Finding your personal style is an important step in your development as a public speaker. It’s not something that you can force or something that you can choose. Fighting your personal style is not a good idea. Blindly adopting random pieces of public speaking advice is not the way to go.
If you don’t speak in your own way, the audience can sense your discomfort, and that makes them uncomfortable too. That’s a bad delivery and a bad experience for you and them.
What do I mean by personal style? There’s a difference between technical delivery and style. I my own case, I don’t tend to move around much. I like to stay in one spot and use my hands and arms for animation. Others will walk up and down the stage, but that’s not me. If I did choose to walk around, there are technical aspects to that technique that would make it professional, such as facing the audience, matching changes of position to talk points, and so forth. That you can learn. Once you’re comfortable with speaking, you can indeed experiment with changes to your style. But I know that adopting more positional movement, for me, would require work, as it is not a natural element of my speaking.
Your style discovers you, not the other way around. The best way to get to a comfortable place is to speak frequently in safe environments. This is another reason I advise new speakers to speak at lots of meetups. Not only is practice good, but you allow your personal style to emerge. In my case, I think it took about a year of speaking once a month. After that, you can ease off a little, as you’ll have a good idea of what you can do on stage.
In the early days of this newsletter I put together some useful content that was not read by many people, as the number of readers was pretty small (there are 500 of you now!). I’m going to slowly start republishing this content on an irregular basis. If you’ve just subscribed, this means you won’t miss out on some great stuff. If you’ve been with me from the start, I hope you don’t mind—and perhaps you’ll see something you passed on the first time.
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!
Bryan Cantrill is well known for delivering deep tech with a touch of stand-up comedy. I love his energy on stage. This talk breaks a big rule—most of the slides are multiple bullet points—awful!
And yet Bryan gets away with it. He absolutely does not read from the slides. He uses physical presence to direct your attention away from the deck. This talk would work without slides. It’s that good.
Should you try to emulate this delivery? No. You need to find your own style. Just sit back and enjoy a speaker who has found theirs.
Learn from the best
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Nelson Mandela is a gifted orator, and he uses short sentences and pauses to perfection. His speech assembly is classic, he tells you what he’s going to talk about, he talks about it, and he then tells you what he told you. The listener then has three opportunities to take in the information.
The closing lines of this speech were made all the more powerful by his use of the pause. The pause is one of a speaker’s most valuable tools. It is a marker of important facts. Used before a revelation, it builds anticipation, and after an important fact it stamps it and gives the listener time to take in and process the information. The average listener doesn’t follow long sentences, the fewer words used to deliver information the better we process it. Use the pause, enjoy it’s power because when you are silent during a presentation, the whole audience waits in anticipation for what’s coming next.
One the worst mistakes to make when giving a talk is to adopt a fake persona. This never works. It’s painful for you, and painful for the audience. It’s far better to um and ah your way through a talk in your own voice—it’s more credible, and may even make the audience pay closer attention. Of course, you need to work on your delivery, but it will take many talks in front of many audiences to get to the place you want to be, and you have to start somewhere.
This book offers a set of practical techniques to improve your speaking but starts from the premise that you need to accept your own style of delivery and not sabotage yourself. It is extremely useful if you’re still finding your voice as a speaker.
We all have day jobs. Speaking a conferences might be part of that job, or just something we love to do. But that doesn’t mean we should be pushovers. Conference speakers sometimes don’t get the best treatment. We are not a commodity, and it takes a lot of time and effort to put together a great talk.
I like this blog post because it reminds me that we are part of community, and we need to stand up for ourselves. Don’t feel you have to put up with nonsense just because you are starting out.
(First published 2017-09-13)
- VoxxedDays Vienna
- Vienna, Austria
- Mon 12 Mar 2018 to Tue 13 Mar 2018
- Cinaplexx Wienerberg
- Standard ticket: €200
Part of a series of worldwide conferences, VoxxedDays Vienna is organised by the local community to share knowledge and extend the skills of developers. Most of the talks are in English, with some only in German. Talk about comfort – the event is located in a cinema, so you’ll enjoy comfortable seats and big screens too. Enjoy the city that Beethoven, Mozart and Sigmund Freud called home. Vienna is calling!
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Fri 16 Mar 2018 to Sat 17 Mar 2018
- University of Cape Town
- Standard ticket: R200
Join the R community and some of South Africa’s most forward thinking companies to hear from and network with top researchers, data scientists and developers. The event will kick off with a day of workshops held by keynote speakers, followed by a day of conferencing. Your registration also includes one month free access to DataCamp. Take an extra day or two and explore Cape Town, perhaps taking the cable car to the top of the mountain to enjoy the spectacular view!
Kafka Summit London
- Kafka Summit London
- London, England
- Mon 23 Apr 2018 to Tue 24 Apr 2018
- Park Plaza Victoria London
- Standard ticket: £495.00
Are you a data architect, engineer, devops professional or developer interested in learning about streaming data? Then the first European Kafka Summit is the place to be! It pulls the Apache Kafka community together to share best practices, write code and discover the world of streaming data. The venue is conveniently located near Victoria Station and many major attractions, such as Buckingham Palace and the London Eye.
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.