How Do I Start Giving Talks on Coding?

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I don't consider myself an expert in just about any aspect of computer science / programming, but I'd like to start to share the bit of knowledge that I do have in a more public (meatspace) forum.

Anyone have any advice for getting started? I've reached out to my local Java Users Group and there are some Meetup coordinators I'm going to get in touch with. Do you have any general advice? Or particular websites for finding conferences / events which are soliciting speakers?

Any horror stories to make me less worried about my first talk?

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It is all about the story, people want to hear a good story! This talk is what really inspired me to take a whack at speaking.

Couple ideas for getting started:

  • Definitely checkout local Meetups for speaking opportunities
  • Consider doing a lightening talk your first time.
  • If you have an opportunities to talk internally at your company, start there. I started out by giving a lot of presentations at my company, then graduated to Meetups, and eventually made it to the big stage at RubyConf.

Good luck!!!

 

Hi Molly,

Thanks for the great advice! I just signed myself up for a lightning talk in a local pub for people to explain their PhDs in 10 minutes or less! Let's see if I can explain what dark matter is in less than 10 minutes... I think I'll do a few short talks like this first, as you suggested, before moving on to longer, more in-depth ones.

Thanks!

 

Yeah, lightning talks is also a good way to get started. Good luck buddy.

 

(That video is great, by the way! Just watched the whole thing. Some great advice in there. Thanks for posting it!)

 

I recommend going in person and talking to the speakers and organizers. Many meetups and conferences (particularly the free ones) prioritize new speakers so it's just a matter of finding the right people in your area.

Events with "lightning talks" are a great place to start because you get to meet multiple speakers at once, and they'll be able to help guide you to the right people.

As for finding the events themselves, I just launched a prototype of a site designed for just that: findTech.events (open-source on github)

I've only gotten a few hours in on the project so far, but the idea is that you will be able to search for conferences in your area, with your preferred techs, and if I can get the data - call-for-proposal dates.

 
 

That's a neat project! It was useful for me, even as it is. I found a conference nearby that I might end up going to in April. Thanks!

 

About giving talks:

  • Talk about the things you are passionate about. It doesn't matter if you feel like it's a cliche or over-represented topic. Experience and passion are way more important than the topic itself.

  • Keep the slides minimalistic and use images (but avoid videos). Explain everything in person through speech.

  • Practice. Make sure that the talk will not be too long or too short. Those are awkward.

  • Don't over explain, it's not a class. It's better to give an impression about complex topics to the beginner half of the audience than to bore the experienced half. Beginners will pick up enough to dig deeper into the topic at home.

About getting signed up for talks:

I am only presenting at local meetups (for now) and I am satisfied with it. This is my experience so far:

  • Getting signed up to a conference is pretty difficult (for the first time at least).

  • Getting signed up for a meetup is a piece of cake. In my country, there is usually a shortage of speakers. Just write an email to a few meetup groups, they will be happy about it.

  • Meetups have a very friendly tone, it's okay to be amateurish there.

I don't think you have anything to worry about, it will be a nice experience. Good luck!

 

Thanks for the great advice, Miklos! I'm sticking with shorter talks at Meetups for now.

That's a really good point about running through the talk ahead of time to make sure it's the right length. I need to remember to do that.

 

i used to teach couple of years ago when i was in collage. I didn't follow any processes but Here is the general idea of how i go about preparing a talk / presentation.

  1. Start collecting : collect as much as information about the topic that you are presenting. (start from small portion and gradually go to big things.)
    i.e. suppose you are giving a talk about some framework then start by going from What ? Why ? and How ?

  2. Keep presentation slides minimum: Don't add everything you find in slides.just main points and nothing else (if you are using MS PowerPoint or something there is a section to add notes for each slides which will be visible to you only and not on the presentation screen )

  3. Engage: this is what frightens most people. you don't have to speak but also clear any droughts that audience have. (you can do it as you move forward with your talk or ask audience to hold for End of the talk)
    Since your topic is coding related i strongly suggest to engage with audience as you go because it becomes hard to follow through entire thing until point is cleared.

  4. Take a break: There will be a time where you might be unsure of things like, someone asked question and you are not sure what is the correct way to address, or you forgot, you missed a topic etc....
    Take a break for 10 mins and regroup your thoughts.

Keep this points in mind and i think you will be fine 🙏.

 
 

I have given a couple of talks and my advice is this:

  • Use large images that fill your whole screen, don't use borders. Large images look better than small ones

  • Don't use too much text. Use at least font size 30. This will prevent you from pushing too much on the slide and at the same time even people in the back of the room can read it.

  • If you use text, use white text on a black background otherwise you will have a huge white rectangle of light on the wall behind you. Darkmode ftw!

  • Beware of giving live demos since they tend to go good all the time except when you're actually doing your talk

  • Take your listeners on a journey; introduce a problem and why it is a problem. Then tell how this problem can be solved.

  • If you give your talk in English and it is not your native language, then rehearse, but also relax; no one will laugh at you if you make a mistake

 
 
 

Horror stories? Nope. But I can tell you that you're going to do something that many people will attend, listen to and empathize with you. After all, when was the last time you went to a talk and lambasted the person? Probably never. You can do this. I'd also think back to your PhD defense. This was probably a way more anticipatory lost night of sleep than a talk. We're gong to want to hear your talk, your wisdom and remember this (I used to do Toastmasters which you may want to research), EVERYBODY has presentation anxiety. It's totally normal and expected; it does get easier though once you'll fully fluent on the topic or weave little stories/anecdotes into your talk to relate to your audience. We're social mammals and want you to succeed; Just remember that. Great luck!

 

Thanks for the advice, Dave! I'd never heard of Toastmasters before. Interesting!

 

I've done a bit of public speaking on coding regularly over the last year. If there's one single bit of advice I can give, it's consider your demographic before you plan your presentation. It's often overlooked, but is a crucial component.

I've presented coding and knowledge sharing in schools, universities and professional environments; by understanding your audience, the rest will follow.

Engaging your audience is so much easier when the content is appropriately accessible and digestible for the audience. I've found this out, ashamedly, the hard way!

I don't really use notes, although I know some are more comfortable with an aide of some sort. However, what I do have is one small bit of card with 'Speak Slower' written in capitals. This is a visual prompt that catches my eye throughout the presentation, that the audience cannot see, but will usually let me go "ah, yeah, I'm speaking to quick". It's so easy to lose track of your verbal pace when presenting code - I find this particularly as I get towards the crux of my topic or conclusion that I've been excitedly building up to.

Anecdotes are useful, but don't overuse them. Whilst anecdotes are a good way of maintaining engagement and justifying an opinion, they're not explicitly objective and therefore should be used sparingly - or at least appropriately.

Also, when presenting something that requires some digestion, it's OK to pause briefly. Incorporate it into your presentation, and it'll be more natural.

 

"Speak Slower" -- that's a great tip!

Reminds me of

 

well i found myself in a similar situation last year. so my friends and I established a coding club at a basic school where we are taking these kids through web design and web development. So maybe you can take from there and see how it goes.

 
 

I wouldn’t worry about being an “expert” on a topic. You have your experience to convey which is unique and you are the only expert on that.
Starting out with Meetup seems like the best approach to start to me. You can message the organizers and let them know what talk you have that you’d like to present.
Some advice I was given that I like is to not create a talk or presentation until you know someone wants you to deliver it. Think of some topics you’d like to talk about and create 2-3 sentence descriptions of them. You can send that to meetup organizers and see if they are interested. There’s no use in doing all the work on slides if no one wants to see it yet. Then you can commit to a date that is far enough out for you to create the necessary materials for the presentation.
On Twitter there is @cfp_land and @confstech for finding out about speaking opportunities.

 

Thanks for the heads-up on those Twitter accounts! Following them now :)

 

Happy to help. Good luck getting out there and giving talks!

 

Do you have any public speaking experience? I personally started within my own company. Presenting to other coworkers before going to public events.

 

Yeah I'm pretty good on public speaking in general. I'm an adjunct professor and used to give in-person lectures regularly (now it's all online).

I'm more looking for advice on how to actually get signed up for talks (what websites people use to organise them / what groups have local chapters in lots of cities / small developer conferences looking for speakers) and advice about how to structure talks for a technical audience.

Examples of slides / videos or general advice for engaging the audience would all be appreciated!

 

Ignore the imposter syndrome that you might feel with public speaking, expertise is relative and based on our experiences. Focus on finding an audience that would benefit from hearing about your experiences instead - there's always going to be someone looking to get to where you're already at.

For giving a talk, I find starting with an outline is always the best approach to structuring my talk and flushing out the content for the different talking points. I always have a draft of an outline before I touch any presentation tools like powerpoint.

Presentations should be supporting aids to a talk, not the main content itself.

Lastly, practice giving your talk. Practice makes for perfect.

 
 

Any horror stories to make me less worried about my first talk?

No horror stories, but remember:

  • You don't need (and shouldn't have to be) an expert to give a talk
  • People will be genuinely interested in what you have to say
  • You will have an impact on people beyond those who tell you
  • Diversity of thought and opinion is important. That includes people who haven't spoken in public before.
 

I haven't given a talk yet. But a good way to practice would be to make a youtube presentation, get feedback from the viewers and then turn it into an actual presentation. I have an example of a very good one, watch it for at least 5 minutes and you will be surprised how good it is:

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Got a Ph.D. looking for dark matter, but not finding any. Now I code full-time. Je parle un peu français. dogs > cats