How to Give a Successful Tech Talk
Are you a professional in the tech industry and you have decided to give tech talks? Fabulous.
Think of people who have inspired you. Now think of them onstage. Think of how their stories they told, their passion they exuded, their amazing demos they showed, their opinions and insights they shared have influenced the way you see technology, the way you see the world.
You can do the same, you can inspire others.
Becoming a recognized speaker in tech events will help you find an audience for sharing the ideas you care the most. It will help you advance in your career or grow your business. You will be seen as an expert on your field.
On this article I will share with you solid tactics based on both my own experience speaking in tech events and conclusions from my two books, especially Rock the Tech Stage: How the best speakers in tech present ideas and pitch their products.
You need to focus in 4 key areas.
1. Choose the right topic for your talk
A question many professionals ask themselves is: How do I select the topic of my talk?
The best way is that you start asking yourself a few questions:
- What expertise I have that others don’t have? (e.g. deep expertise in aviation safety)
- What have I experienced that others haven’t? (e.g. I worked for one of the last Olympics)
- What are my professional passions? (e.g. cleantech, operating systems, augmented reality)
- What are my personal passions? (e.g. hiking, games, cooking)
- Do I have a unique idea or opinion nobody talks about in my field? (e.g. financial inclusion)
Write down answers to these questions. Then try to combine some of them and see if you get an idea of a topic. For instance, a personal passion can be often combined with a professional idea to create a very interesting topic.
Once you have an idea for your topic, the next step is that you define these three elements:
- The title of your talk (a tentative title, which you can enhance later)
- Your main statement (what you want your audience to take away)
- Your audience (be the most specific you can)
An additional tip I would like to share with you: speak only on topics you are passionate about. If you speak topics you’re passionate about, everything will be much easier, you will find the stories, you will find the motivation, you will be successful.
Finally, avoid trendy topics, unless you know them well and you’re truly passionate about.
2. Have a Solid Structure
Once you have defined your topic, the next step is to visualize a structure. A common mistake presenters make is to start from a blank PowerPoint file and start filling it in. Instead, take a step back and create a structure first.
You need an opening, a body, and a conclusion.
The body. Start with the body and think of a short list of points you want to present to your audience. Three is usually the best number, as our brains find it natural so easier to process and remember.
Then, for every one of your points you can add one or more examples to support or illustrate your main point, those can be a quote, a story, an anecdote, a photo, snippet of code, a meme, a demo, a statistic, data visualization, etc.
Now that you have the body of your talk ready, craft an opening and its closing.
Opening. There are many effective ways to start you talk: a story, quote, a statistic, demo, even a good joke. This ebook nicely presents seven tactics for opening tech talks and shows real examples.
Closing. First of all, wrap up your talk by re-iterating some of the key ideas of your talk. The very final words are your call-to-action: do you want that people download your SDK? Do you want them to start a trial? Or buy now? Tell what you want them to do next. Last words linger.
3. The most powerful tools to give tech talks
To make your talk memorable, you need to make use of your presentation toolkit. Successful speakers in tech use different tools or tactics depending on their preferences and experience. Rock the Tech Stage unveils ten presentation secrets from the best speakers in tech. Let’s review the top three:
There are countless reasons to tell stories, but let me share with you three. First of all, STORIES STICK IN PEOPLE’S MINDS. Think of a talk you have attended before and that you really like it, and made you feel enlightened, inspired. Most likely what you remember the most is the stories the speaker told. There’s no better tool for making people remember your ideas than telling stories.
Secondly, STORIES HUMANIZE TECHNOLOGY. Specially in the tech world, new ideas, new products, are hard to explain, it’s hard for people to understand them. You can tell the story of a real person with real struggles, let’s say a database administrator who often has to miss family special events because the outdated technology and tools force them to spend long hours working. And then show how your technology solves these people’s problems. That’s how you can humanize technology with stories.
Finally, YOUR AUDIENCE WANTS TO KNOW YOU AS A PERSON. Often the reason why your audience came to see your talk is because of your topic sounded interesting. But even if they don’t know you and are interested in the topic, they also want to know about you. If they know you better, they will like you more. And if they like you more, they will be more willing to adopt your technology, buy your product, and share your ideas with friends and colleagues.
As a presenter, you want that your audience feels we’re in front each other, that they become part of your talk. A very good example of this is the talk “The Art of Destroying Software” by Greg Young. Young appears into the stage with two PowerPoint slides but then quickly abandons the podium and comes to the edge of the stage, near his audience. Since that moment, he started a dynamic of asking questions, sharing his points, asking questions, sharing more points. By doing this, he kept the audience engaged from the beginning to the end.
There are two main tyoes of questions you can use. First, you can use “Call and response” questions, aimed to get an answer or a response from the audience. Your second option is to use a rhetorical question, in which no answer is expected. The goal is making your audience think or reflect and get their attention.
Besides the use of questions, other tactics for audience interaction are:
- Keep good eye contact. Make sure you spend a good amount of time looking at the audience, or at the camera if you’re in a remote presentation. Practice until you feel comfortable.
- Avoid being behind a lectern. Unless you really need to use your laptop, such as in a live coding demo, stay away from the lectern or podium, and come closer to the centre of the stage. Don’t create a barrier between you and your audience.
- Use interactive polls. Tools like mentimeter, slido are great for breaking the pattern and start an interaction with your audience. Ask questions to your audience and get their immediate answers. One of the best outcomes of interactive polls is that they produce well-designed visualizations, and the audience helps you co-create valuable insights that nobody has seen before.
From some famous talks what we remember the most are the demos. Sometimes we remember failed demos onstage. Demos are powerful tools to show the best of your product or idea beyond words. Demos are used in many ways in the tech industry. On my book Create and Deliver a Killer Product Demo, I present an exhaustive list of situations in which people use demos., but there are three main types of demos in tech events, on the Tech Stage: Product Launches, Startup Pitches, and API Demos.
There are 3 main aspects for a killer demo onstage: creativity, structure and rehearsal.
Creativity. The ultimate element that will make a killer demo is the “wow” moment. Talk with your team and use all your combined creativity to craft a “wow” moment. Probably the most remembered wow moment is when Steve Jobs unveiled the very first MacBook Air out of a manila envelope. That was creativity onstage at its best.
Pay attention to three main parts of your demo:
- Before the demo. Presenters who have done killer demos know that before the demo, two things must be done first. First, make sure someone has introduced you, which gives you credibility as the presenter. That will answer the question: Why you are the right person to do the demo? Second, give context about what you are going to show. You can tell a short story, technical details that will be used in the demo, define the specific use case you are going to present, or anything else that fits the best for the occasion. Be short and clear.
- During the demo. The optimal way to prepare for your demo is to write a script line by line, like in a performance. Can you imagine an actor going onstage without rehearsing a script? Write a script and improve it after practice until you feel it’s ready. Make sure you have at least one “wow moment” and then perform it with clinical precision.
- After the demo. A common mistake when the demo is over is to simply say, “So that was my demo, thank you.” The first words that come out of your mouth must reiterate what you have just demonstrated. Don’t let the audience make their own conclusions. Finally, leave them with a call to action: download and install the app, try the API, give us the funding we need, and so on.
From all of the demos that you have seen, the ones that have stuck in your mind or made you buy the product have something in common: the speaker practiced hours and hours until they made it right. The result was zero noticeable glitches and the demo looked effortless. Do not underestimate the effort they made and believe that giving a demo is easy and you can just try twice and glory is assured. Precision requires practice.
4. Your Mindset
Have you ever felt “I would like to talk about my work, my ideas, BUT I’m not sure if my work, my ideas are good enough to be shared”? Who’s going to listen to me? Everyone has felt that before.
In the tech industry, a lot of people feel impostor syndrome. But no matter if you are at entry level, if you have never been a team leader, if you have never given a talk, YOU HAVE IDEAS OTHERS WOULD LOVE TO HEAR. YOUR IDEAS AND STORIES WILL INSPIRE OTHERS. BELIEVE IN YOUR IDEAS. And, there are event organizers who will be happy to invite you today.
Practical advice to make sure you sustain the right mindset and keep believing in your ideas:
- Switch the focus to “how can I serve, help others.”
- Share your own stories, especially your struggle stories. How you solved your own struggles will be invaluable and will help other professionals.
- Ignore the nay-sayers. Surround yourself with supportive people. I can assure you that the majority of people in tech are supportive.
Now it’s your time to take action
These were the key four areas you need in order to give a tech talks successfully. It’s now your time to take action. So, go and start writing your first (or next) talk. If you already have a concrete topic, go and submit that proposal. Soon you will be the speaker that tech conferences want in their lineup.
Take action and enjoy!
To get deeper into the process of how to give a tech talk, I have created a powerful course called Rock the Tech Stage On-demand. This course guides you step-by-step how to prepare for a tech talk from scratch.