Last month, I gave my first dev talk! It was the first time I had spoken in front of a crowd since I was 11, so naturally, I was extremely nervous. Here, I’d like to share some tips for devs giving a talk for the first time, from someone who just went through it:
- Look people in the eye! If this is too nerve-racking, try looking towards the back of the audience. You won’t have to make direct eye contact, but it’ll look like you are. Engage with the audience!
- Move your hands. No one came here to see you standing there with your hands in your pockets. I made this mistake early in the talk, but my training and practice kicked in, and I remembered to articulate with my hands. Express yourself!
- Speaking of practice: practice really does make perfect! It’s true: when you start, you’re going to forget what you were going to say, stammer, and sprinkle in lots of “um”s and “ah”s. Practice will hone your talk into a well-oiled machine, something you’ll need when you actually get up there and start talking. Practice until it becomes second nature!
- Laugh at yourself. During my talk, I meant to say, “My name is Austin Pocus (like ‘hocus pocus’)…” but I forgot. I’m not saying you have to go for laughs — in fact, you shouldn’t try for laughs unless you’re absolutely sure someone besides your friends and family will laugh at it. My point is: don’t take yourself too seriously!
- If you’re like me, and crowds make you anxious: the crowd is not against you. They’re at the event to hear interesting stories, and you’re an interesting person — you’re a software developer, which isn’t as common as the echo chamber of Silicon Valley makes it seem. You have interesting things to say, and the people in the audience just want to be entertained with tales of your exploits. Give them something to talk about!
- Even if you bomb, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be a new day. Don’t sweat it!
I’m still highly critical of the talk I gave, and I’m already thinking of things I can do better. The list above is as much for me as it is for you, the reader. At the end of the day, try to have fun with it! The more natural your demeanor and speaking style, the more you’ll draw the audience in.
In case I didn’t drive it home: practice! When I stepped onstage, I was so nervous I was almost shaking, trying to keep it from my voice. But at a certain point, my hours of practice kicked in, and I just gave my spiel. It comes naturally when you’ve said it in front of the bathroom mirror a couple dozen times. Try it, and tell me it doesn’t work.
Before I gave this talk, I thought “I’ll never do this again”. Now, I’m already planning my next talk, judging my first talk, figuring out what I can do better. Everyone has to start somewhere, and your audience understands that. Throw in a self-deprecating joke about this being your first talk, if you like. In the end, much like writing code, the only way you’ll get better is by doing it.