EuroPython 2015

Tips for Speakers

A few tips for giving a great talk at EuroPython...


This is the most important tip of all.  The more practice you've had, the better your talk will be.  Practice at home, practice saying it out loud, try and find some real people to try it out on - friends, family, co-workers.

Try to give your presentation to your colleagues in the office, maybe at lunchtime. Find your local Python user group and give the talk there.

And when you do it, get feedback, get a feeling for what works well and what doesn't, and make changes to improve your talk.


Don't just read out bullet points from your slides

This is such a common mistake -- it's so tempting, you just gather your thoughts as bullet points, and then on the day, there they are, in big massive letters behind you on a huge screen!  Much bigger than your laptop.  So you turn away from the audience, look up and behind you, and read your bullet points out one by one...

But that's a terrible talk!  First off, you've broken contact with your audience, which makes them feel less engaged with you.  Why should they listen to you if you're looking away from them?  And secondly, reading out bullets out loud is actually worse than either saying the words, or just letting the audience read them (there have been studies about this).

So, resist the temptation to turn towards your slides.  And then make sure your slides aren't just bullet points that repeat what you're going to say.  Your slides should illustrate what you're saying, they should complement your words, not repeat them.

The "notes" feature in your presentation tool is where you want to keep reminders of what you want to say.  And you can always publish them later if you want to give people something to read.


Tell a story

Read about The Hero with 1000 Faces.  It might be a tech talk and full of facts, but every talk can be made into a story, into a journey.  Put yourself in the audience's shoes. Take them on a journey.

Start off with a goal for an adventure ("we need to scrape 10,000 websites"), meet some monsters along the way ("javascript! iframes!  tables for layout!  ie6!), and then come back home with magical gifts for your people ("tips for scraping bottomless web pages!")


Make it fun

Pictures instead of bullet points in slides. Pictures are great.  Everyone loves cats.  Throw in some jokes.  Even bad jokes.  Even a really bad pun.


Demos: always have a backup plan

Demos always go wrong.  Have a backup plan.  What if the wifi doesn't work?  Can you prepare a version of the demo with screenshots instead?

Don't live-code.  Just don't.  Even if you think you can type pretty fast, you can't type as fast when you're nervous and in front of 500 people.


Be excited

You're interested in what you're talking about, right?  That's why you proposed a talk about it.  Convey that to your audience.  Make them care about it too.  Jump up and down.  Smile.

Pro tip: standing in front of 500 people is scary.  But the physical symptoms of fear (fast pulse, sweat, hightened alertnesss) are the same as the symptoms of excitement.  So convert the fear into excitement, and you're good to go!

As well as excitement, you can use body language to project confidence, even if you're terrified inside ("fake it til you make it"). Science shows this works!


Eat the mike!

Another common mistake -- forgetting the microphone.  If it's a fixed microphone, don't turn away from it, or move backwards and forwards.  If it's a microphone you hold in you hand, eat the mike!  You have to have it really close to your mouth, and pointing towards it.  Think of it as an ice cream.  It should be close enough to lick it (yum!)


Keep the pace up

This is hard.  Because I want to say "fast-paced talks are better".  But, when you're nervous, you tend to talk fast, and that's bad.  Especially because a lot of people (even you!) might not be a native English speaker.  So, force yourself to speak slowly and clearly.  But!  Don't let people get bored.

Instead - know your audience.  Try and anticipate what they can guess, don't spend too long on things that are obvious (but remember that what's obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone).  If it's obvious where you're going, then get there quickly!  But when something is deep or not obvious or counter-intuitive, slow down.  Pause.  Give people time to realise it's true.


Know the tech

You'll have a chance to get in the room before your talk and check your laptop works, that you can plug it into the projector, and find out what the microphone situation is. Make sure you use it!  It'll give you a chance to get a feel for what the stage area is like, so it won't be a big suprise on the day.

Also, think about the font size in your slides.  You may need to adjust your code examples so that they are readable.


Final tip: relax!

Remember, Python people are lovely :)

Even the worst, most nervous presenter is always forgiven, because we all love Python, and we love hearing stories about it.



Some examples of good talks:

Brandon Rhodes on data structures

  • notice how the slides *illustrate* what he says, but they don't duplicate it
  • notice the amazing pace of the talk -- he just about anticipates what the audience is thinking, you are only just keeping up with him


The great exception to the "never live-code" rule

  • but, again, DON'T do this. Beazley has clearly done an *insane* amount of practice to be able to get this right. He can talk and type at the same time.  That's, like, impossible.  He's a really experienced speaker.  When you're nervous your rate of typos goes up 1000%.  don't live-code.  don't.
  • but: do notice that he's telling a story.  he's building things up in layers.  There's a big scary-challenge (concurrency), we start at the beginning, with nothing, but we build on previous layers.  The pace is amazing.  You're always on the edge of being lost (sometimes you are totally lost), but you catch up eventually.  just about!


A talk about nothing

  • great pace, slides, and content (thanks @bmispelon for the suggestion!)


Relax! You don't have to be as good as these people ;)