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Ask HN: How do you start giving tech talks?
222 points by litzer on July 28, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments

1) Start small. Start in your company. Then go to local user groups (LUG, universities, etc). Then submit applications to small/local tech conferences, then go on to large ones.

2) Read something about the topic, e.g: https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Public-Speaker-Scott-Berk...

(there're tons of other books and resources, I won't provide everything here)

3) Speak about something you know very well.

4) Reharse. One of the biggest problem with presentation newbies is that they're unable to keep the proper timing.

5) Don't waste your audience time. Keep your talk as short as possible; don't try saying everything, try to say the most important and useful things.

6) Focus on your speech, not on the slides. The slides should support you, you should not be reading slides aloud.

Preparation for me:

- note all the key points you want to make, collate into groups, these become slides

- generate slides, focus on diagram not text, you are going to speak the text. Ensure a key is present if necessary

- if the diagrams are complex, do a flick book : generate the final picture and duplicate the slide subtracting content working backwards, you will end up with lots of slides but they print cleanly stand alone and are clear

- print the slides . Write notes along side them, repeat repeat repeat, distill into the following per slide:

3 intro points

3 content points

3 summary points

And most importantly .. a lead into the next slide; these become your notes

-give the talk, the notes slides are your anchors, you can easily glance down to remember where you are if you are lost, giving the 3 summary points builds your confidence along the way, and the link to the next slide keeps everything flowing nicely

- if you are nervous. Get a plant in the audience to ask you an easy question on the 2nd or 3rd content slide, I calm down immediately if I get a question I can answer early on

Good luck !

+1 to all of that.

The only other thing I'll add is that many meetups have lightning talks which are normally 5-15 minutes. It's an even smaller way to get started with minimal risk.

* Some meetupgs do lightning talk-only sessions every so often with 5-6 of them in a given meeting. Others do a long+short session where you would present immediately before the "full" session. Conferences often do these too.

The most important thing about your talk is refinement and practice. Keep cutting and cutting until you've distilled it. Just like making a product, the hardest part is knowing what to take out.

I'm trying to do that, already done some in my company(including my previous one), but I am having difficulties transitioning to local groups/meetups, this is mainly because I have an extra issue: I am an expat who doesn't speak the local language and not many of them are in English(and I am not even a native English speaker as well).

I think it is somewhat understood and well accepted that much of the tech world is done in English, even by non-native speakers. My company does all of it's trainings in English even though the presenters are not native speakers. Strong technical background will overcome language barriers and people are usually willing to look past any difficulty in understanding as long as the content is strong. Keep in mind that this has the corollary that the audience has to understand the technical aspects well enough to absorb the new information in order to overlook any language difficulties. They need not be experts, but at least know enough to be educated on the subject.

In my experience, this should not have to be a big issue. In the Netherlands, half of the meetups and conferences feature non Dutch speakers.

If you have knowledge about the topic you want to convey, submit a proposal (make it clear it will be English) and hope for the best.

The solutions seem simple but not easy: learn the local language and/or start giving talks in places that speak English and/or your first language.

>> 3) Speak about something you know very well.

+1 (or something you are passionate about)

>> 4) Reharse. One of the biggest problem with presentation newbies is that they're unable to keep the proper timing.

You may not need full rehearsal. However:

(A) Measure your velocity (slides per minute). Add ~30% for audience interactions including Q&A, and another ten minutes for setup issues.

(B) Watch out for excessive Uh's, Um's, "you know", etc.

Remind yourself, giving tech talks is nothing special. You need to be natural and just walk in.

>> 5) Don't waste your audience time. Keep your talk as short as possible; don't try saying everything, try to say the most important and useful things.

+1. Distilling and simplifying the messages is super-critical. Your audience would still probably not understand most of the talk. So you need to overdo on this to compensate.

>> 6) Focus on your speech, not on the slides. The slides should support you, you should not be reading slides aloud.

Focus on the slides too. In my experience, making the slides self-sufficient does no harm. Rather it helps in two ways:

(A) It prepares you more. Even if your slides are self-sufficient and "filled", you'll still have more to say than the slides anyways since during preparations, your research efforts and mental churn will fill you with a lot more thoughts than what the slides say.

(B) Slides become ready for offline sharing after the talk, giving you more bang for the buck.

> Rehearse

I can't emphasize this enough. I was tasked to give a speech/presentation on new features to the company's annual user's group/conference many years ago. Features I wrote. I figured it would be easy because I feel comfortable in front of large groups and hell, I wrote the damn features. When the COO forced us to do a run-through the day before, it was terrible. My mind just had too many things going through it. I knew too much about the topic and needed to narrow it down beforehand. I tend to ramble. I spent all night rehearsing and it went really well.

Another time, earlier in my career, I gave a presentation of a website I wrote based on Oracle stuff to an Oracle user's group. Absolutely no rehearsal. I slugged down a couple of beers beforehand and it went really well. This is probably what lead me to believe the previous example didn't require rehearsing. This was more of a hype presentation than a rundown of features though.

FWIW, Steve Jobs, a great presenter of our time, was a rabid rehearser.

What about confronting crowd fear? I think I was scarred by my first presentation ever at the age of 12 (on DNA) in front of not 1 but 2 classes full of people, because I basically stuttered through the entire thing (speaking to 1 person- Fine. Speaking to 5 people- Fine. Speaking to 10 people- Mostly fine. Speaking to 30+ people- NOT FINE. lol). I took a public speaking class in college and they videotaped us while practicing and it was apparent that we improved but that was now years ago. I taught a couple small classes in things (or tried to) like SQL but they didn't fly very well. :/

The only way to really get over the fear is through regular exposure. Finding a local public speaking meetup or Toastmasters group is a great way to practice and build up your confidence.

Find your nearest toastmaster club. They have done wonders for my speaking skills, and nobody is going to laugh if you blow the speech.

For some additional practical tips, see also Patrick Winston's "How to Speak" talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjbmPuhuFv0&list=PL9F536001A...

Any suggestions on finding small/local tech conferences other than Meetup.com?

That really depends on where you live!

I'm from Italy, and there tend to be small, single-day conferences around the country; you can find info on lanyrd, linkedin, facebook.. I can't tell.

ermmm… lots of places. :) It will vary a lot by local and subject areas but for starters. As a starting point, look up:

Universities. They often have all sorts of public lecture programs, for their students/academics and for the general public.

Some embassies arrange or host lectures on topics they care about.

Some of the smaller, top-level government bodies like the small business authority, technology agency, "entrepreneurship and innovation”… A local example of the last one locally: https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/Events/

Industry or professional associations (chambers of commerce, unions..) do some things.

You might find churches, religious community centres (google JCC in the US) that have relevant events

In smaller communities (where the above doesn’t exist), local schools might host these kinds of events for the general public.

(some of these might also be listed on meetup)

If you're in the US, these are useful:


Search social networks (facebook and Twitter mostly).

Great advice.

Depending on the type of tech community in your area, the right kind of tech meetups are generally inviting.

4, 5, and 6 are good advice for students learning to give academic presentations as well.

* Practice in private. Practice, practice, practice. People will tell you that you can over-practice a talk, and that's true, but it's not true the first time you're giving a talk. Or the third.

* Practice recovering when you lose your thread. The difference between amateurs and professionals isn't that professionals don't make mistakes, it's that they recover from them without it affecting the rest of their performance.

* Learn how to trick your brain into thinking that fear is excitement. You don't have to be able to do it very long, just the ten seconds before you're about to start, but it makes all the difference.

* Talk about something you know inside out. This helps with confidence, with recovering from losing your thread, and with answering questions.

* Keep it short and sweet (if people are interested they will ask questions), but remember that you'll talk faster on stage.

* Learn to periodically check your speaking speed, to pace yourself, and slow down when needed.

* Find a slide style you are comfortable standing in front of when it is projected. I know, I know, but it does make a difference.

* Ignore any advice that doesn't work for you.

Great advice.

> Learn how to trick your brain into thinking that fear is excitement. You don't have to be able to do it very long, just the ten seconds before you're about to start, but it makes all the difference.

I would say that fear and excitement are actually the same underlying emotion, just interpreted differently. So it's less about tricking yourself than it is just making a cognitive decision.

> Practice in private. Practice, practice, practice. People will tell you that you can over-practice a talk, and that's true, but it's not true the first time you're giving a talk. Or the third.

Agreed. It's a learnable skill to give a talk that is rehearsed but does not come across as canned.

The anxiety of stage fright is almost exactly the same as having had drank too much coffee. Once you realize this it's easy to go forward since no one has failed a speech because they drank too much coffee.

A recent Tim Ferriss post I read recommended literally drinking a bunch of coffee before practicing in front of the mirror/your friends/whatever so you'll be ready for that feeling when you are giving it for real.

Haha love the analogy. I'm going to steal that one.

> * Learn to periodically check your speaking speed, to pace yourself, and slow down when needed.

We are prediction machines.

We are always trying to anticipate what people will say next. Even in the middle of a...........(what?)

talkingtoofastjustconfusespeople (don't rush it).

People appreciate thoughtful talking. We are less comfortable with a speech performance.

Giving a tech talk is a great way to learn things. Having to explain something to another person forces you to clarify your own understanding of something.

I sometimes would force myself to do a talk to learn.

One suggestion I have is to find something that you still find "magical", then learn about it. At the end you will have a topic worthy of a tech talk. E.g. how does a JavaScript minifier work? or how does smartphone device image (ROM) format work?

By "magical" I mean you don't understand how it works and it does things almost like magic. Computers are not magical, so you can gradually turn magical things into in-depth knowledge.

Chances are that things you find magical are equally magical to other people. And then to get started, maybe start within your company or go to meetups with relevant topic.

If you want to talk at a local meet up group it's usually an informal process to introduce yourself to the organizers and pitch an idea.

If you want to speak at a larger conference you'll have to keep an ear to the ground for a "Call for Proposals" or CFP. This is a more formal process where you'll have to pitch your talk and make it through the selection process. Some conferences are more friendly to beginner speakers than others such as Pycon.

That's how I started. I've done about 5 or 6 talks now that have ranged from very small, informal talks to larger ones where I was speaking to a room of a hundred or so people. You don't have to be an expert right away or aim to be a keynote speaker. It takes practice and that might not be what success means to you anyway.

The biggest talk I did I had planned for months. I had done a lot of work and research for it. It was at Pycon in 2014 [0] iirc. I travelled with my family out to Montréal to give it. I was really, really excited: I was about to talk about procedural generation and algorithms for game design... when the night before I was to give the talk my daughter had come down with a stomach virus. My partner and I spent the night in an emergency room and I didn't get any sleep that night. I was a wreck on stage the next day. I'd cut out a bunch of content in the morning after rehearsing one more time, afraid I wouldn't be able to get through it, and when it came time to give the talk I rushed through most of it and had 10 minutes to spare at the end.

Despite how bad I felt it had gone more than a few people shook my hand after and had good things to say. A younger person there said it was the best talk they had heard all day. I'll never forget that.

I love teaching and speaking. It can be fun. But you don't have to be the best speaker to get started. You just have to put it out there and start giving talks. After a dozen or so I think I might start getting the hang of it.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE2YxsHPIfA

Update added link to talk

When I started doing talks for London Clojurians there were literally fewer speakers than speaker slots. This meant that people were pretty forgiving (it also helps that LDNCLJ are a bunch of very nice people).

Nothing builds confidence better than not being very good and the world not ending.

Local Meet Up groups and conferences are a great way. There are some groups that have a series of small 15 min talks, where you explain how to use a particular library or optimize with some techniques. These are a great way to get started.

My strategy: just sign up.

I find the social pressure to avoid failing miserably in front of an audience is sufficiently motivating.

Local meetup groups are great, as is giving a talk at your company. If I'm giving a talk, I like to give the same talk to both audiences.

Huge +1 to this plan. Nothing compels one to to learn to swim like being thrown into a shark tank.

For shrinking the overall size of the endeavor, a lot of conferences / meetups have a lightning talk section so rather than filling in 45-60 min of time, you've only got to do about 5 minutes, usually with a hard cut off. It's a great way to get your feet wet.

+1, lightning talks are amazing as a speaking opportunity. They're drastically less scary than a 40 minute talk, so it's easy to give it a go with a simple talk without much prep, and as you gain experience they're an amazing place to practice honing more complex topics down to their essential essence.

They're also a great place for comedy, if you're into that sort of thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3xuvPPBPM4


Sign up!

If you see a last date to pull out, be lazy on that. It will all work out fine at the end.

I gave a talk in PyCon India (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iB4M-H3z_8) three years ago.

I submitted a proposal to PyCon India 2-3 months before the conference. They accepted my proposal, I think, mainly because of my contribution to CPython. I am not a core developer but I have many patches accepted to CPython code (https://hg.python.org/cpython/log?rev=vajrasky&revcount=200). So in my case, contribution to open source -> proposal -> giving talk in conference.

I was present in the audience for the talk. By far my favorite asyncio talk from the conference.

My first couple of talks were in front of huge groups of people at well known tech conferences and they all were blatant disasters. I wish I would have made so many things differently...


That in itself was one of the biggest achievements in my professional life! So if there is one advice, for me it would be: Get going!

Put all thoughts of: "I need a better topic." or "I need a more suitable occasion" or "I need a smaller audience". Just go. Stop worrying, hand in your CFPs and start moving. Build momentum and get your feet wet.

There was an interesting article 2 months ago that was trending on HN [0] with a good discussion [1].

- [0] https://hynek.me/articles/speaking/

- [1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14450905


Good conferences offer a lightning talks session (i.e. strict time limit of 5 minutes for each speaker) where any attendee can give a talk on short notice. It is the ideal setting to get one's feet wet as an absolute beginner because to fail is forgiven by the audience, and the constraints work out in favour because they help focus.

If you succeed at one, congratulations, you have seen the proverbial elephant and you now have earned the courage and perhaps the experience to do a longer session talk. If you don't do well, at least it was over quickly.

Everything many people said here + RECORD YOUR TALK and watch a few times with a paper and pen to note things you don't like. Things to look for are:

* Disturbing pauses

* Unnecessarily long sentences

* Too little jokes

* Too much jokes

* Repetitions (this is actually really hard to do, people tend to think every single phrase has its own unique meaning, but actually...)

* Slides hard to read from afar

* Slides with too many text

* Slides with too many code

* Slides with no code

* Slides with no helper shapes like boxes, arrows, stressed words etc

Also you should prepare for a Q/A section and study for some probable questions you come up by yourself.

This comment looks like an advice for "How to talk?" but actually these are the things to be careful about before you start giving talks around.

Good luck! :)

I completely agree with recording yourself. By recording a trial run you'll also get good practice being nervous. Just turning the camera on you helps to simulate the stress of talking in front of a crowd.

Why do you want to do it? Usually people give talks because they work on a topic that's worth giving a talk about. Starting from the goal of giving a talk seems backwards.

I grew viennajs from 5 people in a cellar (when I took over) to Austrias biggest monthly dev meetup (100+ live attendees each month, ~1.8k on the newsletter). i always made a point to give a really un-perfect code talk (called orga intro talk) each month.

why? a) i love talking code, b) i wanted to show everybody that it is ok at meetups to just talk - even if the talk is not yet finished. the discussions after these unfinished talks were quite often much better than the ones after really well prepared ones.

additionally i made sure that there was always a good selection of newbie talks and perfect (sometimes int. speaker) talks.

so my tip: choose a meetup, go there, give a talk.

A good way to develop presentation skills is to participate on a local toastmasters group: https://www.toastmasters.org/, I have been participating regularly for a year and I found out that I've been improving my presentation skills.

Besides that, I like the idea of starting small: present something for your closer colleagues, then present for your company. Once you have a talk accepted and you find your lines of thought, rehearse: find interesting topics, present them for your closer colleagues and see if they can give you feedback, iterate on that feedback and you will have something great (I presented my first talk 5 times for my colleagues, and even on the last I found space for improvement).

I've wrote a blog post about it: http://blog.rlmflores.me/slides,/conference/2012/05/31/confe...

1. you need to have something you really want people to know about, develop a talk around it

2. start doing that talk at your local meetups, you'll figure out how to do talks well with time (also there is good advice online)

3. identify conferences you'd like to speak at, and answer their call for talks

4. keep doing all that, and at some point one of your submissions will be accepted

5. rehearse many times to be prepared, and do a good talk

6. more submissions will be accepted, and if you keep doing a few conferences a year, eventually you'll get invitations to speak at conferences

You can start giving tech talks in your own company. In my company we have Tech Talk & Pizza the first Tuesday of every month, and works really well. The people interested in give a talk have to add the topic in a poll, and the most voted topic is selected for the next month. It's a good idea to have some fun with your colleagues, spread knowledge, and eat free pizza!

Start with local Meetups. It is usually more casual, get comfortable and then start off with tech conferences. I never got good at it.

From my experience you need three things:

0) You need a goal.

  * I want to give tech talks is good.  I want to talk about X at Y is better.
  * Keep it realistic.  When you achieve it, set the next goal.
  * Commit to the goal by signing up for it.  Runners do this and it works.  We sign up for a 5k race in a few months, and then we train for it, because now we're committed.
1) You really need to learn how to be a good speaker. This isn't actually particularly hard, but it does take a lot of work.

  * Find a good coach or program.
  * Give lots of speeches to small audiences.  People think large audiences are harder: they aren't.  
  * Get feedback from people you trust  Act on that feedback.  
  * Record yourself giving the speech and give yourself feedback.
  * Don't neglect the positive feedback.  Good public speaking is a lot about confidence, so learn what your strengths are, and bring them out.
  * Don't use slides until you can give great talks without them.  Slides distract you, and break your connection with the audience.  We think of them as speaking aides, and they can be, but they can just as easily do the opposite.
  * Learn to memorize your speeches.  If you're a musician you know why memorizing a piece is important. Same deal with speakings.
  * Murder your filler words.
  * Your talk can almost always be shorter.  The shorter talk is almost always better.
2) Have a tech topic you are passionate about. You should feel like you are the person that other people want to hear from about this topic.

  * Write about it for your self.
  * It's tech, so use it.  Build cool stuff.  Put it somewhere where other people can use it. Put where people that scare you can use it.  Maintain a project that directly relates to your passion.  
  * Develop best practices that you believe in.
  * Get involved with the global conversation about your topic.  Validate your ideas.

Is the question:

1. How do you get good at giving talks?

2. How do you generate opportunities to talk?

Most of the other comments are focused on the first (practice), but if the question is the second, it is really a question about marketing.

You have to become famous in a niche, perhaps write something you can be known for. Try to develop a platform, or else write for a well known brand.

Yeah, the second question is really important. What good is all the prep if you don't have an actual speaking engagement arranged?

And, you don't necessarily have to be "famous". One can keep an eye on conferences or other gatherings at which one would be interested in speaking. When they announce request for proposals, submit one. Spend a few weeks working on the request and make sure it is really well thought out and interesting.

when you get an opportunity to speak, take it (no matter how small). Speaking is a good way to build up that "fame" rather than the other way around.

One thing i like to do is:

Watch other people's talks that are on the same subject you'll want to speak.

Make notes (mental or in paper) about what you think that talk missed, what could be improved, please bear in mind the POV of the target audience.

Go to the extra mile, always focus on bring some trivias that people can ~visualize~.

For example, when i give talks about Debian[#]: I know that a lot of people likes to tell the story of how Debian release 1.0 went wrong because InfoMagic accidentally released a cdrom containing a development release of Debian as 1.0[1], but few people show the actual cd containing that release, so i like to put that[2].

Almost everyone also mentions about the relationship between debian's logo and buzz lightyear's chin, but almost none show or say something about the two pre-toy-story logos[3].

These examples represent only one of the few things i think one have to focus when doing talks, and may look silly, but i like to value them because they'll be one of the things that attendees won't forget easily plus are always fun to know.

Also, the presentation i referred has some other problems, please just note the referred pages.

[#]please note that i don't think i'm a good talk'er yet, just sharing my experience.

[1]https://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/project-history/ch-releas... [2]http://debianbrasil.org.br/articles/0170/7708/introducao-ao-... [3]http://debianbrasil.org.br/articles/0170/7708/introducao-ao-...

I like Strom Carlson's talk talk at LayerOne back in '08 (pre-social media, pre-Meetup, pre-widespread lightning talks):

"In this presentation, Strom will guide you through researching, preparing, and giving a technical talk to a diverse audience. He'll help you avoid common mistakes, and point out some not-so-obvious mistakes that even the best tech presenters tend to make. If you've never given a tech talk before, this presentation will make it much easier for you to get started; if you're an experienced tech presenter, this talk will make you even better."


I think the secret is just to apply. You'd be surprised how few people apply to give tech talks at conferences, especially local oriented ones. If you want to give talks at more major conferences I've found it helps to have some sort of public profile about your topic.

In my case I used to blog a ton and one of my blog posts was about doing realtime processing with Django (before it was built in to the framework). So I submitted a short proposal for Djangocon and ended up getting selected to give a 3 hour tutorial talk. It was definitely a bit scary having my first major talk be 3 hours long, but as long as you know your topic pretty well you'll do great!

Are you asking how to find a suitable place for giving talks, or how to organize one? If the latter, I'm also interested as I'm in the process of writing my first talk.

For the former, it's rather easy really - there are plenty of minor events where you can offer to give a talk. I'll be giving my first one at a hacking/FOSS event a couple of hours away from where I live, but there are also chances to participate in smaller local events as long as your talk fits the theme. It's no big deal - you make up your mind about the topic of your talk, contact the organizers giving an overview of said topic, and wait for confirmation.

> For the former, it's rather easy really - there are plenty of minor events where you can offer to give a talk.

Well, that's the part that I am finding difficult. I have some interesting topics to address; I have a decent amount of skill and experience at presenting; I have a lot of practice with internal audiences. But I am terrible at networking and this part you describe as "easy" is the stumbling block for me.

Do you have any specific pointers for finding events (even minor ones) which are local (I'm in the Philadelphia area, which is within driving distance of lots of east-coast places) and topical, and finding them EARLY enough to submit a speaking proposal?

There are a ton of meetups around the Philadelphia area, especially around University city. What I would do is come up with a couple ideas for talks, then go to a meetup, chat with the organizer(s), tell them you're interested in giving talks and ask how many people they think would come to the topicsyou propose.

They vary in how far out they plan, e.g. the Java Users Group has a speaker list booked to the end of the year.

The part I struggle with is scheduling, since it takes a lot of time for me to write the actual talks.

> "Do you have any specific pointers for finding events (even minor ones) which are local (I'm in the Philadelphia area, which is within driving distance of lots of east-coast places) and topical"

You need to describe the subjects that you'd like to give talks about before anyone can suggest an event that might be suitable.

Well, for instance I currently have a talk mostly assembled which would cover the way in which our team architected a system to allow small components of a complex stateful system to be deployed independently with minimal risk to the other components of the system. This could be classified under "Devops" or "System Architecture".

Okay, so if you had to summarise the lessons learned from overcoming the challenges you faced, what would you say they were?

* Isolating the effects of one team's functionality from another team's is essential if each team is to be allowed to deploy independently.

* Doing so in a way that still allows your entire app to appear to be a coherent whole is tricky.

Thanks for your reply.

To be clear, to have a talk that makes an impact there should be general lessons that can be extracted from the specific experiences you went through. The title of your talk should address the general lessons rather than the specifics.

Based on what you've shared so far it sounds like a potential title for your talk is 'Coordinating Modular Development'. Is that the general idea behind the talk you had in mind?

I'm not sure that is the exact title I would use, but it is certainly a good description of the content I would put in this talk. (My only concern with the title is that the talk I am envisioning would cover the specific technical details of ONE solution to coordinating modular development, rather than an overview of many possible solutions.)

I do, however, understand and appreciate your point that the title of the talk should put the talk in a broader context, particularly addressing why the listener would be interested.

First step: Start giving normal talks. Does not need to be tech talk. Visit your local Toastmaster Club and start working on the Competent Communication handbook. It will be fun, do not worry. You will get instant feedbacks, helping you improving. Being constantly on stage gives you confidence: You can do it! It's easy!

Second step: Tech talks: - Know your audience: Who will be there? What knowledge do they have? - Know your topic: Even if everybody understands your speech, there will be some questions in the Q/A. - Keep it simple: If you cannot explain it to your 9 years old, you do not understand your topic.

Before I start, I want to get one thing out of the way:

You DO have interesting stuff to talk about.

Everyone thinks that their work isn't interesting enough to warrant a talk or that they have to do serious heroics to create something talk worthy.

That couldn't be further from the truth!

Everyone wants to learn something, and everyone is interested in hearing other people's experiences.

Now that's out of the way, this is what I do:

- Write a blog post on something that interests you. Publish it here, Reddit and on your favorite sites (if you want to). This will help arrange the thoughts that will eventually become your talk.

- Create a Slides presentation on your post. It doesn't have to be wordy, since you want people to pay attention to you instead of the projector. Here's an example of a good slide deck: https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/randfish/inside-googles-nu...

- Give a talk at your local Meetup (or user group for your tech; there are many of them). Email the organizer to ask if they're okay with it (they usually are unless they are really really big, in which case you might have to wait)

That's it! It's easy to get into talks these days.

One thing to keep in mind: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. You don't want to give a deeply technical talk to a non-tech audience and vice versa. Always keep your audience in mind. Writing your post before giving your talk will help with that.

Also: your first talks will probably suck. You'll get nervous. You'll forget stuff. You'll probably improvise a lot. If public speaking is new to you, it will take some time to get comfortable with being in the spotlight.

You WILL get better!

It takes practice to get good at this, just like anything else. (I was on a national debate team in high school for three years, did a play a few years before that and did public speaking stuff in college; I'm comfortable with the stage, but it definitely took time to get there!)

Good luck!

Be really knowledgeable about something that other people are really interested. Find an angle of that thing that nobody's really looked at yet. Pitch that talk to places whose audiences are into that kinda thing.

But don't hold yourself too much if you think you're not too knowledgeable about something to present about it.

You may be deterred by watching some talks where the presenter seems awesome and seems to know so much more than you. You don't have to be the top expert on a topic in order to know a few things worth sharing.

This is absolutely the case, and I think an important addition is that usually there's only a very small percentage of the audience who are already knowledgable enough about something to benefit from hearing a truly world-class expert talk about it.

Most people go to tech meetups, even very specific or niche ones, hoping simply to pick up a few tips or an introduction to something from somebody who used it in anger. You don't have to be an authority on something to just learn a few lessons from using it and pass them along.

This question is a bit unspecific.

Getting to be a speaker is more than just being good at public speaking. It's about building a personal brand. For that you have to start sharing your knowledge. Start blogging, share what you got to say and try to get some outreach on the web. Start offering to talk in your company and at local tech-events in your city. Finally, watch out for "call for papers" from bigger conferences and start speaking there. What also helps is a great network from people who already are speakers in your field and a network to those who are organizing those events.

I started at a local user group (http://www.uuasc.org/, the Unix Users Association of Southern California). At my very first meeting, the organizer asked me what I could present on... next meeting I was presenting. Very smooth (on the organizer's part -- I'm sure my presentation could have been improved). This was in 2001 and I gave a talk on performance monitoring and tuning of Apache httpd. =) Good times.

I think you're asking more along the lines of how do you get people interested in what you have to say. Of course you could just look up public speaking techniques instead of asking here, which is why I assume that's not what you're asking.

In order to be a successful public speaker, you need credentials. You should start by having a good position in a successful company. This adds a lot to your credentials. You could also write research papers, or books. Have a successful blog, etc.

Step 1 - write a talk. Or several. Aim for 20mins. That’ll do to start.

Step 2 - present at a company meeting or local meetup. Take notes on what works & what doesn’t.

Step 3 - repeat until you feel confident that you’re comfortable doing this. You’ll start to find your voice and beats that work. Can be the same talk at different places but I suggest a couple just to mix it up for you.

Step 4 - submit proposals to conferences. Start local if possible, smaller is a good way to start with (less competition).

See step 3 :)

Research and hard-tech talks generally work by invitation and reputation, so you have to be the local insider or an expert already. Case studies and personal experience talks, on the other hand, are more open to outsiders and still make a good opportunity to grow both your ability on stage and your personal reputation for future talks. Therefore, I would advise the OP to start applying for the latter kind of contribution.

Meetup organizers tend to always be on the lookout for new speakers. Start with a 5 minute lightning talk and then offer to be a regular speaker on smaller topics until you are ready to take on a 15/30/45 minute talk.

Some of the more common lightning talk topics I've seen is:

"5 random {{language}} tips" "5 things you didn't know about {{language}}"

They force you to be on the lookout for oddities and to do your research.

Find a conference that interests you, submit a proposal.

Outline and practice. Find a delivery style that works for you.

YouTubers have a surplus capacity for critiquing these types of works. Their feedback may be helpful, and the motions of editing, recording and publishing may help isolate your target audience.

Give your talk. No matter how excellent, people will cough and manipulate their phones.

The how-to "public speaking" responses are useful for the logistics and practical sides, but let's back up a bit:

Step#1: Have something compelling to say about a topic people are interested in. If you aren't sure about that side of things, nothing else will help. Once you have that down, then you focus on delivery, and iterating on the details.

I've been on both sides of this, as a speaker, and as a conference planner. If you can, volunteer to be a planner, you'll see that it's (sometimes) rather challenging to find people to speak (at least in my area).

Find something you want to talk about and there are many places willing to let you talk already, both local and national.

Try "A funny thing happened to me on my way here tonight..." then pull your braces a few times.

I am giving quite a few talks (60-90 minutes) on some industry-specific Deep Learning hands-on applications lately and my sequence was the following:

- internal employer conference

- my alma mater (university)

- companies of friends (at this point you have zero stage fright)

- anywhere else

This should get you comfortably started ;-)

If you're giving tech talks and interested to crowdsource questions from your audience, drop me a note. My company's product, Pigeonhole Live, let's you do that for free. If you need any of the paid stuff, happy to support you too.

Have a purpose.

People give talks to get something. Do you want a job? To make money? Peddle something? Get clients?

Then look for little events that are hard up for speakers. Hang out and talk to folks and you'll build up a critical mass and hear about better opportunities.

I've followed Maciej Ceglowski's advice to moderate success at work: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14033638

I have found books by Jerry Weissman helpful.


Submit ideas to conferences. Get accepted. Panic. Make slides. Practice. Give talk. Learn from your mistakes and repeat.

If you are in Chicago and want to present to recent bootcamp graduates I'd be happy to host you. Taylor@Actualize.co

Go to a MeetUp - offer tech talk - next time, give tech talk.

wash - rinse - repeat

I am a speaker on a national circuit, and many of the comments here resonate with my experience

- Start small.

I started with brown bags at my company, then moved to our quarterly company meetings, then user groups (I spoke in multiple user groups any chance I got), then a local conference, and finally with the big ones.

- Topic choice

Always speak about something you know well. Audiences will often throw a curve ball at you and you should be able to step away from the main script, answer a question and then arch the conversation back to the main talking point.

A good starting point, once you have a topic in mind, is to read a book on the subject (or at least glance at the table of contents) or watch someone else's video on the subject. This usually gives you a (good) starting point to frame your agenda.

- Practice practice practice!

Even after doing this for many years, I incessantly practice my talks. Do it out loud and it will help highlight rough edges when segueing from one section to another, or even gaps in your own understanding.

As other commentators have said, it also improves timing. I now have a gut feeling on how much material fits in a 60 or 90 minute talk, or even a half/full day workshop. It will come.

Finally, get your significant other/kids/friends/colleagues to watch you give a talk and provide honest feedback. Body language, tone, inflection all matter.

- Slides are good, but not important

In other words, slides are props, you are the main act. I have never appreciate it when conferences ask you to email a PDF of your slides, because invariably my slides contain at most a word or two. They do not and cannot stand by themselves.

- Again, start small, get a feel for it, then read a book or two. One I highly recommend is Presentation Patterns - https://www.amazon.com/Presentation-Patterns-Techniques-Craf... [Disclaimer - All 3 authors are friends of mine]

Speaking is like running. Till you don't do it, reading a book on it seems to add little value. Once you have a little bit of experience sections of these books will pop out at you, revealing places where you can improve

At the time of giving the talk, just remember,

- It's OK to be nervous. If you are not nervous then something is wrong. I still get butterflies in my stomach every single time - The audience WANTS you to succeed. They are going to spend the next 60/90 minutes of their lives watching you speak, and they want it to be a productive time.

Good luck!


I volunteer to give at meetup groups that I'm in and they asked often.

Some conventions asked for tech talk, I'm probably doing one next year.

Also my college clubs I do one.

I also have a group of friends where we just group study and I do tech (mostly machine learning/algorithm) talk with them.

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