August 6th, 2007


Some advice, if you are going to speak at a geek conference.

I worked out these rules from speaking at MySQLcon, and attending OScon this year.

  • Speaking at geek conferences is fun.
  • Don't put your talk on your slides!
  • Don't put everything on the slides, don't put the outline on your slides, don't put a lot of stuff on the slides.
  • Put questions on the slides, instead. Each question is the one you answer while that slide is up.
  • You can occasionally have an answer, a good quote, or a graphic.
  • If someone can't QUICKLY write down what is on the slide, it's too complex.
  • Do write speaker notes. Make them as complete as possible. Try to memorize them, but don't just recite them. You can refer to them if you have to during your talk.
  • Practice your talk at least once. Check time. You may feel silly talking to yourself in front of the wall, but you will feel dumb instead if you run way over or under on time.
  • Don't give out your notes at the conference before you speak!
  • Put a simple URL on the first slide. Put it again on the last slide. This URL should go to a page that contains links to the slides, link to the speaker notes, link to the video, link to additional notes, link to associated software, etc. It should also link back to your "home page".
  • Have your slides online, available at that URL, and in ODT, PDF, and in PPT format.
  • Have lots of business cards. The cards should have your name, email address, a URL that links to the URL in your slides, and a blurb about what you do.
  • Give your card to everyone you meet at the conference.
  • Take everyone's card that is offered to you. Make a note on the back of each card what conference you are at, and why that person is interesting.
  • Make an serious effort to meet people. Don't spend all your time heads down in your laptop, or sitting as an audience member.
  • Ask people to come to your talk. "I'm going to be speaking about a new way to Bar an array of Foos tomorrow afternoon. Come see it!"
  • Since you are a speaker, you will have access to the Speaker's Lounge. Take advantage of it. Eat your breakfast there, take some of your breaks there. If someone is working on their own talk, don't disturb them. But when people are just hanging out, join in the conversation.
  • You will probably meet well-known people who are in your field, especially in the Speaker's Lounge. Don't fanboy them! Don't hit them up for funding your startup idea! Give them your card, take their card. Act like their peer. And pay attention.
  • Geek cons are a lot like SF cons. If you can keep up, and can speak-with-knowledge on the topic-of-the-moment, it's rather easy and welcoming to join in the conversational circles in the "Hallway Track".
  • You will learn the most in the Hallway Track. Pay attention.
  • Register a BOF session about your talk, either that night or the next night.
  • Go to the other talks that will have people interested in your talk. Ask intelligent questions of the speakers, both during their session, and during the break. Don't try to advertise your talk during their session. But invite the speaker to your session during the break.
  • Go to BOFs that will have people interested in your talk. Join the conversation. Keep handing out the cards and invitations.
  • Before your talk, find the AV guys. Treat them in a friendly and professional way. If you make them not like you, you are screwed.
  • Before your talk, check the AV gear with one of the AV guys. Make sure your laptop will interface with the video cable they give you to plug into. Make sure the mike works, especially if it's wireless. If there is just a lectern mike, ask the AV guys if you can have a wireless mike or a mike on a cable, so you can walk around.
  • Be paranoid about your slides. Be disaster proof. Keep a copy in your laptop. Keep another copy in a USB keyfob. Keep another up at that URL. Keep copies in PPT and in PDF. This way if things go kaput, you can still present using some random windows machine or laptop.
  • If someone is going to record video, ask them to keep the camera on you, not the slide. Tell them that the slide stack will be available for them to download and edit into the video stream in post-production.
  • Ask them if the video will be online. If so, you want to add a link to it at the URL for the talk.
  • Dress up a bit. Wear something better than a wrinkled t-shirt and old pair of jeans. But on the other hand, don't wear a tie, or worst of all, a Suit.
  • As you speak, be dynamic. Walk around. Look at the people. Be excited. Smile. This is fun!
  • Don't just read or recite your lecture notes.
  • If someone has a question that has a complex answer, ask him to see you after, or better yet, come to the BOF.
  • Immediately after you are done with the talk, upload or make world readable the speaker notes at the same URL. Mention at the end of you talk that are doing so.
  • Again, don't make your notes available before you speak. Especially as a handout. Otherwise people will just read the handout, and ignore you.
  • Reporters and bloggers will love you for having your slides and your notes online for them to see. They will read what you have there, and may link to it in their article or post.
  • Thus, make sure the page at that URL identifies you, and links back to your "home page".
  • You may have a member of the press or a blogger want to talk to you. Give him your card, and give him some time. Say why you think your topic is important, what people can use it for, and answer his basic questions.

Things are different if you're speaking at an academic conference instead of a geek tech conference. And things are different in a different way if you are presenting a tutorial instead of just a talk.

This is also useful advice if you're giving a powerpoint backed presentation in an "ordinary" corporate setting. Slideware presentations don't have to suck!

And remember, most important, this is fun!