I mentioned recently that I entered YOW!‘s “Women in Tech Speaking Competition” and won a spot at a full-day training session with Damian Conway. The training took place at the start of May, and the format was essentially to give a talk and get feedback from Damian and the other participants (nine other women). We were asked to prepare a 12 minute talk to give on the day, so I cut down a version of my How to Win Hackathon talk. (I didn’t have time to memorise the new version, but I figured I’d wing it.) I decided to be brave and volunteer for the first speaking spot, which fortunately meant I got a lot of feedback. (We were running behind schedule the rest of the day!) I took over ten pages of handwritten notes over the course of the other nine talks, and I’ve since combined them into a shared Google Doc with a few of the other attendees. Here’s a sample of some of the valuable practical suggestions:

  • A good talk should be for the audience. How will your talk inform, entertain, or make their lives better? It shouldn’t be a sales pitch about you.
  • Aim to reduce any distractions from your content. Dress simply and–“especially for women!”–avoid writing or embellishment near your chest. If you can, remove everything between you and the audience (podium, hair in face, etc). Remove any lanyards or name tags.
  • Don’t point with a single finger. It’s an aggressive movement and in a lot of cultures it’s extremely rude! Use your whole hand (palm outwards) to gesture. (Evidently I’m a pointer. I never knew!)
  • If possible, set up your laptop to your left. People tend to look to the right when they lie and to the left when they recall, so having it on your left makes you (subtly) look more trustworthy.
  • Test your presentation on the worst projector you can find (not your beautiful Retina laptop). Most of them will have crappy resolution and even crappier colours.
  • The Noun Project is a great source for icons and simple imagery to use in your talk.
  • Buy your own clicker and use it! (I went out a few days later and bought myself the Logitech R400.)

I’ve got heaps more, so send me a message if you’d like me to share my full notes with you.

A few days later, Damian sent through his transcribed notes for each person as well. I was extremely gratified to read this part:

I’d encourage you to look at making speaking at least a part-time career: you have real skills and real charisma, both of which you could be sharing with more people. You also clearly love speaking and teaching and connecting with an audience…which are the ultimate secrets to being a great presenter.

That’s the dream, right there! I’m still working towards my next conference presentation. I was thrilled to be selected to speak at YOW! West which took place last week, but unfortunately I had to decline due to the timing around changing jobs. (I didn’t know I’d be getting garden leave.) I’m undaunted though. I’ve been bookmarking upcoming conferences from the excellent Technically Speaking newsletter, and I’ve identified a couple that look promising. Time to write some CFPs!

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