Thank you to all the readers of the first edition for the great feedback. I’ll refine this newsletter each week based on what you guys tell me, so don’t hold back.
Each week I’ll share some thoughts on speaking at tech events. This week I’m going to talk about live demos. When you propose your talk, you’re going to get enthusiastic, and you’re going to want to do a demo of your stuff. You’ve seen other speakers give incredible demos, and you know it goes down well.
You are now in the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” zone.
Here’s what actually happens. You can’t complete all of your slides until you have the demo working because you need to make sure everything fits together logically. There’s no point discussing concepts, saying you’ll demo them, and then you haven’t written the code.
So, great, you decide to write the code first. Except this is code, and it always takes longer than you think. Especially since you’ll have decided to put in some fancy stuff to impress the audience. This is Hofstadter’s Law: it always takes longer than you think, even accounting for Hofstader’s Law.
I’ve built half-baked demos and left myself with 60 minutes to do all the slides, 20 minutes to get a taxi to the venue, and then present immediately. This happens.
So, don’t build a demo?
No, you should build a demo. Demo’s are cool. You just need to have a “Plan B” mentality. First, build a slide deck with no demo at all. Now you have something to present if all else fails. Job done, go home. Second, build a simple demo with no clever stuff, and take screenshots. Now add these to your deck. Level up! Third, add the clever stuff, but keep a copy of the simple demo. Take screenshots again. You now have multiple levels of fallback.
Running a demo can be awkward. You need to practice. Anticipate the switch between full-screen presentation mode and normal desktop. Prepare your machine properly by closing down all your other apps. Turn off notifications. Assume the internet is broken – your demo does work offline, right? Even if you have to degrade your demo, make sure it works offline. And don’t forget to fully charge your machine.
So you won’t do any of this! We are all tiny little fallible humans who procrastinate. Since the first version of your talk and demo is going to be a disaster anyway, pick an audience that will be understanding. Do a lunchtime talk for your colleagues, or speak at a local meetup. After you have the first version working, then you can implement all those lovely Plan B ideas…
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Ayah’s talk may be a TED talk, and you might believe such things are beyond you, but she shows that they are not. Ayah is a startup founder, not a public speaker, and she shows how far you can get on mission and passion. This is not a stirring speech. Its power comes from the fact that Ayah is on a mission, and you can see it, and you can feel it. The easiest way to give a great talk is to believe in the words you are saying. It makes everything else fall into place.
And she gives a killer demo. Notice how carefully composed it is. Just enough to show the idea. Just enough to get you interested. But she never falls into unnecessary detail. She never makes assumptions about the audience’s understanding. This is the winning move, and you can hear it from the audience’s reaction.
This is a non-profit event. Normally such events are pretty small, but this one is huge! 17000 attendees. As such it is worth a look. Also, it’s Finland in December, which has to be cool. This is conference is more “experience” than “corporate”, which I find is much better for networking and sales leads. If you get accepted to speak, you’ll be in some pretty esteemed company.
Start planning your proposal for 2019. As I said in the first newsletter, getting to speak at the high profile events takes multi-year planning.
To continue the hot conferences below zero theme, another northern non-profit! This one is organized by the tech community in Riga, Latvia. It has about 1000 attendees. This one is startup and founder focused, so you’ll need to put your technical talk into a business context.
The thing about this kind of smaller event is that you have a much better chance of meeting and talking to well-known speakers. At the larger industry events you’ll never get backstage, but at these more community-based events in smaller cities, everyone ends up at the same late-night bar.
Mobile World Congress 2018
- Barcelona, Spain
- Mon 26 Feb to Fri 1 Mar 2018
- Fira Barcelona
- Standard Tickets: $1000+
This is Europe’s answer to the big US conferences, and then some. I have attended, many times, and it can be described in one word: overload. The venue is enormous, with multiple buildings. There are 100000 attendees. There are too many speakers and exhibitors and meetings. It’s just wonderful.
With many conferences, you can get away without detailed planning, but not this one. Make a schedule, and stick to it. You will be exhausted, but it’s worth doing this one at least once. Accommodation is going to be a problem. Your best bet is to book an apartment share well in advance. Oh, and one more thing: Barcelona! Stay an extra day; you will not regret it.
Learn from the best
“The Gettysburg Address”
This short funeral oration, delivered by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as part of the dedication ceremony of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, has become one of the most memorable speeches of all time. It is a pity that we have no recording, but witnesses report that the delivery was impactful and moving. The written reports were more mixed, but that can be attributed more to political partisanship than true opinion.
This speech is special because the text is so powerful, independent of the delivery. It was carefully crafted by Lincoln, who made many revisions over a two-day period starting from his departure from Washington and travel to Gettysburg. He revised the speech again after visiting the battleground. Lincoln was well known for his careful preparation of cases as a lawyer, and the structure of this speech reflects that.
I often feel the most difficult task in giving a talk is to come up with an organization of the material that is understandable and persuasive. This very difficult to do well. As subject matter experts we have lost the perspective of our audience, and yet somewhere we must regain it, and then merge it, with our deeper understanding, whilst staying true to a core message. It is not the rhetorical flourishes of Lincoln’s text, though they are beautiful, that make it a great speech. Rather it is the lucid clarity of its structure and composition.
This is a book about performance. Speaking is performance art, and you are an entertainer, and perhaps only partially an educator. Those us who get up on a stage to speak either already have experienced, or are about to enter, a weird mental place, different from ordinary human interactions. Learning to ask your audience to help you is something you have to learn to accept – it is part of the performance.
The greatest challenge of public speaking is to overcome your own impostor syndrome. Well, you don’t overcome it, you embrace it. That’s what this book is about. It’s one of my desert island books.
Speaking of TED, do you want to be good enough to speak at TED? Well, there’s a TED talk for that. Tim Urban, of waitbutwhy.com, and the favorite of every web procrastinator, wrote up his experience of preparing a TED talk. There are cartoons and a talk! And you will not feel so bad about leaving your slides to 2AM the night before, again.
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.
- Wed 27 Sep 2017, Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, Spain
- Techchill, Rīga, Latvia
- Tue 17 Oct 2017, jvmcon, Cinemec, Ede, The Netherlands
- Sun 1 Oct 2017, devconf, Cape Town, South Africa
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