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Josefine Schfr
Josefine Schfr

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Speaking at Tech Confs - Preparing your Talk

Cover image by Chris Munnik.

This is the sixth part in a series on speaking at tech conferences - it’s all about preparing your talk.

Yaaay, congratulations, you got accepted! This is great news & you should be really proud of yourself. But now the scary part - you will actually have to prepare and deliver your talk. At least for me, this is usually the moment where I slightly freak out and blame my past self for handing in this excitable outline that I now have to live up to. But let’s take it step by step.

Develop your Storyline

Think about what your audience should take away. What are the key messages you want to deliver? What was your own journey to reach these insights, and what steps did you take? While you might be an expert on the topic of your talk, it’s possible some folks in your audience might be beginners - so be sure to make it approachable. I always find it super helpful to write a little outline for myself, sometimes even a longer form text, to be sure it all makes sense. If you got a rough idea but no coherent structure yet, talk it through - usually, voicing your ideas out loud will make it all fall into place.

Next, you can discuss your storyline and key messages with a friend or colleague - this usually helps a lot to get some first feedback, bounce ideas off each other or think things through. If you prefer, you can, of course, also ask online - on your favourite social media. I see folks doing Twitter polls about picking a headline/topic/project to discuss next all the time, and this way, you can get feedback from a wider variety of people than just chatting 1:1.

Paint a picture 🖌️

You don’t necessarily have to create a PowerPoint presentation, but it might be worth considering how you can bring your points across visually. It will be easier for folks to follow your talk if there are some highlights or notes, and it’s nice to share them afterwards with your audience. There are many different options to choose from:

  • Make your presentation interactive by adding open-text answers, polls or the option to vote on something, for example, with Slido
  • Include memes to make your audience laugh (just double-check that any joke you include is not offensive)
  • Sometimes, some moving pictures will help explain what so many slides couldn’t. If you are not a fan of live coding or demos, why not record your screen and play little snippets in your talks?
  • The even more entertaining version of this of course, would be to live code! Personally, I have a lot of respect for folks who do it - it takes a lot of courage to try and code with so many eyes watching you. But your audience will thank you - and you can always prepare a working backup branch or copy and paste functioning code from your notes.
  • Showing projects live will definitely engage a (dev) audience - while slides and explanations are great, live demonstrations will always be popular with a techie audience
  • If you’d like to have slides, there are many great options, choose your favourite to make the most out of your visuals without spending too much time on it. Some options are:
    • Prezi
    • Powerpoint, Keynote & Google Slides
    • Canva - this is not so much a presentation tool (even though it can be), but it can help you create neat slides in your style. You can pick and choose from many templates and customize them - I’m a fan ^^

Canva Workspace showing a slide and different typography options

For me, the next step is always to move my presentation outline into the right tool - usually Google Slides, and start dividing individual points into different slides, adding points and visuals as well as speaker notes.

The usage of speaker notes of course is a whole other discussion - I really love them, use them to structure my thoughts and as a fallback option if I get nervous and forget what I want to say. Don’t rely on them too heavily, as it’s possible you won’t be able to see much of them during your actual presentation. But for me, it’s a little like back in school: you write a little cheatsheet for yourself, and in the end, most likely, you won’t need it.

Practice makes Perfect

Once you have translated the structure of your talk to a presentation tool and filled it with context, you can start practising it. Read it out, present it to yourself (out loud, very important!), record yourself, or present it to friends or family. Try to get some feedback, see if the storyline makes sense and return to the drawing board to make changes if necessary. At this point, I usually notice whether some things feel a little out of place and adjust. That’s why I keep styling as the last step.

Make your Story shine ☀️

You might not be a designer, but you surely have watched many presentations in your life, right? When working on the design for your presentation, likely, less is more. We’ve all seen these slides jam-packed with so much information that your head spins. Make your content as easy to follow as possible, if you can, include one important point per slide and focus on that before moving on. I like to highlight what I’m talking about so that I can be sure the audience isn’t distracted from reading something else while I make my point.

While keeping it clean, add some personality in your slides to make them more memorable. The most impressive presentations I watched were the ones where people had included their own doodles, and some personal details or styles in their slides. Make them you.

And there you go - you have prepared your talk, created a stunning presentation, maybe even made them interactive and fun and practised your talk.

Now, it’s all about delivering it 👀
Let’s save that for the next part!

How do you prepare your talks? What’s your favourite tool for presentations? Are you also as scared of live coding as me? If not, please comment your tips 😅🙌

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