What I've learned after giving 100 talks
Six years ago I was at the university. I was an introvert learning about computers, just like everybody else around me. But the thing is, I didn't want to be like everybody else, I wanted to be a reference in my field.
My father always said to me: “if you really want to learn something, teach it.” So one day I decided to submit a talk to an event. For some reason they accepted and that's how my journey started.
Right now, I'm traveling from Los Angeles to Madrid, preparing for yet another talk. This will be my 109th presentation and I'm very excited. Over the past few years I learned a lot about giving talks and here I am to share it.
Passion > Knowledge
Many people want to start giving talks, but they come up with all sort of excuses for not doing it. The most common reason is lack of experience, so let me start by saying:
You don’t need to be an expert to give a presentation.
Having 10 years of experience on something is nice, but don’t wait for it to get started. The best speakers I've seen are not the ones who knows all the in’s and out’s about a certain topic.
Here's the secret that nobody will tell you — the only requirement for giving a talk is passion. That’s it. No diploma, no famous project, no masters degree, no nothing. All you need is passion.
Once you understand that, you'll know that there's always something that you know that other people don't. It doesn't matter if you started your career last year or last decade. Go out there and share what you know already.
You’re not in a classroom
Most of us grew up in a traditional education system. That means we would go to a place, sit on a chair next to a bunch of other people, then spend few hours listening to someone more experienced than us. We probably spent 10, 15, or maybe 20 years of our lives going through the same cycle everyday.
When doing a presentation, many people emulate the behavior they’ve seen for years at school and associate that with any kind of public speaking. They think they need to teach the audience about a particular subject. They genuinely believe that in the end, the audience will be able to go home and apply all that knowledge. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Your job as a speaker is not to teach, your job is to inspire action.
This action could be anything, including more study of a certain topic.
A conference is not a classroom, a conference is a completely different environment, so why do speakers still treat the audience as if they were students?
Next time you go to an event, do this experiment: give or watch a talk and then ask someone to explain what they learned from it. You will be surprised by the answers.
Humans are visual beings
There are speakers that don’t need a single slide to give a great presentation. They have many years of experience on their backs and they know exactly what to do to keep the audience focused on their message. The rest of us, usually use slides to guide our thoughts.
The problem is that creating slides requires a different skill, a skill that not everybody has — it requires design. Many people neglect that and don't spend enough time thinking about how their slides will help navigate their story.
If you don't care about your slides, you don't care about the audience. And that's how you start to lose them.
A good slide deck is the first step to keep people interested. It's a subliminal message to the crowd that you take their time seriously.
Here are some practical tips that you can use on your next talk:
- Typography: always big.
- Contrast: always high.
- Animations: always subtle.
- Text: as few as possible.
- Software: doesn't matter.
But remember, you need good content to back it up. Pretty slides won’t do anything if the storytelling is not compelling.
It's ok to feel nervous
When you give a talk, everybody is looking at you and it feels like there's no room for mistakes. The crowd is judging every word you say, every move you make, and even the clothes you wear. On top of that, when you see other speakers on stage, it looks like they have everything sorted out.
I know that feeling really well and I'm here to tell you that it's ok to feel nervous. In fact, that's not a bad thing at all, this feeling is almost like a fuel that keeps your mind sharp and ready for anything.
The day you stop feeling nervous, is the day you don't care anymore.
Do your homework — spend time thinking about what your narrative and how you are going to navigate the audience through it. Study your content as much as you can and learn it to the point where speaker notes are useless. Train with other people, even if it's your mom or dad.
If you do that, you will feel more confident to go up there and say what you need to say. It will still be difficult, but at least you know you did your best.
The best part of a talk is when it ends
Giving a presentation is definitely not an easy task, but the one thing I can assure you is that you will learn a LOT from it.
You will have a better understanding of a topic than you ever did. You will meet people that are passionated about the same things you are. And most of all, you will learn that a talk is capable of transforming someone's life.
Thank you for being part of this journey. Now go out there and do some talks!