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How To Give the Killer Tech Talk — A Pamphlet

May 10th, 2013

Here’s my battle tested recipe for giving amazing technical presentations.

Prelude

Have a Topic / Know Your Topic / Know Your Audience

This recipe assumes that you have something interesting to talk about. It assumes you know your topic, the better the better, but you don’t have to be an expert. Especially, don’t sweat that there might be someone in the audience that knows more. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” to questions, deferring it to looking up the answer.

You are on stage, this is your show.

Performance > Content

Again, you should know your stuff, but more important than stating what you know is how you state what you know. A presentation in front of an audience is 90% performance and 10% content, or 80/20, doesn’t matter really.

You don’t have to be a great entertainer, but people look up to confidence, be bold. If you are not usually bold, assume a stage persona that isn’t actually the frightened you. Put on a masquerade, a show for the masses. It is totally okay for you to be frightened, but the audience need to never know.

And never forget, even the most professional speakers, musicians, anyone on a stage, is frightened and nervous before the gig.


With that out of the way, here’s my recipe for giving kick-ass technical presentations, based on my experience giving and seeing many good and many more bad technical presentations. My thanks to all the speakers that I could learn from and to anyone who has ever given me constructive feedback.


The Recipe

0. Hello

Say hi, introduce yourself, give a bit of a background, say thanks for being let on stage. Build empathy. I am one of you, we share the same problems/goals/values etc. We understand each other.

2 minutes.

1. Scope

WHOA.

Grab your audience’s interest. Make them listen, ask intriguing questions, or make some outlandish statements that you come back to later for clarification. Build enough suspension to keep your audience’s attention.

Manage expectations Here’s what’s going to happen, and this is why it’s relevant to you.

3 minutes.

2. Show & Tell

BOOM.

Blow the audience away. Answer the questions you asked before, back up the outlandish claims you had. Sing, dance, do whatever it takes to get your audience to drop their jaws, two, three times.

If you show off some software, parade it around, try a live demo, or point out important snippets and results. If a demo is hard, pre-record and talk over a video.

Start with your strongest point first.

Make weaker points more relevant by binding them to the previous point or using them as a segue to the next one.

Have a narrative that carries you through your talking points.

End on something concise your audience can tweet.

10 minutes.

3. Details

Yadda, Yadda.

Here is where you get to explain the magic. You get to dive into technical details, you get to explain the design philosophy behind your topic. This is where you win your audience’s hearts.

10 minutes.

4. Thanks

Say thank you. Take a breath, you are done.

5. Q&A

Huh?

The Q&A serves multiple purposes:

5 minutes.

Bonus Material

Know the rules, then break them.