DEV Community

loading...
Cover image for Creative Conference Talks

Creative Conference Talks

Hayley Denbraver 👩‍💻🥑
Software engineer, developer advocate, technical content creator. Believes coding can and should be fun and that teams work best when they are inclusive.
Updated on ・3 min read

Hello DEV community! I wanted to make a post with my favorite tech talks I have given over the years. Mostly I wanted to do this because I am job searching for a developer relations role.

However, this is also a chance to share about my style and a few devices that I like to use to make my talks memorable.

Style

In my opinion, your talk style is important because it is not possible to ensure that your audience remembers everything from your live talk. That just isn't how learning works. With this in mind, I like to incorporate certain elements/devices/ideas into my talks to help my audience remember what I am saying and engage with the ideas I am presenting. Here are a few of these devices, along with an example talk.

Memorable Analogies

This example is from COVID era conference talks (it's online and was pre-recorded). This meant I had time to do a few takes, make an edit if I needed to, and utilize a zoom background.

My talk is an introduction to software security. There is nothing earth shattering here, but it is an overview of the things to consider when you are trying to make your application more secure. It is memorable however, because of how I chose to talk about these introductory topics--through the lens of detective fiction.

I love detective fiction (especially Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple). I draw parallels between the genre and the security topics. Examples include: What do I know about my neighbors? and Should I trust this mysterious package?. The analogy is interesting and memorable, and helps illustrate my point.

You might just have fun, even if you aren't new to security.

Commitment

I gave this talk a half dozen times between 2018-2019. The premise? I am giving a post-mortem account of the failures of Jurassic Park (and talking about engineering ethics and chaos engineering along the way).

The first time I gave this talk I hesitated over whether I should fully commit (pretend this is all real and that I was hired by Ingen as a consultant). Basically, I wondered if I should be in character. It seemed too weird and risky. But I took the extra step and committed to the premise. The result was a talk that people still reach out to me to tell me that they loved.

I promise, you won't die because you added passion or commitment to your talk. It may not land 100%, but chances are good that you will end up with a talk that is remembered.

Story

I think technical talks can get bogged down in the details. That isn't to say that details aren't important, rather that not every detail will be retained. Focus on your story, and share your notes/slides for the details.

Draft out your narrative arc. What is the journey you want your audience to take?

I love to add some whimsy to my talks (why not?) and will sometimes make up a story in case it helps demonstrate my larger point. (These are never presented as real, but as narratives to help the audience understand.) I have included an example below:

Personal Experience and Memory Hooks

The following talk is one of my first talks. One of the reasons it is still one of my favorites is that it is a talk that was unique to my background and experience.

I also liked it because it uses a memory hook. A memory hook is a sensory description that helps your audience remember your talk because it is almost like they experienced what you described themselves. In this video, the memory hook is set up towards the beginning and comes back into the talk at the end.

A Final Note

This is how I like to do tech talks, but there are many valid and interesting ways to tell your story. If this style isn't for you, that is 100% ok. The most important thing is to be yourself and talk about something you think is interesting. If you do that, you're golden.

"Microphone" by visual.dichotomy is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Discussion (2)

Collapse
brianverm profile image
Brian Vermeer 🧑🏼‍🎓🧑🏼‍💻

Great read Hayley. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I love the way you did the JP postmortem talk.

Collapse
hayleydenb profile image
Hayley Denbraver 👩‍💻🥑 Author

Thanks Brian! Hope you are doing good.