I’ve been asked by Paul lately to suggest him some “pro tips” regarding public speaking, as he was invited to speak at a local meetup in the near future.

I’ve decided to share some thoughts instantly, but it turned into a really useful list which may help not only for Paul, but for all of us (I’ll be reading it while preparing every one of my future talks too!).

Let’s start with a little background...

I’m not a “pro” public speaker. I pretend to be one ;) I’ve done some talks on the various events - from small local groups to really big international conferences, but - my best talk is yet to come! I wasn’t 100% happy after single one of them. Is it this famous imposters syndrome? :) Probably.

The biggest blocker for me all the time was and still is - the English language. I’m not a native speaker and I felt stressful when I was talking in front of the people who knows the language better than I, and I may - according to all the other stress associated with public speaking - made a stupid mistake and even don’t notice it. But this is only a one, mental blocker which may affect people trying to speak in foreign languages. There are many more important ones which may cause our talk to be crap, even when it will be performed using the perfect grammar and pronunciation.

Following my life motto, which is:

"Fail often. Do stupid sh*t. Learn. Repeat."

I failed a lot. Also while performing talks. Usually it was related with the amount of knowledge which I wanted to share and lack of my self-confidence in my skills (in front of the people who I thought know more than me!). I was trying to prove for all the audience that there is a lot more than what I was presenting (while still presenting it). It caused a chaotic presentations at the end when most of the participants didn’t know at all about what it was all about… Of course there were also fails caused by technical problems, but those are the minor ones and everyone at least is trying to understand them (I’ll prove you it shouldn’t be this way either).

And it’s getting to a very important point of this post: give the feedback for speakers! If you were enjoying the talk which you saw or you’ve spotted a typo or area where something needs to be changed or extended, or even you totally disagree with all what you just saw - let the speakers know about it. It’s very simple, but as same valuable for those on the other side of the audience.

I’ve received a lot of positive and negative feedback. To be honest, when I’ve read the list of opinions after my first serious public talk, I almost fall into a depression. I was really worried and affected by all the negative feedback and didn’t want to perform any more public talk. So I failed, fortunately I didn’t do anything stupid then (e.g. offend people who shared this valuable feedback with me), but I’ve learned. I learned that all what we’re performing is not for us (fame, glory, MVP titles etc.), but for all those people who may feel disappointed after not understanding what we wanted to say to them. And if they are willing to share their disappointment - we should be only thankful and try to be better next time.

My 10 Tips to improve as a Public Speaker

Having it all in my mind, I was experimenting and learning while improving as a public speaker overall. I feel more and more confident after each talk now. What is helping me? What gotchas I avoid and what I do to not disappoint my audience? Read my list of tips to improve your public speaking.

  1. Practice your talk at least once before the event

    - even with just yourself. Try to measure the length of the talk and places where you need some “help” e.g. break for water or breath, quick look into the notes or notes at all etc.
  2. Don't do livecoding if it’s not the goal of your talk

    - be prepared and keep your demo code in snippets / comments and just reveal it or place the most important parts (not the whole class or service implementation) on your slide(s).
  3. It's good to have a "goal" of your talk and start with it

    - e.g. you want to convince people that Umbraco is a CMS worth of their attention - name your goal and then try to prove your thesis.
  4. Use light (or high contrast) theme in your IDE and keep high contrast on your slides

    (black on white is the best IMO and won’t fail on any projector). For example, Visual Studio (which is my favorite editor btw.) has a dedicated Blue (Extra Contrast) color theme about which I’ve learned too late of course :) But now I’m using it everytime when I’m showing code / solution in it.
  5. Be prepared for the lack of the Internet

    If you want any videos in your talk - have them in the offline form (it’s not only about the videos - links, references, images - keep all of them locally).
  6. Don't have too many slides

    - 1 slide can take ~2 minutes of your time. Don't be too optimistic and don’t want to share everything you know (share it via blog or just make another talk about detailed version of your topic). It may cause you to go overtime (please don’t do it... too often ;)).
  7. Don't put too much on your slides

    - keep more in your notes/head than on the slides. First of all: it might cause your presentation becaome hard to read, secondly: you’re the most important part of the whole talk and what you want to tell for the people - not slides with a ton of the text on them. Images are great to describe your thoughts, GIFs too, but also not on every slide!
  8. Don't talk about what you'll be talking about in the further stage of your talk

    - it's a public speaking anti-pattern which I’m trying to avoid as hell as I also don’t like when I hear some spoilers or I’m hanged in the hunger of knowledge in specific area.
  9. Don't stress and learn more about your audience before the talk.

    In my case, usually, it's just a bunch of IT people like all of us who probably know less about the topic than we - and it's not a race or skills competition - we’ve done more than 97% of them jumping on this stage!
  10. Be open for feedback and ask for it at the end of your talk.

    Open yourself for criticisms and learn from made mistakes (if there will be any!).
  • Enjoy the applause :)

Marcin Zajkowski

Umbraco Trainer and Certified Master at The Cogworks, Web and Mobile Enthusiast, Team Captain in WOW School, umbraCoffee Co-Host, IT Consultant and Public Speaker.

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