Tips from Andrei Alexandrescu regarding presentations on technical topics

Original author: Andrei Alexandrescu
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Several times I managed to give public presentations on technical topics, and even more often I attended such events. This allowed me to discover both positive and negative speech patterns. Some of them are not discussed or discussed quite fully in the articles of various online publications. In addition, the simple following of the letter of instructions for public speaking (slides, stream, appearance, body language, working with the audience) does not always save you from embarrassment. Next, I will try to expose my experience, gathered on both sides of the microphone, in a few tips.

Speeches to the audience are described in books (most of which I have not read), and experts teach this in courses (which I did not attend). Therefore, take free level tips appropriate to their value. But since I am a computer technician like you, I write directly, on business, and in order to help fellow hackers.

Tips apply to performances lasting longer than 30 minutes. Short (up to 20 minutes) performances are also difficult, but their difficulties are different. Short speeches are tactical - it should be well rehearsed and clearly conveyed to the audience. They are popular in academia and are of good quality material, to which I have nothing to add. Long performances are distinguished by a strategic approach, improvisation and adaptation.

1. You must have something that you want to convey to the audience

It is very important to have something that needs to be conveyed to the audience. Your main goal is to share something that you find interesting. This means that you think that you have some unique thoughts and ideas that your audience is not able to reach on their own in a reasonable amount of time, for example, by reading an article.

Consider a counterexample. Most corporations have an orientation process, which includes presentations from HR, on security, technology and so on. These presentations do not have to meet the criteria I have indicated - their goal is to convey some information to new employees so that they still have the opportunity to ask questions. The speaker at such events is not bound by the need to make them interesting and unique, since it is already unique for you personally. Therefore, your presentation should not be based on such reports.

Unfortunately, many speakers do just that - they wander through the presentation, like lunatics, with the enthusiasm and predictability of the printed instruction. They may not make actual mistakes. Dark suit? There is. Stand on both legs? There is. Looking at the audience left, right and center? There is. Accept questions? There is. Finish on time? There is. But if you have not made any mistakes, this does not mean that you did everything right. You should have something to say - and at the same time, something interesting enough.

I once attended a conference report made by a gifted and experienced speaker. But I did not enjoy the report - it seemed to me boring and banal. Since I was acquainted with the speaker, at the next dinner I delicately conveyed my impression to him. He explained that the organizers invited him to make a report in exchange for a free visit, so he chose a topic, read something on it and prepared for the report. It was a simple hired work, and, despite all his talent and experience, the essence of the work still became visible.

Therefore, go into the audience, being sure that you have something to share with the audience, and that it will be interesting to her. Let this message clearly and clearly stand before your inner gaze.

2. Understand that the odds are already in your favor

Public speaking is communication with people, in connection with which it contains some social dynamics. Most fears of inexperienced speakers are based on fear of shame. You can say something stupid and they will laugh at you. Someone will point out your fatal mistake. You may stumble, fall, burp, or fart during a presentation. Etc.

The good news: the fact that you are performing already gives you a certain advantage. It is unlikely that you have seen many speeches at which the speaker was ashamed. On the contrary, the audience always behaves politely and tries to help, especially the nervous speakers. The bottom line is, other things being equal, people will prefer good feelings over bad ones. Comfort and discomfort are very well transmitted from the speaker to the audience. Therefore, the audience tends to forgive some awkwardness and usually treats the speaker with tolerance. If the speaker is comfortable, then the audience is comfortable - and this is what everyone needs.

In general, you do not start your game from scratch. You already have a good loan, and you benefit from the natural disposition of people to co-lifestyle.

3. Go straight through your fear of speaking

Fear of performance - an irrational psychosomatic reaction from the category of "fight or run." Sometimes it happens with me, and, as far as I know, with other experienced speakers. Usually it is expressed in rapid breathing, acceleration of the pulse, thirst, excessive excitement and muscle spasm. A spasm puts pressure on your vocal cords, and your voice becomes more hoarse and higher.

You can combat this phenomenon by overcoming the symptoms - walk slower, breathe slower, drink water and control your voice. It works: somehow I had a strong attack before the performance, when I walked around the room in which an audience of 500 people was waiting for me, from the entrance to the stage. People turned their heads to look, and I thought: “What can I say to these people to interest them?” Slowing the gait worked: I just started to walk slower, and calmness came with every step, and my self-confidence grew. When I got to the scene, I was ready to give a talk.

Sometimes this technique does not help. But there is a secret that is often unknown to beginners: the fear of performances disappears over time. It does not take so much time, and when you are sure that she will disappear, this knowledge helps her to disappear even faster. When starting the report, ignore the symptoms.

Find the video of a famous speaker, watch his voice for the first 30 seconds, and then rewind to the middle. Often you can hear changes in voice pitch and body language.

4. Accumulate reserve power

People usually listen to music at a power of 1-3 watts. But they prefer more powerful amplifiers. Since a 3 W amplifier playing 3 W sounds worse than a 20 W amplifier playing 3 W. The amplifier turned off to the limit distorts the sound, it lacks dynamics and clarity. This is because he does not have reserve power left.

So you must understand your material at a level much higher than your report. The report should give the audience about 10% of your knowledge on the subject. Only this will give you reserve power. First, it helps you answer questions. Many of them will go beyond the presentation, so you will need additional knowledge. Secondly, reserve capacity gives you the opportunity to adapt the material presented to a specific audience. Thirdly, it helps you better convey the core of your report. If you know more about the subject as a whole, then you know better what you can’t talk about.

For example, I once spoke to students. The speech was on some rather complicated topic, and began with the presentation of alternative approaches, which were regarded as incorrect or not recommended. It soon became clear that the students were not familiar with the pitfalls of the described approaches. The problem was not with their level of training - they simply were not closely familiar with software of such proportions to face certain problems. Therefore, the meaning of my report could not be fully appreciated by them. And then I decided right on the spot that I would build the whole report on one of the presentation slides. Starting from there and using the board, I discussed a set of topics that they found interesting.

If you understand the details of the topic you are talking about, you can take the story in any direction the audience wants to go. Many speakers try to insert additional material into their presentation that they are not particularly good at. You need to avoid this temptation. I imagine it this way: I should be able to take any item from any of my presentations, and defend it in court. If you adhere to this rule, it will well affect your reputation.

Master the material in a wider than your presentation. Knowledge can not be replaced with anything: and since you will be a speaker, your direct responsibility is to understand the topic. Be ready to reveal any topic and any sentence from your slides.

5. Strong self-confidence

Since you have already read point 4, you are well versed in the material. Therefore, approach the report from a position of complete confidence.

Many people confuse self-confidence with self-esteem, so if they have such a feeling (and many hackers have it) - they believe that everything is fine. In fact, this is not so: self-confidence is connected with your opinion about yourself, and self-esteem is your opinion about what other people think about you. If you think that you are fine, then you are confident. If you think that others think that you are fine, you have self-esteem.

It happens that one feeling exists without another. A stereotypical example of a self-confident person without self-esteem is a chatty upstart who is subconsciously afraid to seem like a liar. Accordingly, a shy geek who can arrange a date with a girl only “after she knows him well” has a sense of dignity, but does not have self-confidence.

Self-confidence is also not arrogance. Self-confidence is a sense of your worth in the eyes of others. Arrogance is your value compared to others. Confidence is a statement that you are good; arrogance is a statement that you are better than others.

To make a good presentation, you need to be confident. Confidence will make you balanced and relaxed, and inspire confidence and peace in people. Knowledge of the material is a necessary condition for gaining confidence. Therefore, in paragraph 4 it is indicated that knowledge can not be replaced. But you must radiate comfort in relation to the situation.

Fortunately, confidence is one of those qualities with which you can pretend that you have them until you really have them. Hence the advice in paragraph 3 - get the body language, attitude and thoughts corresponding to self-confidence, and it will come to you. There is no need to puff up too much - you did not solve the problem of NP completeness. Relax and convey enthusiasm just as you would with a friend and colleague - with all the passion and persuasion, but at the same time modest.

6. Find contact with the audience and keep it

This popular tip for public speaking is usually too vague to be useful. Without explanation, it seems that this should be some kind of feeling that will magically arise between you and your listeners.

I define this point pragmatically. First, you need to immediately understand the degree to which listeners are familiar with your material. Secondly, you need to engage the audience in key moments of the presentation, asking questions and generally interacting with it somehow.

I saw many speakers who did not realize that the audience did not know any things that, according to the speakers, they should have known - or vice versa, implied a strong ignorance of the audience.

The easiest way is to ask questions to your listeners. I often ask to raise the hands of those who "use the X language", "OS Y", "Z technology" in their work. What about W, T, U? At the same time, you need to ask on positive notes, not negative ones. Such questions often saved the reports. It often became clear that the planned report would not be effective enough, and I had to dwell on some points, or completely omit others.

Having a contact provides many other benefits. It involves people in the process and encourages them to join it. People are becoming more attentive. They feel that you are interested in their knowledge and their thoughts, and that you are trying to convey valuable information to them. After a good presentation, ideally, each visitor feels an active participant in the process, rather than a passive host.

Interaction with the audience takes up the time allotted for the report, and may lose its usefulness if 1-2 too active listeners participate in it. In this case, you need to learn from the experience of press conferences, and not give the same listener a word twice in a row. In addition, you need to directly contact groups that are not participating in the conversation. I usually joke like: “People on the right, what is your opinion on X? Something you are taciturn today. ”

Various things can complicate the search for a contact. If you stand on stage, it builds a distance between you and the audience. Either in the culture of listeners it can be considered rude to interrupt a person (in Asia this often happens), or the event can be recorded on video. In such cases, you have to work with what is. You can always ask to raise your hands. You can even step off the stage and give the microphone to someone. Remember that people tend to welcome unusual behavior on your part because of clause 2

7. Manage time

Good time management is a must for a good speaker. This is a complex science, and many speakers, ideal in other respects, cannot cope with it.

First, strictly adhere to the rule to finish on time. You might think that there are exceptions - for example, if you are the last speaker. But in practice, situations in which this rule could be ignored are practically excluded.

Each listener prepares in advance a plan for listening to a report in his head, a certain internal timer. “I’ll sit until the end of the report at 15:00, and then I will call my wife about the existential crisis of our hamster.” Or something like that. The time limit is a strong social contract between the speaker and the audience. The report, good or bad, should end in the allotted time so that everyone can go about their business.

The timely completion of the report is a great culmination for the speaker and listeners. You said everything you wanted, finished, now it’s 15:00, and everyone is happy. As in other life situations, timely ending is an ideal option.

Of course, in many situations communication may be necessary beyond the scope of the report. You will often be the last to give a talk, or there may be a long break before your next talk. In these cases, you can announce that you will be nearby to answer questions and conduct discussions on free topics. The social contract has been fulfilled, the climax has been reached, and you can enjoy spending time with your audience.

A late ending can be very rude. My friend somehow had to make a report at the conference, but the speaker in front of him did not think to stop. My friend made gestures and pointed to his watch, and, in the end, he had to get up and say: "You took 15 minutes from my report!" And what is surprising, that goat was also offended by him. My friend’s time was severely limited by the dinner that began immediately after his report, so he had to be content with two-thirds of the time allotted to him. Naturally, his speech was a failure.

Suppose you are sure that you will always finish the report on time. Bad news: you need to not only finish it on time, but also manage time over the entire duration of the report.

I recently attended a 90-minute talk from a very entertaining speaker. He extended the introduction to the report for 80 minutes, continuing the ridiculous beginning with a few jokes, and then discovered that 10 minutes were left to the essence of the report. He tried to go over the slides, which never saved the situation. The report started perfectly, but ended badly (albeit on time).

You always need to control the balance of time and material. Desynchronization can occur for various reasons, most often due to listener questions. If you are far out of schedule, strongly announce it. “Since we were very interested in topic A, I will skip the following slides on topic B. You can find out about it from the materials handed out and ask me any questions. Let's get right to C, which we should be interested in discussing. ” It always works - students understand: they have access to information, and you are in full control of the situation.

Time management is a difficult task. I have no ready-made recipes. A wealth of experience helps here. The rehearsal of the report helps to schedule, but it will not help you much, because the reports never go according to plan. A rough presentation to a small audience helps if it can be arranged.

Time management is a powerful tool. If you master it, then you can create expectation - a powerful psychological device. “In total, X is best used together with U. I understand that this is rather strange, but I will explain everything in more detail in a few minutes.” The audience gets the impression that a report plan is unfolding in your head, and besides, they have curiosity.

Learn to feel the time at any moment of the report, make and announce decisions on skipping material, if such a need arises.

8. Remember that this is a presentation, not a presentation.

Take a look at them: twenty, fifty, one hundred, a thousand people sitting there and waiting for you to hit them. You have stuff. I am sure that he is astounding - but they can be amazed by reading the article. What really makes people come to your reports is the impression you make. A report is not a presentation, it is a creative event.

Queen was famous for its record breaking concerts and record sales, and received critical acclaim (as well as Channel 4's Best Concert Award in History for a Live Aid concert in 1985). The secret was that if most of the singers and groups tried to play all the songs as close to the recordings as possible, Queen specifically treated each concert as a unique phenomenon. Not only the list of songs, but also the general show mattered. They never tried to imitate themselves. They played songs in the best possible way right there, for this particular audience. This is what their concerts were remembered for.

I'm not saying that you need to grow your hair or open a performance with a downhole guitar reef. But view each report as a presentation as unique as possible for you and the audience. A simple awareness of this fact already leads you into the right mood. Many talented hackers made boring presentations because they focused on the “let's not make mistakes” style. Their material was interesting, the slides were rich - but they tried to make a presentation. And you have to give a speech.

Add enthusiasm, eloquence, humor and creativity to the report. This will allow your material to come to life - and this is what your listeners will remember about you.


To make a good long technical paper: have something to say on the merits; Understand that you are initially in a better position; go through your fear of speaking; Have much more subject knowledge than you are giving out; radiate confidence; communicate with the audience; manage time; don't forget to give a presentation, not a presentation.

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