How to give a talk

Posted on by Tiffany

Categories: blog and tips and tricks

We are so happy to announce that Tiffany Conroy poured her wisdom into this article for you. Tiffany, interaction designer and developer at Soundcloud, started the project weareallawesome where she aims to motivate women in tech to get more visible and speak at conferences. Being a speaker herself, she has started a wonderful collection of resources to help you with that - from articles on how to be a role model to practical tips on how to make good slides.

A simple formula for talking about your project

On an opening slide, have your name(s) and Twitter handle(s). Introduce yourself using 30 words or less. You don’t have to mention RailsGirls. Using one or two slides and less than 2 minutes, explain the problem that your project addresses. Show a slide with your project name or logo, and introduce your project by name. Maybe mention RailsGirls if you want, if you have not already. Using four or less slides, explain how your project addresses the problem. Optionally, use one slide to talk about difficulties you encountered. As a conclusion, discuss any future plans for the project, or how people can learn more or follow your work. Close with a “thank you” slide that shows your names(s) and Twitter handle(s) again.

Basic tips for short talks

Here are some tips on how to look and feel like a pro while giving your talk:

Show how excited you are about your project

Bored speakers are boring. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Be prepared and practice

Know exactly what you want to say, and practice it out loud a few times. You don’t have to memorize word for word. At least once, you should practice your talk while standing and advancing your slides. If you and a partner are presenting together, then rehearse together. Only switch speakers once or twice, and don’t interrupt each other.

Slides are for illustration purposes only

If your slides have more than a few words each, no one will listen to you talking. Bullet points are very tempting but are almost always a bad choice.

Demos! Have a backup plan

So you want to do a live demo. The internet will fail. Your code will break. Always make screenshots or a video as a backup plan. Also, if you are going to do a demo, then rehearse switching from the presentation mode to the demo and back again.

Test your tech setup before your talk

Find a time before your talk to test your laptop with the projector. Make sure your notes are showing on the laptop and the presentation on the big screen. If you need audio, make sure the audio is connected. Just before presenting, make sure you CLOSE all applications that you do not need for the presentation, especially messaging apps like Twitter, Skype and email clients. Under your Energy Saver options, change the timeout so your computer won’t fall asleep while you talk. Put your phone in Airplane Mode.

Stay calm, and don’t rush yourself

If you need a moment to find something on your computer, or find your place, or remember a thought, go ahead and take the moment. I like to have a bottle of water with the cap kept on so that if I need to think or slow down, I can take the cap off, take a sip, and put the cap back on to give myself time.

Never apologize, even when it is your fault

If you have technical problems, or forget something, or made a mistake, do not apologize. Never apologize for being unprepared. If you are unprepared, be as confident as you can be with what you do have, and keep it short, so you don’t waste people’s time.

End before your time limit

If no one is timing you, time yourself. In the very worst case, if you start to run over, jump to your final slide, thank everyone and say “Unfortunately I have used all my time, so please talk to me afterwards”.