I used to dread 😰 public speaking 🎤 in middle and high school. College was OKish. Now… even though I’m far from an expert, I really enjoy it. How? I forced myself to give talks and strive for improvement in each of them. Here are the things I learned 🧵:
⏱️ Practice, practice, practice. At least 3 times. Be certain that you will finish in the allotted time: not sooner, not later. Know that, in the real event, the first 5 minutes you rehearsed will vanish in 2.
📃 Know where your slide transitions are so that you can start speaking about what they contain before you switch to them. Yes, this takes a lot of practice. Don’t wait to see the slide to remember what you are supposed to be saying!
🏃 Never ever say “we don’t have enough time so I’ll run through the next few slides”. Red flag ⛔ about poor preparation and you’ll lose your audience’s attention. Timing yourself is key.
🗣️ The slides are not your presentation. Repeat after me: The slides are NOT your presentation. The more complex they are, the less attention you’ll receive. Red flag ⛔: saying “in the next slide…”. Prepare to give your talk without them.
❌ But you’ll be “expected” to use slides. So avoid words as much as possible. Run from bullet lists. Use graphs or pictures. Yes, it’s much harder to prepare this way; so what? Using LaTeX Beamer? … forget it.
🦜 And because you’ll use slides: mention every single thing you put in them. Repeat every sentence. Explain every graph. If you aren’t ready to do so, do not put that thing in the slide.
🔑 A final and blank “Thanks” or “Q&A” slide is a terrible waste of precious screen time. That slide will be shown behind you for many minutes. Use it to repeat your key points, to provide links for more details, and/or to show your call to action.
📚 Tell a story. Explain why you are presenting the topic, or why you did what you are presenting, or why you researched something, or why you are an expert. Make the talk personal.
🧑🏾🤝🧑🏽 Know your audience and tailor the content to them. You can talk about the exact same topic to many different groups, but each will thrive in different levels of detail. Oversimplify things even if not completely accurate.
💡 State the key idea you want the audience to remember in the first 3-5 minutes, and tell them how long you’ll talk for. Many will tune out during the talk, but will pay attention during the very first few and last minutes. Use that to your advantage.
🧑🏫 Stick to one or two ideas. You aren’t giving a lecture—it is a presentation!—so don’t try to fit everything you know in the talk. Interested listeners can follow up later on for the details.
🔌 If you have the podium before the official start of your talk, try to connect with the audience. Don’t sit there quietly. You’ll get much more attention later. (Recent tip I learned; haven’t had a chance to test it out.)
🧍 Don’t introduce yourself if you have already been introduced by someone else. It’s fine to add more details to what has been said, but e.g. don’t repeat your own name.
👀 Visually sweep through your audience, left and right, all the time. Make eye contact. Try to move throughout the stage if you can. If people feel unseen or ignored (and it’s easy to cause this on half of the room), they’ll stop listening.
☝ Don’t point at the teleprompter or your laptop screen: nobody knows what you are doing. The only thing you can point at is the screen behind you—and when doing so, don’t turn your back on people.
❓ Repeat questions aloud when asked before answering, both for the recording (if any) and to clarify that you’ve gotten it right. Prefer paraphrasing them to confirm the latter.
🔢 Add slide numbers if you have graphs. When people ask questions later on, they can ask you precisely where to rewind to.
🎰 Giving a live demo? Think twice unless your talk is a tutorial. Things will go wrong either with your demo or with the projection system. Just don’t try. Use screenshots or recorded videos.
Wow, this has gotten longer than I thought. So the TL;DR is: ⏱️ Practice at least 3 times and 🗣️ remember that the slides are not your presentation. Everything else follows from these two ideas.