sentences in font size 12 or the ones with a few key words and font size 50?
I’m pretty sure your answer is “the latter one of course”, so try following that yourself.
There are tons of books and web pages of how to compile a good presentation. Take a look at them. Follow their advice. Do not become the next PowerPoint junky who’s only job it is to read bullet points.
One of the best resources that I have come about is http://speaking.io/.
Preparation, part two
You have found a topic, you have created a good presentation, what’s the next step?
No matter how good you think your presentation is, chances are you have missed something or have wandered off and got taken away from the topic.
Put this to the test: Get real people involved.
Some speakers tell you that before giving a talk to anyone else they do not one but multiple dry runs.
Holding the complete talk without any audience is something you hear from time to time. For me personally this has never worked. I simply feel silly talking to the wall (or a rubber duck). I need immediate feedback from actual people.
So get those people.
Hold a brownbag over lunch and get your colleagues to listen to your presentation.
Have them give you immediate feedback: Did they like your talk? Were they able to follow your reasoning? Did they like your way of speaking? Did they like the slides? Would they include anything else or leave out something?
Use all the resources available to you.
Again something that hasn’t worked for me personally but with which other people have had a positive experience is recording your dry-run presentation and analyze the recording afterwards. Try if that’s something that works for you.
Here it is: The day of truth. The RfP (request for proposals) for a conference has arrived and you want to actually submit your talk.
Check whether you have all the necessary information at hand.
You should prepare a short synopsis of your talk, not longer that a few paragraphs capturing the essence of your talk. Why is it good? Why should other people be interested in it? What do you want to convey?
If you do not have a good answer to these questions, then your preparation wasn’t good enough so back to square one.
The synopsis should be like reading the cover of a book: It should make the reader want to know more.
Take this example from one of my talks:
How to be a happy developer. Now!
A lot of developers will agree to the claim that they turned their hobby into their profession. However, when looking at the daily business we often face a world very different from what we expected. A variety of reasons lead to increasing frustration and the feeling that the fun simply vanished. For some it’s company politics, for others it’s crazy customers or technologies that we’ve been force to work with. All of this leaves us thinking “What the hell am I doing here?”.
When trying to do something about this we often hear or read a lot of interesting concepts of how to improve our working environment like: “Do scrum!”, “Convince your leadership to give you more slack time”, “Use framework X” or “Follow the latest trend Y”. While this sounds nice at a first glance, real change is a lot harder.
So, what can we do to improve the current situation? How can we make ourselves feel better? This talk focuses on some easy to implement tactics, that each and every one of us can use from tomorrow on, making our life a little bit easier and more enjoyable: piece by piece, day by day.
You should also have a brief summary and a picture of yourself.
Give a short introduction of yourself and your background, like this:
Christian Seifert is a software engineer with more than 15 years of experience. He is is currently working as Senior System Architect at BetterDoc in Cologne, Germany where he helps matching patients needs with the right doctors.
Having experienced a wide range of projects and requirements he is constantly asking himself: How can we do things better and how can we keep having fun even in stressful situations? Although originally fascinated by working with machines today he also enjoys interacting with people, trying to push software craftsmanship ideas and help other developers to realize their full potential.
As mentioned before: Don’t be too disappointed if your talk doesn’t get accepted. It happens.
Sometimes the evaluation committee doesn’t think your talk fits the conference, sometimes someone else has already submitted a proposal, that is too similar to your own and sometimes the committee simply has to make a selection because too many submissions have been received and there are only a fixed number of slots.
Keep trying and use the next opportunity.
So, the big day has come: Your proposal has been accepted, you have been invited to the conference and now it’s time to deliver your talk.
In part three we’ll take a deeper look into how to actually deliver your talk.