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Your First Speaking Gig

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I’ve spent the last few days preparing for a talk I’m giving at the end of September. Speaking is a great way to promote yourself, share your work, and build connections with people in your industry. But, for many developers, the idea of presenting in front a crowd means stress and anxiety.

I’ve spoken several times throughout my career. I thought my nerves would calm down eventually, but I still get butterflies in my stomach every time. If you’re considering jumping into speaking, here’s some advice for making the process a bit easier.

Start small

Your first speaking gig needn’t be in front of thousands of people at a huge conference. Instead, find opportunities to speak where the stakes are low. At TWG, we get together every Friday and show off what we’ve been working on for the past week. For many employees, these demos have been a good way to practice speaking to a crowd. A few have even transitioned their demos into full-blown talks and given them at conferences. If your company has a similar tradition, I’d strongly urge you to take advantage.

Local meetup groups are another great option. The crowd is usually on the small side and extremely forgiving of mistakes. There’s also a good chance you’ll spot a few friendly faces in the crowd. 

Stay in your lane

Pick a topic you know like the back of your hand. If you’re creating tvOS apps like there’s no tomorrow, speak about what it’s like to build an app that’s used from the couch. Built something interesting in a hot new framework? Walk the audience through how you did it and discuss the pros and cons of your approach. Struggle with imposter syndrome, never feeling like you’ll match up to others? Please give a talk about it, because we all feel that way and need to know we’re not alone.

The possibilities are endless. But the worst thing you can do is get up on stage and try to fake it on a topic you’re unfamiliar with. I’ve tried. The audience will pick up on it right away. And, even if they don’t, Q&A will give you away pretty quickly. By sticking to something you know extremely well you’ll come across as confident and prepared. Because you will be.

Don’t focus on the slides

Slides should complement your talk, not replace it. They’re great for driving home a particularly important point or showing something interesting in a visual way. But too many people use them as a crutch.

Have you ever sat through a presentation where the speaker read each slide out loud, point by point? It’s agonizing. And it’s a dead giveaway that they wrote the entire thing in Keynote. Look, I get it. Fiddling around with fonts and colours is so much more interesting than writing a talk. But it’s important to remember why you’re speaking in the first place: to share information with your audience. A good talk with passable slides will always be more interesting than a bad talk with lots of memes and fancy transitions.

I find it helpful to use a tool like Deckset. It allows me to focus on the content of my talk, while automatically formatting it in a way that looks good. I highly recommend checking it out.

Practice, practice, practice

In the end speaking is a skill, like any other. You probably won’t be very good at first. But pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. With some time, practice, and these tips, you’ll be wowing crowds before you know it.

Until next time,