How to give great tech talks

Update: I also gave an updated version of this talk at a event on 28-06-2017.

Yesterday, I took the next big step in my public speaking career by doing a full half-hour talk at a meetup put on by London Software Craftsmanship Community (LSCC). I’d done a Lightning Talk on Usability Testing at this meetup before, but never a full-length talk. And never a talk about GREAT talks. Talk about pressure!

Here’s my abstract.

Do you avoid giving presentations? Do you have strong opinions but feel like no one listens to them?

I used to. That is, until I researched and practiced the art of speaking. In this talk, I’ll share several things you can do to deal with the fear of giving presentations and improve your speaking skills.

These tips will get your brilliant ideas heard, no matter how technical they may be. You will be more likely to change people’s minds, get that big promotion and raise, and change the world…

Or at the very least, you’ll be less likely to bore your audience to death!

I am proud to say that my talk didn’t bore anyone to death šŸ™‚

Which is more than can be said for my several practice runs- thank you so much for your feedback on those early editions of this talk, Carolyn, Martyn, John, Andy, and Ben!

I’ve embedded my slides below, but if you have 35 minutes, please check out the recording of the talk on the Skillsmatter website!

And don’t forget,

STAR moments make ideas spread!


While I was preparing for this talk, I came across a ton of great resources on public speaking. I’d like to share them here in hopes that they help others as much as they’ve helped me.

#HTDAP: How To Do a Presentation ( Ross Fisher’s step-by-step guide on how to create and deliver a valuable, memorable presentation. I follow it every time!

Speaker Camp: A great book for anyone who speaks at conferences or who wants to start.

Resonate, Nancy Duarte: Free online book about presentations. Chapter 7 was where I got a lot of my STAR Moments material from.

The UX of a Great Presentation: My blog post that compared presentations to User Experience.

A 15 Minute Guide : How to Create a Conference Presentation: A super quick way to make an effective presentation. I haven’t tried it but I worry that it would suck most of the fun and creativity out of the process.

What makes a STAR moment shine: A  nice, in-depth analysis of STAR moments, with several examples.

Other Great Talks

TED Playlist: Before Public Speaking: So many great talks!

  • The Chris Anderson one was a really good overview. Grab people’s attention by making a claim that goes against their world view.
  • Julian Treasure had a lot of good stuff. What I remember from his talk was the info about how to speak. Timbre, pitch, pace, etc. Really good stuff.
  • I didn’t watch the Amy Cuddy one because I’m pretty sure I’ve watched it before. If so, it had great information about how you should present your body and how that makes you feel and how it affects how you’re perceived by people around you.
  • Joe Kowan was entertaining. He really connected with his audience by being vulnerable and admitting that he has stage fright.
  • Melissa Marshall had that great Einstein quote. Something like “make it as simple as possible. But no simpler.” In other words, don’t use jargon, but don’t dumb it down for your audience. Actually maybe the moral of the story was that it’s okay to use jargon but make sure to teach your audience what it means. She also mentioned the obvious stuff like explaining to your audience why they should care and relating your topic to stuff they already know.
  • Simon Sinek talked about how great leaders don’t just preach about what they do. They explain why they do it. The most motivated followers (employees, audience members, etc) are those who deeply agree with the leader’s philosophy (the Why), not just those who agree with the What. Good point about Martin Luther King Jr. His speech was “I have a dream.” Not “I have a plan.”
  • Sebastien Wernicke just analyzed the statistics of the most viewed Ted talks to see what they had in common. Maybe a decent guide if you’re choosing the topic of your Ted talk but not super helpful past that point.
  • Meghan Washington was quite inspiring. Not much in there that was actionable though.

TED Talk: Nancy Duarte- The Secret Structure of Great Talks

I wonder why this wasn’t in the TED playlist on public speaking! It was so good! The main message was that great talks alternate between what is (bad!) and what could be (amazing!). Other elements mentioned included repetition, using things familiar to your audience (songs, quotes, metaphors, etc) and STAR moments.

TEDx@TEDGlobal – June Cohen – What Makes A Great TED Talk

Present a new idea or a new angle on an old idea. Tell a story. Focus, but present for a wider audience. Practice!

TED Talk: Brene Brown on Vulnerability

The memorable talk that Hali mentioned during my LSCC talk. Thanks for posting, Hali!

Dinis Cruz: A New Era of Software with Modern Application Security

The fantastic presentation by Dinis Cruz at a LSCC. Watch for the STAR moment at about 12:00.

3X with Kent Beck

An early edition of Kent’s fantastic talk on his new theory of software development. I wanted to include this in my talk as a great example but didn’t end up having room for it.

CppCon 2014: Herb Sutter “Back to the Basics! Essentials of Modern C++ Style”

Great example of starting with humor in technical talks. Lots of material that was potentially quite dry but presented in an interesting and engaging way.

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