I’ve spoken at over a dozen conferences this year and seen my share of bad presentations. Yes, for the most part geeks aren’t expected to be great at public speaking. That’s why they called geeks.
However, I noticed certain patterns: most of the times presenters were making it harder for the audience to get their material. They were doing some easy to fix things which hampered their delivery greatly. The tech talks are boring anyway (generally speaking). Why make it even hard on your listeners?
If you need to present soon at a conference (even if you are not a geek or techie), here are 10 sins you should never do when you give a conference talk (more of a note to myself than anything else):
- Don’t read from speaker notes or even worse read from slides… all the time: Nothing turns me off and makes me want to check my Twitter feed more than a speaker reading text. Can’t you just talk about the topic? If the topic is so boring or extensive, then why did you propose it in the first place? You wrote the slides, right? Remember them. If you can’t… maybe you have too many of them… or too much info on them. Remember Steve Job’s rule of three.
- Don’t have too many code demos, walk-throughs or tutorials: Avoid spend more than 50% of the time coding in your editor. It’s even worse if you attempt to do live coding to show off how bad ass you are—not cool because most likely there would be bugs and the audience be wasting their time when you debug. Also, some people prefer learning from text, not videos or your coding in the presentation. Though some demo with little coding can be powerful to show what’s possible to do with a particular tech.
- Don’t use more than 2–3 GIFs, memes, clever pics: Overuse of GIFs is a sign of the inability to present material and express yourself with verbal and body language. GIFs are a poor substitute for verbal delivery. The more you use them, they more they show how uninteresting your presentation and delivery and how un-expressive of a speaker you are so that you need those crutches to do your talk.
- Don’t tell racist or sexist jokes: They are not going to be funny for this uber politically correct audience anyway. (When I was in Sweden and Norway almost no one laughed at the Swedes vs. Norwegians jokes which were supposed to be the norm.) Save time and jokes for your buddies or for your stand up comedy act.
- Don’t turn to the screen/monitor and away from the audience… and please don’t hide behind the podium/computer: Use body language and step away from the podium because it’s not a lecture and you are not a professor.
- Don’t be nervous: Most of the times, I just leave the room right there. I know it might sound harsh, but it’s very hard to focus on content when the presenter’s voice is trembling… hands are shaking. Other giveaway signs include awkward jokes or pauses. Practicing at least three times will lessen nervousness. If you can’t beat the nervousness, then maybe you shouldn’t present or first present to a smaller audience.
- Don’t waste time: Don’t tell your excuses; don’t tell us your excuses such as you didn’t have time to prepare, had a long flight, hang over, etc.
- Don’t pitch yourself or your company too much: This one is obvious because it makes your talk boring. Sponsored talks are the worst, because the speakers literally paid to give this talk.
- Don’t pitch yourself or your company too little: We want to know what is your expertise and creds in this particular area. So tell us why you are a pro, and why should we listen to your opinions. Don’t assume all people know you. Sorry but most likely you are NOT as famous as Douglas Crockford or Linus Torvalds.
- Don’t look like shit: This is a conference and you’re presenter. You are the face of your company and maybe a technology you’re talking about. You’re the face of the community for sure. Make an effort to look good. You don’t need to wear a suit. You can look professional and good in a T-shirt or jeans as long as you don’t look like a homeless person who didn’t shower, shave or had a hair cut in years. Oh, you’ve partied/arrived late/etc. last night? Why your audience should care? If a person makes an effort to look slightly better than an audience, I have a reason to believe he prepared the talk and know what he/she talks about.
Bonus point number 11: Have fun. This is a serious thing but have some fun with it. Another obvious trick which almost no one does is to rehearse and practice. Do it at least 3 times. Don’t change slides after the rehearsals. This will give you more room to feel relaxed and become a better speaker.
If you are one step ahead of the audience in a certain topic—that’s enough reason to present. Drop the negative self-talk (at least until the end of your session). Just do it.