The best public speaking has good fundamental structure. Your topics and slides fit together into a coherent whole. You take your audience on a journey that leaves them with deeper understanding.
The problem starts when you sit down in front of PowerPoint or Keynote and try to put together a slide deck that has a structure that can achieve this. It’s all very well having such an edifying goal, but how do you get there? If you just start throwing content on slides, you end up with a mediocre talk.
If you don’t know your topic well, your slides meander around and don’t really communicate any knowledge. Making your font bigger does not solve this problem. If you do know your topic, then you can end up with great individual slides, but your presentation as a whole is just one damn thing after another.
There’s no substitute for thinking hard about your topic space, experimenting with different mental models, and sketching out the logic of your message. But this is tough—how do you find the discipline to do this, and only then start on your slides?
There is another tactic. You can write your ideas down. Not as notes, not as an outline, but as a fully formed piece of writing. If you have to give a talk on a topic, first write a blog post for public consumption about the topic. Great—now you have more work to do! How does this help?
The act of writing forces you to clarify your ideas with yourself first. It forces you to think! To get words on paper, words that make sense, you have to structure the elements of your topic in some coherent way. You cannot hide weak thinking as easily in text. There are no graphical distractions or formatting to think about. There’s just you, and the next paragraph.
This is harder than just knocking out a slide deck. But the difficulty of creating a great talk that resonates is not something that you can avoid. It just is difficult. Writing forces that difficulty into a useful creative channel. To give you best talk, for talks that matter, for talks that you really care about, write an essay first. Write a great blog post explaining your ideas. The slides and the structure will almost write themselves afterwards.
Please help me to make this newsletter better – I’d love to hear your suggestions – they’ve already made an improvement! You can email me directly: email@example.com. You can tweet too: @metsitaba. Thank you so much for reading!
A special thanks and shout out to Tammy for helping to make this newsletter even better!
Zach Holman, on of the first engineers at Github, is one of my absolute favorite speakers, and writers. Everything he writes is worth reading. He is deeply technical, and deeply personal, and thus deeply credible. I’ve used his ideas for my software architectures and followed his advice for my talks.
This particular talk is quite a gem. Not only is it a great example of public speaking, but Zach is also generous enough to “open source” the development process of the talk. The subject matter is the art of building a technical talk, which is also pretty useful!
It is clear from Zach’s written material that writing has provided him with a mechanism to clarify and refine his thinking. You can hear it quite clearly in his oratory.
Learn from the best
Writing is mostly like screaming into an abyss. Everyone ignores you. Neil Gaiman talks about how to keep going and keep writing. Writing well is a valid goal by itself, even if you start out just wanting to be a better speaker through good writing.
Ray Bradbury was a prolific 20th-century writer of speculative fiction (only some of which was science fiction). He was noted for his prolific output. In this book, a collection of essays, he writes, with great enthusiasm, on the topic of writing itself. If you can write, but find writing hard (who doesn’t!), then this book can reignite your enthusiasm for writing. If you have not made a habit of writing, then this book will teach you how.
In some ways, this book is an inspiration for this newsletter. My public commitment to write this newsletter on a weekly basis forces me to practice writing. It has turned out to be easier and much more fun that I thought it would be—I never wrote on a regular basis before. I’d encourage you to find a reason to write every week. It is really rewarding.
OK, so you’ve decided to do more writing, and do it more regularly. The best place to start is your blog. That still leaves the challenge of producing good technical content on a regular basis. This blog post is a little primer on getting into the flow of regular writing. It certainly took me far too long to realize that you can write just as effectively about unsolved problems as you can about great solutions.
This three-day long celebration of web developer technology and design is in its sixth year. Join Southeast Asia’s most influential community event by developers, for developers.
In addition to the conference itself, there will be a workshop and community day to educate, inspire, and entertain. The venue is quite nice too!
RubyConf AU 2018
- RubyConf AU 2018
- Sydney, Australia
- Thu 8 Mar 2018 to Fri 9 Mar 2018
- Jones Bay Wharf
- Standard ticket: 610 AUD
Attn: Ruby enthusiasts! RubyConf AU is coming to Sydney, and if last years event is any indication of the fun, networking, and education, you’ll want to be there! The socializing is just as important as the talks! Last year, the event ended with post-conference activities to enjoy the city sights.
This conference brings together the best RTC minds from all over the world in an absolutely gorgeous venue in the English countryside near Gatwick airport. It’s the first residential conference of its kind in the Open-Source RTC community, so you’ll have the opportunity to meet up with your colleagues, friends, and peers, while also making new connections in a relaxed environment. The ticket cost includes the conference, accommodations, all meals, receptions, and entertainment, so you just need to get there.
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.
- Mon 27 Nov 2017, Developer Week SF, San Francisco, California USA
- Sun 29 Oct 2017, DevFestSW 2017, Ibadan, Nigeria
- Sat 2 Dec 2017, Blockchain Conference India, New Delhi, India
- Fri 1 Dec 2017, dotJS 2017, Paris, France
- Thu 30 Nov 2017, dotCSS 2017, Paris, France