New to Speaking

I dived into speaking this year at technology user groups, and am submitted to several upcoming conferences. So far, I have spoken 3 times (not counting a quick lightning talk last year).

The tips and tricks I’m about to list here is not unique, and many have found it out before me, I just sometimes learn best by making mistakes.


Lack of confidence is the most common response when I ask others about why they haven’t tried speaking. I completely get that because I felt the same.

What if I’m completely wrong and I’m ruining future opportunities because someone will remember me being wrong? What if my presentation goes so bad and everyone hates it? What if I really have nothing unique to share and everyone already knows this stuff and I’m just behind the curve? What if …

The “What ifs?” go on forever. There’s a million reasons to avoid it. So let me tell you the biggest and best reason to avoid speaking: lack of time.

Preparing a presentation and content, mentally rehearsing, and just taking the time to speak well takes a lot of time. I spent roughly 20 hours putting together this first presentation. That was a lot of time spent tweaking slides, reworking the content, and finally having something I’m willing to stand up and talk about for a hour.

But back to confidence, just do it. Mistakes are going to happen, accept them. The consequences for failure here are almost nothing.

At my previous job, I was a client, vendor, and internal contact and regularly ran meetings with each, no problem. The consequences for being wrong there might be costly. Speaking to other software developers who mostly share my viewpoint has no consequences worth mentioning in comparison.

To actually make speaking sound desirable, consider this: each of us have a favorite topic. Something we can go on for hours about, and would like to, but it’s good social ettiquite that a conversation be two-sided: that we give the other person a chance to speak and to respond and to change the conversation. Speaking at a user group or conference bypasses this restriction in that you will get almost a hour to bombard multiple people with your favorite topic and minimal interruptions. Have fun, go talk about what you like.


The audience is an odd thing. They do all sorts of things as though I can’t see them. Local user groups aren’t big enough that you can hide in the crowd.

Most people are paying attention and looking to learn something. But there’s usually one or two that aren’t interested, but are too polite to stand up and walk out, I try to ignore their glares. And then there’s a few people with notebooks that are writing down everything and are learning a lot, those people are my favorite.

Overall, my audiences have been great. I dread the day that I completely just fail and the crowd hates me.

Tips and Tricks

Throw some jokes in the mix. Any presentation is equal parts entertainment and education.

MAKE SURE THAT YOU DON’T NEED INTERNET. Download all demos, download the slides, and put any website screenshots in the slides. As a baseline, presume you’ll have nothing except the slides. And make sure to have multiple copies of the slides, on a flashdrive, on your laptop, and on the internet.

Check your slides and demos the morning of the presentation, and then also when you get to the location. Do as many pre-checks as possible.

Pre-load all demos in the laptop background so the audience doesn’t have to wait on a program to load.

Projector’s contrast ratios are completely different from the laptop’s screen. Test your slides on a projector beforehand to see if you can even read the text.

Confirm beforehand that you have any video adapters necessary to connect to the TV or projector.

Be careful of pointing to things on the screen. I’ve been blinded by the projector a few times when I look back.

The text on the slides and any demos should be large so that the audience sitting in the back can see. Very few people want to sit on the front row.

Always have a bottle of water.


A good presentation is prepared before you even walk up front.

Go have fun talking.