As a technical expert, you’ve spent countless hours perfecting your craft, gaining knowledge, and developing innovative ideas. Yet, to be successful, it’s not enough to be a subject matter expert. You need to be able to communicate your ideas effectively to others.
Public speaking is a crucial skill in the technical field. From presenting to a small group of colleagues to addressing hundreds of attendees at a conference, how you present your content can vary drastically. In this article, we’ll dive into key techniques to help ybou give technical talks that will engage and inform your audience.
Exercise: To practice your skills, spend 20 minutes creating a 5-minute slide pack and presentation on something that interests you. Record yourself delivering the talk alongside the slides. After this then follow the advice in this article to create a new talk on a different topic. Comparing the two talks will help you identify areas for improvement and hone your skills further.
All talks require a brief overview to give potential attendees a sense of what to expect. It’s essential to include a short sentence or paragraph detailing the talk and why people should attend. Depending on the type of talk, this abstract may vary significantly, from an email introduction to a full-blown Call For Paper (CFP) submission. It’s essential to highlight what the audience will gain from the talk, such as knowledge or a practical look at a particular topic. Both resources from Forbes (who have a great article on building a bio) and Nina Zakharenko (who has a knowledge base on creating CFPs) should start you off in the right direction.
Exercise: Write a generic bio for yourself using the Forbes template and create an abstract for a talk you have in mind.
Knowing Your Audience
Understanding your audience is critical to delivering an effective presentation. You must tailor your content and delivery style depending on the audience. Consider why the audience is attending and what they hope to gain from the talk. Is it a conference focused on a specific topic, or are you presenting to a senior leadership team on progress? Is the talk mandatory, or have the attendees chosen to watch it? The size of the audience and their expectations also play a crucial role in how you shape your content and delivery.
The content of your talk should aim to engage and inform your audience. TEDx speaker David JP Phillips recommends five techniques for more impactful slides, including having one message per slide and using size and contrast to steer focus. However, the content may be limited by the audience’s expectations or the limitations of what you’re presenting. Still, it’s best to apply these rules as much as possible to have the maximum impact.
Exercise: Create a 5 minute presentation on a topic you find interesting, based on the 5 main points of advice from David JP Phillips’ video.
Practicing is an essential part of public speaking. It’s crucial to practice your talk until you have it memorized to eliminate nerves and ensure that you’re comfortable with the content. Knowing the timing and pace of your talk helps you add or remove content to fit your timeframe and prepare for pauses and questions. Controlling the silence is equally important, as it can be used to emphasize a point or let it sink in.
Your body language plays a crucial role in engaging and keeping your audience’s attention during both in-person and virtual talks. There is an amazing talk from students at the Stanford Graduate Business School that goes into this topic.
Facing the audience and having an open posture and utilizing gestures to emphasize your message are known to help. Disrupting the audience with questions, humor, or direct one-on-one communication can also be effective.
Exercise: Practice the gestures from the Stanford Graduate Business School video.
Engagement and Storytelling
Engaging your audience is a critical part of public speaking. While your audience attends for a specific reason, such as gaining knowledge, keeping them engaged throughout the talk is essential. Storytelling is an effective technique to help you achieve this. You can share anecdotes, personal experiences, or case studies to connect with your audience and make the content more relatable.
On The Day
Undoubtedly, one of the most intimidating aspects of delivering a speech is right before the actual presentation. Firstly, it is important to surround yourself with a group of supportive individuals, whether it’s your friends or colleagues. This will help you feel more confident and at ease. Secondly, it is crucial to remember that every member of your audience has come to see you, the subject matter expert, and learn from your presentation. Keeping this in mind will help you feel more in control and capable of delivering an engaging and informative talk.
In conclusion, delivering a technical talk is a skill that can be developed with practice and the application of key techniques. By mastering these techniques, you can engage and inform your audience, share your knowledge effectively, and make a lasting impact in your field.
Exercise: Write down one thing that you learnt from this article and tweet it to me @_JamesStevenson.