Julia Evans

You should give talks. They will be awesome. Here's why!

in public-speaking

I’m working on preparing a talk for CUSEC, and I wanted to write down a few things on what I think about when I submit and prepare talks.

I’m pretty new to all of this, but in 2013 I gave talks at PyCon Canada and PyData NYC, as well as local user group meetups like Montreal Python. And a bunch of short presentations at Hacker School. I’m a lot less scared of it than I used to be! It turns out it’s kind of fun!

The first order of business when preparing a talk is to convince yourself that public speaking is a good idea and better than hiding under the bed.

One blog post that really motivated me when I was starting out was this post by Hilary Mason on why introverts should do public speaking. She argues that if you’re an introvert, public speaking is an excellent idea because introducing yourself is a lot of work. If you give a talk, you only have to introduce yourself to everyone once.

So far I’ve found that giving talks improves my experience of a conference a lot. It makes it easier to start conversations! People will come up to me afterwards and we’ll have a natural thing to talk about. Also I get a speaker badge which is fun, and sometimes you get in for free.

Another post I find useful when motivating myself is this one by Jen Dzuira on how mediocrity is inspiring. I often worry that my talks won’t be as well-put-together and inspiring as the best talks I’ve ever seen. And they probably won’t be!

So I instead try to think about all the talks I’ve seen that I found boring, or that went over time, or that were badly organized, and remember that I can definitely do better :). And that I have given talks before and people have said nice things to me! Nobody has ever said anything mean, which I take to mean that I am amazing and can do no wrong.

Once I’ve convinced myself that public speaking is a good idea and that I can do a decent job of it, preparing talks is still hard! I really really really really like this post “Presentation Skills Considered Harmful” from the Serious Pony blog.

You should really just go read it, but she basically points out that people don’t care about you, they care about themselves. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a “good speaker” and have awesome slides and socks that match and perfect diction. All that matters is that you get across information that makes the people you’re talking to more awesome.

Things like awesome slides and perfect diction sometimes help you convey information better, but not necessarily! They might get in the way!

This is also a great way to think about conference proposals. I try to explain not “why is this a good talk?”, but “if you come to this talk, how will it make you better?”

That is all! I think you should go read those blog posts and adjust your beliefs as follows:

  • You should give talks!
  • Lots of people have given kinda crappy talks. Yours can be better!
  • If you give people something they can use, everybody will love you!

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