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Mark Atwood
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!

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Current Location: Home, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA

12 comments or Leave a comment
From: hollyking Date: August 7th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for those tips. I've been thinking about trying to present a talk at one of the Perl conferences and that sounds like some very good advice.
fallenpegasus From: fallenpegasus Date: August 7th, 2007 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I should write up a parallel "how to get invited to speak at a geek conference". :)
From: hollyking Date: August 7th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
You should.
docorion From: docorion Date: August 7th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
In re: "This is fun"-

You are interested in this topic because you think it's cool, or the Next Big Thing, or whatever. Don't be afraid to let that show. Enthusiasm is infectious; even if your audience doesn't think about foo the way you do, they'll remember how excited *you* were.

It took me a couple of talks which Didn't Go Well to learn that. After I learned, the talks went much more smoothly.
hearts_treasure From: hearts_treasure Date: August 7th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
One thing I might add, but may be partially implied with the URL up at the first, is to mention at the beginning of the speech/lecture that you have info/notes afterwards if someone would like a hard copy. That stops them from trying to find scrap paper and still struggle to write everything down.

Totally agree with all the hints. I have been to my fair share of conferences as a SW and definitely more people should stick to these guidelines.
l33tsysadmin From: l33tsysadmin Date: August 7th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

good suggestions

Many of these suggestions also map to general presentations or lectures. Thanks for the write-up!
awfief From: awfief Date: August 7th, 2007 07:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Rule of thumb: 5 minutes per slide. For an hour long talk, don't have more than 12 slides. Seriously. More than that and you're going to go over. A slide shouldn't have more than 3-4 points on it. Basically, you talk for about a minute on a subject, and if it's not important enough for a minute of talking, it's not important enough to be a bullet point.

I somewhat disagree with "Register a BOF session about your talk, either that night or the next night." -- only because BOF space is so limited and the only way that helps is if you have a huge audience -- meaning that there were others that could not come.

I like the BOFs where they talk about things that aren't at the conference.... :-\

"Go to the other talks that will have people interested in your talk." I'd also add -- change your presentation if there's overlap, or note the overlap. If there's a lot of overlap, give feedback to the sponsoring organization -- "both our lectures had the same info!"

"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."

Why? As someone who edits video, it's enough work just to listen to the thing and make sure they don't need editing in the first place; having to edit in the video stream later is tons of work. Especially since they won't know when the slide changes because the focus is on the person. As well, most video cameras cannot see a person well in a dark room illuminated only by slides. This seems in direct opposition to "Don't piss off the AV staff".

When I'm there, I tend to focus on the speaker during the first "get to know you" slide and for questions at the end, so the speaker has face time, and then the slides the rest of the time. It makes editing out a part easier too -- probably more relevant during a User Group meeting, where folks can go off on a tangent....
fallenpegasus From: fallenpegasus Date: August 7th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
My slides went faster than 5 minutes each, mainly because for the most part, I didn't have bullet points at all, especially not 3 bullets per slide. Each slide only had one question, or sometimes an answer to a question, and very occationally a snip of code to show some syntax.

This is mainly because I figured that a geek con talk is "edutainment", its a way to give a really fast overview of something neat, and that the point of it is to listen to the speaker.

The rules and advice would be a bit different if giving a presentation in a conference room in a corporate setting, and different again if pitching to a VC (Guy Kawasaki has a really good blog post on how to do that), and different again if presenting at a scientific conference.

I do have to thank you for your help, its because of your advice and help that my MySQL con presentation didn't suck.

And yes, the BOF sessions are somewhat scarce. Maybe I should scale back on that piece of advice. It's just that the topic I've spoken on has generated so much discussion interest that there were well attended BOFs on it at the past three geek cons I've been at.

As for the video thing. It just seems to me that taking a video of static slides is a waste of bandwidth. There are some good video editing tool plugins now that can be handed a video stream and a slide stack, and all the editor has to do is set mark points in the stream and the slides will drop in, either as a cut in cut out, or as video podcast metadata.

But then, you've presented a lot more that I have. This advice is based mainly on my own so far short experence.

jhnc From: jhnc Date: August 8th, 2007 08:51 am (UTC) (Link)
There are some good video editing tool plugins now that can be handed a video stream and a slide stack, and all the editor has to do is set mark points in the stream and the slides will drop in, either as a cut in cut out, or as video podcast metadata.

Pointers, please?
fallenpegasus From: fallenpegasus Date: August 13th, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
IIRC, I saw it mentioned in Cool Tools blog. Or somewhere else... Sorry I don't have better pointers
fallenpegasus From: fallenpegasus Date: August 14th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
jhnc From: jhnc Date: August 17th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
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