How many times have you been at a conference talk, and the speaker has gone over time? Everybody starts to get uncomfortable. You can see the host fidgetting in a corner. People start leaving, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, but it’s totally obvious. Surely this is the last slide! But the speaker drones on.
This situation sucks for everyone. Not only does the conference schedule get disrupted, but it reflects badly on the organizer that they did not control for this common issue. It happens all the time. I’ve dropped this ball many times.
Think about how this ends. Either the speaker reacts to the organizer’s frantic gestures, and plows through the last of their slides, shortchanging the content. Or worse, the speaker enters a nervous mental state the prevents them from getting off the train wreck of their own presentation, and they continue relentlessly to the end, schedule be damned! There can’t possibly be more slides! Yes … there are. Groan.
As a speaker, you need to make sure you don’t create this situation. It’s a matter of professionalism to get your timing right. It’s not hard; it’s just about awareness and preparation.
The first, and most important question to ask, after you are invited to speak, is: how long do I have to speak for? That drives everything. Take the structure of your talk, and use it to build a rough time plan. You should know how much time each section should take. The blog post section of the newsletter below gives an excellent example of how to do this.
Even if you aren’t very good at keeping to your time limits when you speak, at least having a plan gives you a place to start. Everybody speaks at different rates, so you need to know what your rate is. How fast do you actually talk? The rule of thumb is that English is spoken at about 3 words per second. That’s a great trivia fact, but not much help by itself.
I have found that it is much more useful to know how much time you take per slide. In my case, I know that I speak at about one slide per minute, or a bit faster. That means I can fill a 30-minute speaking slot with 30 slides. I can probably get away with 40 slides, but then I know I’ll have to move quickly. Alternatively, I could drop down to 20 slides, but then I know I’ll need to spend more time on each slide.
I calibrate my slides into thematic sections that reflect the structure of the talk. Based on the speaking rate per slide, and the slide counts, I then have a fairly good idea of where I should be timewise at the end of each section. This really helps keep me on time, as I can speed up or slow down subsequent sections.
This does take practice. You can use the slideshow rehearsal feature of your presentation tool, or even just a timer on your phone, to time yourself giving the talk. Do this in the hotel room the night before, or when you get up. I’ve found that you often don’t get the final time from this practice, as you get new ideas, or speed over familiar material. Nonetheless, it does give you a baseline, and doing it even once makes you a much better time-keeper.
There is one final trick. Give a short talk! Just because you’re asked to speak for 20 minutes does not mean you have to. If you finish after 15 minutes, nobody is going to kill you. In fact, the organizer will love you, because the schedule is probably already running late! Your audience gets a more focused talk, and more time for questions. And you’ve shown that you value everybody’s time more than your own ego. If you’re having trouble finishing your talks on time, even with practice, this is the “one weird trick” you need to use.
Can I ask you for a favor? If you enjoy this newsletter, and if you find it useful, please consider recommending it to a friend who is learning to give technical talks, or who aspires to do so. I meet so many cool programmers who have brilliant things to share with the world—that’s you!
A special thanks and shout out to Tammy for helping to make this newsletter even better!
Still having trouble delivering your talks on time? Maybe taking it to the extreme is the way to break your bad habits. Ever heard of the PechaKuchapresentation style?
Your deck is 20 slides, and you have 20 seconds per slide. Oh, and the slidesauto-advance, so you have to keep up with them. High pressure, high stakes, and loads of fun—everybody screws up!
Find a local event and try it out. Timing normal conference talks will seem easy when you’re done.
Learn from the best
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
Speech of Surrender
“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.“
… It is a beautiful thing to read, and were you to speak it aloud, as we recommend you do, you would feel in your mouth the weight of the warrior’s words. This is a stripped speech: telegraphic in its lack of adornment, journalistic in its form, with nothing to detract from its power, and nothing to blunt the speaker’s pain …
How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less
Milo O. Frank
A short book about brevity. A classic from the 80’s and still as relevant as ever.
Tim Ferris was bound to make an appearance in this newsletter sooner or later… and yes I’m a huge fan!
1) If the format is a 60-minute keynote, a typical format, then I automatically build in at least 20 minutes of audience Q&A, which I usually make 30 minutes. This reduces my presentation time to 30-35 minutes and allows me to tailor the presentation to the group (via answering their questions) instead of guessing what is most important to them and delivering as a pure monologue.
2) I assume my presentation will be in five parts: approximately 2-minute introduction, three 10-minute segments, and a 2-minute close. I use this “rule of thirds” for the three segments whether the presentation is 60 minutes or 10 minutes.
3) I then plan the content in this order:
10-minute segments – For each segment, what is the main takeaway or usable action for the audience? This means I have three main points in this talk, no more. To flesh out to 10 minutes in length, I then use a PEP (point-example-point) format or, my preference, EPE (example-point-example) format. PEP means you illustrate the concept, then give an example or case study, then reiterate the concept and actionable next step. EPE means you give an example or case study, then explain the concept, then finish with another case study or example. I sketch out 2-3 EPE or PEP for each 10-minute segment, and all of this is done on 1/4 to 1/2 a piece of paper.
Mobile Growth Summit 2018
- Mobile Growth Summit
- San Francisco, USA
- Wed 7 Feb 2018 to Thu 8 Feb 2018
- Park Central Hotel
- Standard ticket: $399
The Mobile Growth Summit brings together the thought leaders from user acquisition, monetization, engagement/retention, and data science & analytics for two days to learn and connect. If you’ve not been to San Francisco, this is a good time to explore the beauty of The Bay Area too.
- Salzburg, Austria
- Sat 3 Mar 2018 to Sat 3 Mar 2018
- University of Applied Sciences
- Standard ticket: €150
The University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg is the backdrop for .concat() 2018, Austria’s web development and UX conference. Join the conference to share knowledge across programming languages and cultures and have some fun in the process. With a wide variety of web and UX topics, you’ll see there’s more to Salzburg than Mozart!
- PyCon Columbia
- Medellin , Columbia
- Fri 9 Feb 2018 to Sun 11 Feb 2018
- Universidad EAFIT
- Standard ticket: $120
If you’ve been to any other PyCon, you know what the drill is. PyCon Columbia 2018 takes this Python community conference to the southern reaches of the world in the lovely city of Medellín, Columbia. With the theme “The Art of Coding,” you’ll have three days of Python education and networking in the “Cultural Center of Columbia.”
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.
- Fri 8 Dec 2017, Index San Francisco, San Francisco, California
- Fri 16 Feb 2018, FullStack, London, England
- Sun 31 Dec 2017, Sustainable UX 2018, Online, remote conference
- Sat 30 Dec 2017, php[tek] 2018, Atlanta, Georgia USA
- Sun 25 Nov 2018, AIAP 2018: Artificial Intelligence & Applications, Zurich, Switzerland