Public speaking best practices
Towards more engaging conference talks
As I gear up for upcoming conferences and dust off some old skills, I thought I’d share some of the good habits of people whose talks I enjoy.
Everyone has their own preferred styles and practices and that’s a good thing. If all speakers followed the same advice, it would make for a boring conference. Please share any practices that you found to be effective.
- Clarify the point you want to make and get there quickly. Don’t overestimate the audience’s patience.
- Keep slides short and sweet, and keep it moving. Don’t dwell on a slide — unless there’s an interactive bit.
- Don’t skip slides. If you’re reusing slides from another session, trim and edit before showtime.
- Avoid audience surveys. You’re not going to be able to update your slides on demand. This makes the surveying exercise somewhat redundant.
- Talk to the conference organizers to gauge the technical fluency and experience of your audience. Prepare your talk accordingly.
- Don’t talk about your talk. Agendas are not that memorable.
- Avoid going into details about your bio unless it motivates your talk. It can get boring otherwise.
- Avoid small talk. Don’t talk about the audience or their appearance; or how early in the day it is, how late it is, how it’s almost lunch time, and so on. No matter the time of day, your audience showed up and is ready.
- Speak to your audience, not your laptop, and not your slides.
- Speak loudly, but don’t shout. Speak clearly, but not slowly. Show excitement, but keep your cool.
- Do a few stretches before your talk. Mind your posture if you can. Breathe.
- Choose tidy yet comfortable clothes.
- Don’t repeat the same sentence multiple times. It gives the impression that you ran out of content. Say it once but make it count.
- Don’t be negative. Keep it upbeat. Don’t curse. Use respectful language.
- Tell stories. Make it straightforward to picture the scenarios that you describe. If you’re telling real stories, it’s easier to use fictional names.
- Ease the hard sell. Don’t come across as desperate to make a point.
- Keep it accurate and correct. Do your research. Teach something useful.
- Preparation builds confidence. Believe in your thesis first, then try to convince other people.
- Make next steps clear. Don’t leave people hanging. Use your talk as an opportunity to call to action.
- Be empathetic towards the audience and their experiences. Don’t offend. Inspire. Make it worth their while.
Update. And here is some feedback from friends.
This is great! One I’d add: if you can, practice the talk with audience (even if it’s just a few friends coworkers). If not, at least time yourself — get a sense of how long things *actually* take; often, it’s faster than you think.
— Adam Lauretig on Mastodon