Synthesis : Scott Becker

Giving Tech Talks

So I’ve attended a few local tech meetups over the last couple weeks, and watched a handful of talks. Some of them are brilliant. Much respect to anyone who takes the time to prepare, practice, and get up in front of a group to talk about anything.

If you’ve never given a talk, and you’re watching one, you might not be cognizant of the speaker’s presentation style. At least beyond whether you’re paying attention, being entertained and enjoying it. You also become acutely aware if you’re bored and your brain has checked out and moved onto other things.

I’ve given a handful of tech talks. Once you’ve done this, and practiced your talk, you become much more aware of style, pacing, and flow, when watching others. I’m not as good as I’d like to be, but I’m at least aware of the gap between my taste and my work. Just like writing or music or anything else, the only way to get better at it is to do a LOT of it. Ten thousand hours. Go ahead, I’ll wait. In the meantime, I’ve taken some notes to myself on how to improve. This mostly applies to tech talks.


Use color on slides. Generic black and white slides are generic. Built in themes are boring. Don’t use them.

Use big text. I can’t read your tiny text and I don’t want to squint. Make it bigger.

Use less text. Make one point per slide. No extraneous stuff. Just the point.

Use non typical examples. In the web development world, typical examples are blogs and todo lists. Don’t use those. My brain and those around me will check out and think about beer and bikes instead. Use beer lists, bike map trackers, something, anything but blogs and todo lists.

Use the firehose. Be fast paced. Use complex terminology and reference deep math concepts. Or some other field of endeavor that we don’t already know about. Assume your audience is smart and keep up. We probably sped read your slides before you started speaking. Get to the point and be quick about it.


Explain individual lines in a vast sea of monochromatic code. Don’t throw up a full screen of black and white code and walk through what each line does. Show me a slide with only that line of code. In huge text. Syntax highlight the part you’re talking about.

Explain the history of the Internet. Unless that’s the main subject of your talk. Again, know your audience. And by now, everyone knows the history of the internet. Never speak of it again!

Explain the history and progression of Web apps. Same as above. Then AJAX came along. Yep. Move along.


Again, this is a note to me, not a knock on anyone else, as I’ve been guilty of these myself, and I’ve seen others make the same mistakes, and it’s hard to watch. But it’s also very easy to arm chair quarterback, so I’ll shut up. Speaking is hard!


2 responses to “Giving Tech Talks”

  1. Lakshan says:

    “Use complex terminology and reference deep math concepts.”

    Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I think this will make your talk fly over the heads of many in the audience.

  2. Scott Becker says:

    Maybe, but I kinda like it when talks make my brain hurt. Of course, if you’re going to reference complex terminology and deep math, you should try to overview / explain it first.