The metsitaba newsletter for tech speakers, 9 Feb 2018

Once you’ve done a few speaking gigs, and shown that you can be halfway competent on stage with a microphone, you will become known as someone who can speak to a crowd. Any crowd. About anything. Since you are now one of the few who demonstrably do not have a mortal fear of public speaking, you will be the fall girl or guy when someone is called on to speak. The dreaded chant of “Speech, Speech!” will fill you with dread, and rightly so.

There’s a big difference between delivering a prepared and practiced talk against a slide deck with speaker notes in front of you, on a technical subject that you know well, and “just saying a few words” on the spot. Certainly, your basic public speaking skills, such as pacing, will help when you have to give an impromptu speech, but that’s only a foundation for survival. There’s also the problem of inflated expectations. Since most people don’t give talks in public, they don’t realize the amount of preparation that goes into a good talk. To most people, public speaking seems like an innate skill, and you should be able to “just do it”.

So what do you do? Prepare! Since you know this will happen to you, you can do some work in advance. If it has not yet happened to you, trust me, it will. Soon.

One big thing: you don’t have to speak for long. As a rule of thumb, normal conversation occurs at a rate of three words per second. That’s a little too fast for public speaking, but as a conservative baseline, it’s not bad. At three words per second, you need 180 words for each minute, and 900 for five minutes.

I’ve already written about 280 words at this point in this text! It’s not that much. And you don’t need to speak for five whole minutes. The shorter the speech, the better for everyone. When the actor Joe Pesci won an Oscar for his role in the movie Goodfellas, his acceptance speech [V] was five words: “It’s my privilege, thank you.” He later explained that he had not prepared as he had not expected to win. Everything was fine, and nobody died.

If you’re asked to deliver a speech on the spot, decide in advance: two minutes max. That’s 360 words as an upper limit, and probably much less in practice. The Gettysburg Address has only 272 words.

You can’t prepare material. You won’t have slides. The audience will probably know you, and are more likely to heckle, or be disappointed. Speaking to people you know, speaking to family and friends, is harder than speaking to an anonymous audience.

But it’s not true to say that you don’t have material, when you think about it. Because you have your entire life, all of the things that have happened to you. You can take any incident and tell a story. You can take the shortest event in your personal life and spin it out into a two minute anecdote. You just need something that has a reasonable connection to the event at hand. Anything will do. And you are the total expert. These are the details of your own life.

Even if people in the audience know you, and heckle you, because they were there too and remember things differently, you still have the floor. A nice little trick is to offer them the microphone—a gambit that shuts them up pretty quickly. But you can circumvent this completely by telling a story that exposes your own foibles and weaknesses. Use yourself as the butt of the joke, and nobody else can.

Finally, practice voice projection. In these situations, there is often no microphone at all, and you’re just standing in a crowd with everyone. At best, they’ve backed away from you slightly to avoid any collateral damage when you crash and burn. You can’t give a speech at all if people can’t hear you, so voice projection is one of those skills you need to develop anyway.

Sometimes, if the crowd gives you energy, these short, off-the-cuff deliveries can be your best performances. They have been for me.

Thursday, March 15th 2018

This newsletter (and our company) will be supporting and hosting a World Speech Day event in Ireland on March 15th. This is a global event taking place in over 80 countries worldwide on the same day and celebrates the art of public speaking by hosting and supporting the voices of new speakers and young people all over the world.

Volunteers Needed!
If you’d like to participate, we’re looking for volunteers to help make this community event happen. We need people to help with preparation, as well as participate on the night of the 15th. Everybody is welcome.

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!

Please help me to improve this newsletter – I’d love to hear your suggestions! You can email me directly: You can tweet too: @metsitaba. Thank you so much for reading!

A special thanks and shout out to TammyCora, and David for helping to make this newsletter even better!


Speaker Profile

Marina Sirtis
The costume story… [V]

This is a perfect example of the personal story technique. Notice that it’s best just to tell the story as it happened chronologically. This is much easier to recall on stage, and when give asides to provide context and interpretation, it’s easier to get back into the flow.

Marina does use a ninja technique though, which is not necessary, but does work very well. She introduces a thematic concept at the start and then returns to it at the end. For this to work it has to be something you’ve already put some thought into, or care about.

Learn from the best

Inch by Inch: Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday [V]
Al Pacino

Either we heal as a team or we’re gonna crumble, inch by inch, play by play, till we’re finished. We’re in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me. And we can stay here and get the —- kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell, one inch at a time.

manner of

The premise for the movie (and the speech) is pretty simple: Pacino is the coach of a once-great football team that is now riddled with injuries and internal dissension, and is struggling to make the playoffs… Pacino takes the team on a roller coaster of emotions. He starts slowly and builds to a crescendo before taking his players down again. He then takes them up and down twice more. Audiences want to go on a journey. Take them. … He repeats the key word in the speech – “inch” – not once, not twice, but 13 times. Repetition is a powerful tool to drive home your message … He uses “triples” – sets of three similar phrases or words – at least four times: 1:15, 2:15, 2:20 and 3:20. Using triples is a powerful technique to make an idea stick in your audience’s mind…

Speak to Win
Brian Tracy

This book is broken down into relevant chapters to suit the reader; whether you are speaking at a conference or an interview, or on the spot, there is a chapter that will suit you.  It’s a valuable tool no matter your situation or background and a must have for every public speaker.

How can you prepare for an impromptu speech? [V]

“Giving a speech with little to no notice can be quite the challenge, however we are asked to perform these speeches frequently. This video will focus on how you can prepare for an impromptu speech and give a speech your audience will remember.”

Three Conferences

Iterate Developers Conference

A one-day event with eight technical sessions and networking with the smartest developers, architects, and industry pros to explore cutting-edge technology to learn how to build better, faster and smarter. This is the inaugural event for the Iterate developer conference, compliments of Okta, Twilio, Atlassian, Algolia and the JS Foundation. And we do mean compliments, as the tickets are free, but space is limited, so be sure to register to save your seat!


This conference is part of a 4-day long festival for technologists, designers, and creatives in Melbourne. The event is kicked off by a one-day community conference dedicated to designers, developers, and other CSS aficionados. Purchase a one-day ticket or a combined JSConf AU ticket at a discount


The fun continues from CSSConf with two days dedicated to JavaScript enthusiasts, from the community, for the community. Expect to mingle with 450 other attendees in the iconic heritage listed Meat Market venue. The combined conference series ends on Day 4 with a Decompress Day. Combo CSSConf tickets are available.

CFP Calendar

These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.