Presenting for Geeks: 3 tips for perfect tech talks
‘Presenting for Geeks’ author Dirk Haun shares three things to remember when preparing your next talk (spoiler: it’s not about imagining your audience in their underwear).
Dirk Haun is an organiser of TEDxStuttgart and a frequent speaker at tech conferences, including ACCU, FrOSCon, FOSDEM, LinuxTag. This extract is taken from his eBook Presenting For Geeks, which was released by our sister publishing arm, Developer.Press.
As geeks, we tend to think that a presentation is all about the content. We put all that we know about a topic on to the
slides and then dump it on our audience. It may come as a surprise
to you, but a presentation is not really about the content, or at
least content is not the most important aspect. The most important
part of a presentation is – your audience.
#1 Know your audience
When the audience is at the centre of your
presentation, it should be obvious that you need to see things from
their perspective. What does your audience know about your topic?
What is their skill level? Do you need to explain to them that PHP
is a scripting language or can you make a joke about an obscure bug
in PHP 5.4 and they will get it?
It‘s also important to understand what they expect
from you and your presentation. For example, is it meant to be
purely informational or do they expect you to show them a solution
to a very specific problem that they have?
Keep in mind that even when speaking to three Java
user groups within one week, they will all have a different mix of
personalities and skill levels. So what works for one audience
doesn‘t necessarily work for another, even if they seem similar at
#2 The curse of knowledge
When you are familiar with a topic, it can be very
hard to imagine not knowing all about it and seeing things from the
perspective of someone who‘s new to the topic. Speakers often
assume that the audience already has some knowledge of the topic,
and as a result they end up speaking about a specialised issue
which will go over the audience‘s head. This effect is known as The
Curse of Knowledge, you need to overcome it in order to deliver an
effective presentation. To overcome The Curse of Knowledge, you can
adapt a trick that is normally used for problem solving.
When you are working on a problem and you‘re stuck, it
often helps to simply try to explain it to someone who doesn‘t know
anything about the topic. You will find that you will have to break
down the problem into smaller pieces for them. The trick is that in
decomposing the problem and forcing yourself to see it from a new
perspective, you will gain new insights, which often leads to a
possible solution. The same approach also works when you are
thinking about the audience for your presentation. What do you know
about them? What do they know about your topic? Do you happen to
know someone from your potential audience personally? Now imagine
that you‘re explaining your topic to them.
As with the problem solving trick, you don‘t actually
have to talk to a real person, you only have to imagine it. If all
else fails, try to explain it to the next available stuffed
#3 The elevator pitch
You‘ve probably heard about the Elevator Pitch. You
happen to meet an influential person in an elevator and you now
have the length of the elevator ride to pitch your idea to this
person, hoping that it‘s something he or she is interested in
(hopefully this makes the person act on your pitch).
As a presenter, you may think that since you are not
really selling anything or you are not running a start-up that you
don‘t need to know about this. So here‘s a more realistic scenario:
You are at a conference where you are going to speak later in the
day. During a break, you meet a fellow geek and you happen to
mention your presentation. Can you summarise it in 30 seconds or
less, before you are interrupted by an acquaintance of yours or
your dialogue partner? Can you summarise it in a way that makes the
other person want to come and listen to your presentation?
Even if that never happens, preparing an elevator
pitch for your talk will help you to focus on your core message. If
you can‘t summarise your own presentation in 30 seconds or less,
chances are that you haven‘t really thought it through.