Speaking: Two Questions to Ask Before You Give a Talk

Hilary Mason

If you’ve had a talk proposal accepted or been invited to speak at an event, you’ll usually get a chance to chat with the organizers before you show up to give your talk. While you probably have a good idea of the topic of your talk (if you don’t, that’s a post for another day!), event organizers can be invaluable in helping you frame a talk that will succeed with their audience. They are on your side and they want you to do great, or they wouldn’t be hosting you at their event. These are two questions that I always ask the organizers before I speak.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: Your Slides != Your Talk

Hilary Mason

Slides are the supporting structure for your talk, not the main event. Speak the meaty and informative portion of the presentation out loud and use slides as a backdrop to set either the emotional tone or reinforce the message that you are trying to convey.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: Explaining Technical Information to a Mixed Audience

Hilary Mason

It’s a challenge to present deeply technical material to a room of people with varying expertise levels. If you leave it out, you’re abandoning the substance of your presentation. If you focus on it exclusively, you will lose most of the room. Instead, include the material, but plan to repeat it two (or even three!) times.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: 1 Kitten per Equation

Hilary Mason

Use a ratio of one cute cat photo per equation in your talk. This is a concise way of saying that a ratio of one part heavy, technical content to one part light-hearted explanation is ideal. You may have to play with the ratio depending on the audience or the expectations, but people react best when they have the chance to learn something fundamentally hard and interesting while, at the same time, getting to smile.

 



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Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: Use the Narrative Arc

Hilary Mason

Use a gradient of intensity within each segment you present. If you wrote it out as a linear outline, each idea in your talk might have: (1) an introduction to the idea; (2) a high-level overview of the idea; (3) the technical details; (4) an example that brings the technical details together (this is the most exciting part!); (5) a conclusion that wraps up why this is exciting, how it works, and what people learned.

 



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Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: 15 Minutes Or Less Per Idea

Hilary Mason

Let’s just admit it: very few people can pay attention to anything for more than fifteen minutes straight. Take advantage of this by never spending more than fifteen minutes on one idea during a talk. The ideas that you choose to explore within a talk should flow naturally together; there shouldn’t be a jarring transition. And if you find yourself belaboring the same point for more than fifteen minutes, try to break it down further.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: Entertain, Don’t Teach

Hilary Mason

Making education your top priority leads to terrible talks, with an unhappy audience that won’t retain any of the information you wanted them to remember, anyway. Instead, think about how you can create a compelling narrative through your material, layering in the deep technical content so that the most attentive listeners will take away a deep understanding while the people who are only half paying attention will, at the very least, enjoy the experience.

 



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Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: Title Slides + Twitter = You Win

Hilary Mason

Your title slide should focus on the title of the talk. It should also include your name and affiliation, your logo if you have a cute one, possibly your blog or e-mail address if you want people to get in touch, and your twitter handle. Further, in a multi-track conference, people who weren’t actually in your talk will judge your talk based on what people on Twitter say about it. Get a few good tweets, and you’ve created the wide perception that you’ve given a good talk.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

Speaking: Pick a Vague and Specific Title for Your Talk

Hilary Mason

Your title should be both vague and specific. A vague title offers you a lot of flexibility in altering the content of your talk as conditions change without betraying the expectations of the audience based on the materials published earlier. But if your title is too vague (“Stuff and Junk”) people won’t be excited for your talk, and you’ll lack an audience entirely or won’t make it through the CFP process at all. Be specific about the frame of the talk, but leave the details vague.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

Why YOU (an introverted nerd) Should Try Public Speaking

Hilary Mason

We go to conferences to meet people (and learn things from people and find opportunities… from people). Meeting people at events takes a lot of energy, especially if you don’t look like the average dude at a conference. You have to explain your story to every single person you talk to, listen to theirs, and try to see if you have overlapping interests. It’s inefficient and takes a lot of time.


By being a speaker, you can tell your story just once, to everyone, and the people who are excited about what you have to say will come find you. You will actually save energy if you get up on stage.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations

How to Not Suck at a Group Presentation

Mark Suster 

Most people suck at presenting to big groups.  It’s a shame because the ability to nail these presentations at key conferences can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to influence journalists, business partners, potential employees, customers and VCs. So I thought I’d write a piece on how to not suck when you give a presentation.

 



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Collection: Personal
Category: Giving Presentations