DEV Community

Mario García
Mario García

Posted on • Updated on

My Rules for Being a Tech Speaker

1. You don't need to be an expert but willing to share

The first time I walked into a room to be in front of people for sharing everything I knew about Linux, I wasn't the expert I am today.

I had started using Linux back in December 2006, when I was in college, and I barely knew how to install Ubuntu along with Windows or use the terminal, and I had taught a few people how to configure the operating system.

In April 2008, a friend of mine invited me to participate at the Latin American Free Software Installfest. I was there to talk about my experience using Linux.

Speaking in public was not something I had a lot of experience with at the moment, and I was wondering if I was the right person to do it or if I had anything to say.

A tool you recently learned how to use, a problem you solved by writing code in any programming language, something you discovered while attending a conference, any knowledge you have is always worth it to share.

Even if you're not the expert you think you need to be. Any speaker you encountered at a conference began in that manner, without possessing any prior knowledge or expertise on the subject.

2. Find a mentoring partner

When applying to a call for papers to participate in a technology event, this is the information you have to prepare about your proposal:

  • Choose a topic
  • Choose a title for your talk or workshop
  • Write a description
  • Write an abstract, including an outline

The topics that will be covered through your presentation, as well as the time dedicated to each of them, including space for demos and Q&A, will depend on the time slot assigned by the event organization.

If you're a first timer, it could take some time to become proficient at writing proposals. Events like PyCon US have mentorship programs, and you can request a seasoned speaker to guide you on preparing your proposal.

I joined the GitLab Heroes program in August 2019, and I was a speaker at GitLab Commit three years in a row from 2019 to 2021. In 2019, when I received an email confirming my talk proposal was accepted, GitLab also assigned a mentor that guided me on preparing my presentation and helped me practice before the event.

I'm from Mexico and English is my second language. As a speaker, GitLab Commit was the first time I presented a talk in English and my participation was a success thanks to the support provided by GitLab.

You can read about my unexpected journey to become a GitLab Hero here at DEV.

Finding a mentor can be tough, and the right person to guide you should be someone with previous public speaking experience and/or an expert on the topic you will discuss through your presentation, and you can find that person in:

  • A teacher
  • A friend
  • A member of the tech community in which you participate
  • A speaker you met at a technology event
  • Someone you already follow on social media
  • Platforms like Coding Coach

Don't forget to be kind, respectful of their time and patient with whoever you contact to be your mentor.

Being a Mentor

As a mentor to some Open Source projects and individuals, I've identified these key reasons of why to provide mentorship:

  • Promote personal and professional development. Mentorships can be an opportunity for a mentor to identify:

    • What technologies (the mentor) is passionate about
    • Area of expertise
    • Skills that need to be improved or acquired
  • Improve your communication skills. Preparing a mentorship session implies not only having knowledge about the topic. In technology, it can be difficult to explain technical concepts in a clear and concise way, without it being more complex to understand for less experienced people or a non-technical background.

  • Improve your leadership skills. A mentor is a guide for people to succeed towards their goals, no matter what they want to achieve, like becoming a better developer or being successful in their first speaking engagement. To your mentees, you will:

    • Be a source of inspiration
    • Show them the way forward
    • Provide support and tools needed to achieve their goals

    And that's what a good leader do.

  • Expand connections and networks. Providing mentorship can be an opportunity to meet people from all over the world and know different cultures, as well as a room for future collaborations.

  • Mutual learning. Mentors are knowledgeable people in their area of expertise, but they don't know everything. In a mentoring relationship, both sides must be open to learn from each other. New technologies can be discovered in a mentorship session, and those can be useful for future projects.

Public Speaking Courses

As explained here, there are different learning styles, as stated by Walter Burke Barbe and his colleagues, who proposed three "modalities" of learning: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (movement and touch). These were often referred to simply as VAK.

A variation on the acronym, developed by New Zealand-based teacher Neil D. Fleming, is VARK®, or visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

I always choose to learn by reading and writing. Whenever there's a new technology or tool I want to try, I go to the documentation first, check the examples there, and run tests on different scenarios. I document everything I learn through blog posts, because explaining the topic in my own words, it makes me understand it better.

Although, I watch videos on YouTube, I only do it when I'm trying to fix a bug or implement a solution, and I didn't find a useful example in the documentation or through a Google search.

I'm also a self-taught person and never have taken a course on public speaking, but there are some public speaking courses at platforms like Coursera or Grow with Google, that you may want to check.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect, an idiom in English used to say that people become better at something if they do it often, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Public speaking is a skill that you improve on every iteration. Nervousness is normal, some things may not work as expected, and having knowledge on a topic doesn't mean you have all the answers. Learning from what went right or wrong is what makes you do it better the next time.

Here's a list of things to do that can help you do it better on your speaking engagement:

  • Read as much as you can about the topic you'll discuss in your presentation
  • Check your slides before your presentation, even if it's ready, and you consider there's nothing else to add. You may find typos, wrong or outdated information, etc.
  • If you're demoing a product, a tool or any technology, make sure everything you need to make it work is ready. If it failed, try to fix it, but don't spend much time on it. You can fix it later and share the solution through a blog post or video
  • If you're presenting in a different language, it's normal to forget what you have to say, or to think that your pronunciation is not as good as you want it to be. But this is the first step to be better at communicating on that language, and you'll do it better each time.
  • Be open to receive feedback and learn from the audience
  • Take notes on what went wrong
  • Don't throw in the towel the first time something went wrong

4. Better Slides for a Better Presentation

If you're planning to use slides for your presentations, here are some recommendations:

  • Keywords. In a presentation, it's important that people pay attention to you rather than the slides. People are not there to read the content in your slides, but listening to what you have to say about the topic. A better way to organize the content in every slide would be using keywords, instead of writing whole paragraphs.
  • Pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. You can replace words with images that represent the idea you're trying to communicate.
  • Add an outline. Slides are a guide for speakers. Adding an outline could help organize the content of your presentation. For the audience would be a way to know which topics will be covered and in which order.
  • Write a script. An actor in a movie was given a script to know their dialogues, how to react to any situation, and when to perform any action. But scripts can also be used when preparing for a speaking engagement, regardless of the format of your presentation, it doesn't matter if it is a talk, a webinar, or a lightning talk. Create a document where you write what you're going to say, and use it to practice before your presentation.
  • Add notes. Notes are useful to remember ideas associated to keywords, what a picture represent, important information to mention, instructions for demos, etc.

5. Use the tools that fit your needs


Through the years, I have used different tools to prepare the slides for my presentations, including:

  • OpenOffice Impress
  • LibreOffice Impress
  • Google Slides
  • reveal.js

When I gave my first talk, I had already been using Ubuntu for about a year and found Free Software and Open Source alternatives to the tools I was using in Windows. During my first speaking engagements, the tool I used for my presentations was OpenOffice Impress, that is now discontinued.

Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, the company behind the development of OpenOffice, in January 2010. As a result, a fork named LibreOffice was released a year later, in 2011.

In the year of the release of LibreOffice, I began utilizing it in lieu of OpenOffice. Since then, LibreOffice Impress has been a prominent tool I utilize for the creation of slides for my presentations.

Many events provide their speakers with a template they can modify to prepare their slides. This document is usually shared through Google Slides.

The advantages of using Google Slides are that you can publicly share your slides using a link generated by Google, access a presentation on any browser, and have no compatibility issues when opening the document.

There are a few GitHub repositories on my account where you can find some of my presentations, created with reveal.js, a framework for creating presentations using HTML and Markdown.

If you want to use reveal.js, you only need an editor and a web browser. And you can share the presentation with the world using GitLab Pages, as you would do with any website created using HTML5.

From these tools, which one should you choose? The one you already know how to use, unless you want to try other tools, like present.

Video and Audio Edition

When events are held online, some presentations are not done live, but rather the speaker requires to record their presentation in advance.

Especially during the pandemic, I was a speaker at many online events, and had to record some of my presentations before the event. The tools I used included:

6. Make sure everything's ready for the important day

This is a list of hardware you may require for your presentation:

  • A computer
  • A USB C to HDMI adapter
  • A presentation remote
  • A webcam, digital camera or smartphone
  • A microphone
  • Headphones
  • A mouse
  • A keyboard
  • A monitor

From the list above, the first three are what I've used for in-person events, and the rest of the list is what I've used for online events.

The list could change based on your requirements, but you have to make sure that everything's working before the day of your presentation.

For online events, you need to have a stable Internet connection.

Some events don't provide their speakers with an Internet connection, and this may affect your presentation if the demos you've prepared required an Internet connection to work.

If that's the case, I would suggest recording a video to show the demo running, or configure a local development environment with everything needed for the demo.

If you're using Google Slides or any online tool for creating your presentation, don't forget to download a copy, as you may not have an Internet connection at the venue.

7. It's OK not to have all the answers

You're the expert on the topic you will discuss through your presentation, and that's why you were invited to be a speaker at the event. But being knowledgeable on the topic doesn't mean you have all the answers, and it's ok to say it.

Having no answers to specific questions is an opportunity to learn. When someone asked me a question to which I didn't have the answer, or if a demo failed, and I wasn't able to fix it, after my presentation, I spent time to find the answer and later prepared a blog post for sharing the solution with attendees to the event. I learned something new and shared the knowledge acquired.

8. Have fun!

Things can go smoothly or in unexpected ways, but even if it's part of your job, enjoy the moment. It was worth everything you had to go through while preparing for your presentation.

I've been sharing knowledge with the world for about 16 years. Why do I continue doing it after all this time?

To answer this question, I give you my key reasons:

  • Learning a lot about different topics, and knowing new technologies
  • Meeting many people from around the world
  • Traveling to other countries
  • Presenting in both Spanish and English

Support me on Buy Me A Coffee

Top comments (0)