Public speaking is an art form. There are some amazing speakers, such as Lawrence Lessig, Dawn Wacek, Rory Sutherland, and many more. There are also some boring, rambling disasters that clog up meetups, conferences, and company events.
I don’t claim to be an expert in public speaking, but I have had the opportunity to do a lot of it, including keynotes, presentation sessions, workshops, tutorials, and more. Over the years I have picked up some best practices and I thought I would share some of them here. I would love to hear your recommendations too, so pop them in the comments.
1. Produce Clean Slides
Great talks are a mixture of simple, effective slides and a dynamic, engaging speaker. If one part of this combination is overloading you with information, the other part gets ignored.
The primary focus should be you and your words. Your #1 goal is to weave together an interesting story that captivates your audience.
Your slides should simple provide a visual tool to help get your words over more effectively. Your slides are not the lead actress, they are the supporting actor.
Avoid extensive amounts of text and paragraphs. Focus on diagrams, pictures, and simple lists.
Look at the slides of great speakers to get your creativity flowing.
2. Deliver Pragmatic Information
Keynotes are designed for the big ideas that set the stage for a conference. Regular talks are designed to get over key concepts that can help the audience expand their capabilities.
With both, give your audience information they can pragmatically use. How many times have you left a talk and thought, “Well, that was neat, but, er…how the hell do I start putting those concepts into action?“
You don’t have to have all the answers, but you need to package up your ideas in a way that is easy to consume in the real world, not just on a stage.
Diagrams, lists, and step-by-step instructions work well. Make these higher level for the keynotes and more in-depth for the regular talks. Avoid abstract, generic ideas: they are unsatisfying and boring.
3. Build and Relieve Tension
Great movies and TV shows build a sense of tension (e.g. a character in a hostage situation) and the payoff is when that tension is relieved (e.g. the character gets rescued.)
Take a similar approach in your talks. Become vulnerable. Share times when you struggled, got things wrong, or made mistakes. Paint a picture of the low point and what was running through your mind.
Then, relieve the tension by sharing how you overcame it, bringing your audience along for the ride. This makes your presentation dynamic and interesting, and makes it clear that you are not perfect either, which helps build a closer connection with the audience. Speaking of which…
4. Loosen Up and Be Yourself
Far too many speakers deliver their presentations like they have a rod up their backside.
Formal presentations are boring. Presentations where the speaker feels comfortable in their own skin and is able to identify with the audience are much more interesting.
For example, I was delivering a presentation to a financial services firm a few months ago. I weaved in it stories about my family, my love of music, travel experiences, and other elements that made it more personal. After the session a number of audience members came over and shared how it was refreshing to see a more approachable presentation in a world that is typically so formal.
Your goal is to build a connection with your audience. To do this well they need to feel you are on the same level. Speak like them, share stories that relate to them, and they will give you their attention, which is all you can ask for.
5. Involve Your Audience (but not too much)
There is a natural barrier between you and your audience. We are wired up to know that the social context of a presentation means the speaker does the talking and the audience does the listening. If you violate this norm (such as heckling), you would be perceived as an asshole.
You need to break this barrier, but to never cede control to your audience. If you loose control and make the social norm for them to interrupt, your presentation will be riddled with audience noise.
Give them very specific ways to participate, such as:
- Ask how they are doing at the beginning of a talk.
- Throw out questions and invite them to put their hands up (or clap loudly.)
- Invite someone to volunteer for something (such as a role play scenario.)
- Take and answer questions.
6. Keep Your Ego in Check
We have all seen it. A speaker is welcomed to the stage and they constantly remind you about how great they are, the awards they have won, and how (allegedly) inspirational they are. In some cases this is blunt-force ego, in some cases it is a humblebrag. In both cases it sucks.
Be proud of your work and be great at it, but let the audience sing your praises, not you. Ego can have a damaging impact on your presentation and how you are perceived. This can drive a wedge between you and your audience.
7. Don’t Rush, but Stay on Time
We live in multi-cultural world in which we travel a lot. You are likely to have an audience from all over the world, speaking many different languages, and from a variety of backgrounds. Speaking at a million words a minute will make understanding you very difficult some people.
Speak at a comfortable pace, and don’t rush it. Now, some of you will be natural fast-talkers, and will need to practice this. Remember these?:
Well, we now all have them on our phones. Switch it on, practice, and ensure you always finish at least a few minutes before your allocated time. This will give you a buffer.
Running over your allocated time is a sure-fire way to annoy (a) the other speakers who may have to cut their time short, and (b) the event organizer who has to deal with overruns in the schedule. “But it only went over by a few minutes!” Sure, but when everyone does this, entire events get way behind schedule. Don’t be that person.
8. Practice and get Honest Feedback
We only get better when we practice and can see our blind spots. Both are essential for getting good at public speaking.
Start simple. Speak at your local meetups, community events, and other gatherings. Practice, get comfortable, and then file papers at conferences and other events. Keep practicing, and keep refining.
Critique is essential here. Ask close friends to sit in your talks and ask them for blunt feedback afterwards. What went well? What didn’t go well? Be explicit in inviting criticism and don’t overreact to them when you get it. You want critical feedback…about your slides, your content, your pacing, your hand gestures…the lot. I have had some very blunt feedback over the years and it has always improved my presentations.
9. Never Depend on Conference WiFi
It rarely works well, simple as that.
Oh, and your mobile hotspot may not work either as many conference centers often seem to be built in borderline faraday cages. Next…
10. Remember, it is just a Presentation
Some people get a little wacky when it comes to perfecting presentations and public speaking. I know some people who have spent weeks preparing and refining their talks, often getting into a tailspin about imperfections that need to be improved.
The most important thing to worry about is the content. Is it interesting? Is it valuable? Does it enrich your audience? People are not going to remember the minute details of how you said something, what your slides looked like, and what whether you blinked too much. They will remember the content and ideas: focus on that.
Oh, and a bonus 11th: turn off animations. They are great in the hands of an artisan, but for most of us they look tacky and awful.
I am purely scratching the surface here and I would love to hear your suggestions of public speaking tips and recommendations. Share them in the comments! Oh and be sure to join as a member, which is entirely free.
I am excited to share that I will be heading to Tel Aviv later this month to speak at a few events. I wanted to share a few details here, and I hope to see you there!
DevOps Days Tel Aviv
Dev Ops Days Tel Aviv Tues 18 December 2018 + Wed 19 December 2018 at Tel Aviv Convention Center, 101 Rokach Blvd, Tel Aviv, Israel.
I am delivering the opening keynote on Tuesday 18th December 2018 at 9am.
Meetup: Building Technical Communities That Scale
Thu 20th Dec 2018 at 9am at RISE, Ahad Ha’Am St 54, 54 Ahad Ha’Am Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Tel Aviv District, Israel.
I will be delivering a talk and participating in a panel (which includes Fred Simon, Chief Architect of JFrog, Shimon Tolts, CTO of Datree, and Demi Ben Ari, VP R&D of Panorays.)
Get Tickets (Space is limited, so grab tickets ASAP)
I popped a video about this online earlier this week. Check it out:
I hope to see many of you there!
This is an article I wrote for Forbes, which I wanted to share here too.
Peloton are a fascinating company. Founded in 2012, they started selling their spinning bikes in 2014. These bikes are not your usual spinning affair though, they have large touchscreen wedged on the front:
The Peloton Bike
The screen is used to stream live classes to the bike. A rider can see a calendar of different classes, opt-in, and join an instructor who guides them through the different aspects of the class, such as increasing speed and resistance, and even arm exercises with the companion weights. Can’t make a class? There are a huge library of classes on-demand, including floor exercises, and even yoga.
There is little doubt that Peloton are killing it. They are valued at $4billion, with an IPO likely happening early next year. At $2000+ for a bike, they don’t come cheap, and you also need to throw in the $39/month subscription to access the classes and content. The price hasn’t put people off though, and they have sold over 300,000 bikes.
Interestingly, when they raised the price of the bike, they sold more. Why? I believe it is because they have married convenience with carefully crafted community and gamification.
Unlocking Competitive Spirit
Psychologically, competition is an important component of how we behave. It is often extrinsically motived: we become competitive because we want the reward…the prize, the new job, the recognition, or something else. There have been a number of examples where this competitive spirit has been used to harness positive outcomes such as the Orteig Prize, the Ansari X Prize, and many others.
Fitness is tough because it typically rests on intrinsic rewards: you want to feel better, lose weight, or get faster. There is no gift basket for feeling better, losing weight, or getting faster, unless you are an athlete. For the layperson, they need to be willing to invest significant effort in exercising to generate these intrinsic rewards. For many, this is a bridge too far.
The Peloton Approach
To think of Peloton as an exercise equipment manufacturer is a mistake. They are a content company, and it is their library of content at is the driver of their success.
Exercise content and bikes have been around forever though. It is the integration between the bike, content, and importantly, unlocking personal and social competition that is where their secret sauce is brewed. There are five key areas in which they are doing this.
One of my proudest achievements when I worked at XPRIZE was playing a role in the Global Learning XPRIZE. This is a $15 million competition to produce an Android app that teaches children to read, write, and perform arithmetic using a tablet, and without the aid of a teacher within 18 months.
The prize is currently in field trials, and I recently caught up with Matt Keller who leads the prize, talking about the progress of the teams, the finalists, the field trials and more. Check it out:
I think this prize shows enormous potential in producing autonomous learning in the remotest of regions in the world.
I don’t claim to be a career expert, but I have noticed some important career mistakes many people make (some I’ve made myself!). These mistakes span how we approach our career growth, balance our careers with the rest of our lives, and the make the choices we do on a day to day basis.
In the latest episode of my Open Organization video series, I delve into 10 of the most important career mistakes people tend to make. Check it below:
So, now let me turn it to you. What are other career mistakes that are avoidable? What have you learned in your career? Share them in the comments below!
One of the things I love about working with such a diverse range of clients is helping them to shape, source, and mentor high-quality staff to build and grow their communities.
Well, three of clients Corelight, Scality, and Solace are all hiring community staff for their teams. I know many of you work in community management, so I always want to share new positions here in case you want to apply. If these look interesting, you should apply via the role description – don’t send me your resume. If we know each other (as in, we are friends/associates), feel free to reach out to me if you have questions.
(These are listed alphabetically based on the company name)
Corelight Director of Community
Corelight are doing some really interesting work. They provide security solutions based around the Bro security monitor, and they invest heavily in that community (hiring staff, sponsoring events, producing code and more). Corelight are very focused on open source and being good participants in the Bro community. This role will not just serve Corelight but also support and grow the Bro community.
Scality Technical Community Manager
I started working with Scality a while back with the focus of growing their open source Zenko community. As I started shaping the community strategy with them, we hired for the Director Of Community role there, and my friend Stefano Maffulli got it, who had done great work at Dreamhost and OpenStack.
Well, Stef needs to hire someone for his team, and this is a role with a huge amount of potential. It will be focused on building, fostering, and growing the Zenko community, producing technical materials, working with developers, speaking, and more. Stef is a great guy and will be a great manager to work for.
Solace Director Of Community and Developer Community Evangelist
Solace have built a lightning-fast infrastructure messaging platform and they are building a community focused on supporting developers who use their platform. They are a great team, and are really passionate about not just building a community, but doing it the right way.
They are hiring for two roles. One will be leading the overall community strategy and delivery and the other will be an evangelist role focused on building awareness and developer engagement.
All three of these companies are doing great work, and really focused on building community the right way. Check out the roles and best of luck!
Today, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, which powers everything from smartwatches to electrical grids posted a pretty remarkable note on the kernel mailing list.
As a little bit of backstory, Linus has sometimes come under fire for the ways in which he has expressed feedback, provided criticism, and reacted to various scenarios on the kernel mailing list. This criticism has been fair in many cases: he has been overly aggressive at times, and while the kernel maintainers are a tight-knit group, the optics (not just of what it looks like, but what is actually happening), particularly for those new to kernel development has often been pretty bad.
Like many conflict scenarios, this feedback has been communicated back to him in both constructive and non-constructive ways. Historically he has been seemingly reluctant to really internalize this feedback, I suspect partially because (a) the Linux kernel is a very successful project, and (b) some of the critics have at times gone nuclear at him (which often doesn’t work as a strategy towards defensive people). Well, things changed today.
In his post today he shared some self-reflection on this feedback:
This week people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions. My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry.
He went on to not just share an admission that this has been a problem, but to also share a very personal acceptance that he struggles to understand and engage with people’s emotions:
The above is basically a long-winded way to get to the somewhat painful personal admission that hey, I need to change some of my behavior, and I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely. I am going to take time off and get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.
His post is sure to light up the open source, Linux, and tech world for the next few weeks. For some it will be celebrated as a step in the right direction. For some it will be too little too late, and their animus will remain. For some they will be cautiously supportive, but defer judgement until they have seen his future behavior demonstrate substantive changes.
I wouldn’t say I know Linus very closely; we have a casual relationship. I see him at conferences from time to time, and we often bump into each other and catch up. I interviewed him for my book and for the Global Learning XPRIZE. From my experience he is a funny, genuine, friendly guy. Interestingly, and not unusually at all for open source, his online persona is rather different to his in-person persona. I am not going to deny that when I would see these dust-ups on LKML, it didn’t reflect the Linus I know. I chalked it down to a mixture of his struggles with social skills, dogmatic pragmatism, and ego.
His post today is a pretty remarkable change of posture for him, and I encourage that we as a community support him in making these changes.
Accepting these personal challenges is tough, particularly for someone in his position. Linux is a global phenomenon. It has resulted in billions of dollars of technology creation, powering thousands of companies, and changing the norms around of how software is consumed and created. It is easy to forget that Linux was started by a quiet Finnish kid in his university dorm room. It is important to remember that just because Linux has scaled elegantly, it doesn’t mean that Linus has been able to. He isn’t a codebase, he is a human being, and bugs are harder to spot and fix in humans. You can’t just deploy a fix immediately. It takes time to identify the problem and foster and grow a change. The starting point for this is to support people in that desire for change, not re-litigate the ills of the past: that will get us nowhere quickly.
I am also mindful of ego. None of us like to admit we have an ago, but we all do. You don’t get to build one of the most fundamental technologies in the last thirty years and not have an ego. He built it…they came…and a revolution was energized because of what he created. While Linus’s ego is more subtle, and certainly not overstated and extending to faddish self-promotion, overly expensive suits, and forays into Hollywood (quite the opposite), his ego has naturally resulted in abrupt and fixed opinions on how his project should run. This sometimes results in him plugging fingers in his ears to particularly challenging viewpoints from others (he is not the only person guilty of this, many people in similar positions do too). His post today is a clear example of him putting Linux as a project ahead of his own personal ego.
This is important for a few reasons. Firstly, being in such a public position and accepting your personal flaws isn’t a problem many people face, and isn’t a situation many people handle well. I work with a lot of CEOs, and they often say it is the loneliest job on the planet. I have heard American presidents say the same in interviews. This is because they are the top of the tree with all the responsibility and expectations on their shoulders. Put yourself in Linus’s position: his little project has blown up into a global phenomenon, and he didn’t necessarily have the social tools to be able to handle this change. Ego forces these internal struggles under the surface and to push them down and avoid them. So, to accept them as publicly and openly as he did today is a very firm step in the right direction. Now, the true test will be results, but we need to all provide the breathing space for him to accomplish them.
So, I would encourage everyone to give Linus a shot. This doesn’t mean the frustrations of the past are erased, and he has acknowledged and apologized for these mistakes as a first step. He has accepted he struggles with understanding other’s emotions, and a desire to help improve this for the betterment of the project and himself. He is a human, and the best tonic for humans to resolve their own internal struggles is the support and encouragement of other humans. This is not unique to Linus, but to anyone who faces similar struggles.
All the best, Linus.
Designers! We need your help! We want to produce a fun family crest for the Bacon family, something that really reflects us and who we are. This will go on a flag poll at our house and on napkins/coasters for parties.
Hello, Designers! The Bacon family needs a Family Crest designing. We have a flag poll in our new house, and we thought it could be fun to have a family crest that reflects us, our personalities, and background. This will also go on some napkins and coasters for parties. We want it to be amusing and fun, but also professional and classy. Please make it: * Modern and classy. We don't want this to look medieval or old-school. We want it to look classy, but contemporary. * Amusing, but not cheesy. * Either a single-color design, or max of 2 - 3 colors (that contrast really well). * This should be hi-res so it can be printed on material with a solid background color. As you design it, please try to incorporate the following (in priority order): * Include the text "The Bacon Family" near the top. * Add the latin "Sicut delectamentum cibum prandium." near the bottom (which is latin for "Like the delicious breakfast meat" - we say this when we say our name and check in hotels, because people always assume our name isn't as ridiculous as "Bacon") * The USA, British, and Italian flags in some form. * Incorporate key symbols that reflect us: - Food/Cooking. - Music/Heavy Metal (e.g. a Rhandy Rhoads guitar.) - Technology. - People/Community (people getting together to do cool things.) As food for thought, I like these: * https://www.teepublic.com/phone-case/597879-rahoxah-family-crest * https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/42573158947630583/
JOIN THE 99DESIGNS CONTEST ($350 fee)
There is only four days to submit entries!
A little while ago I worked with a client called ZBiotics. They are producing an engineered probiotic which that can be a hangover cure, but the technology has a wealth of other potential applications outside of making your morning-after a little less brutal.
They were interested in running a crowdfunding campaign. I have run a few campaigns before (the $12.7 million Ubuntu Edge, and the $1million Global Learning XPRIZE) and I provided strategic guidance for the Mycroft Mark II (which raised $395k of it’s $50k goal).
I like Zack and Stephen. They seem like good guys who want to build a company the right way. I sat down and provided some training around how to structure and deliver their campaign. This was a complex one because they are not only delivering a practical consumer product (hangover cure) but their technology is also the secret sauce. Both of these are important parts of the message.
They launched it yesterday with a goal of $25,000 and already smashed past that in Day 1. Here is their overview video:
Can’t see it? See it here.
Go and check it out.
Every organization, community, and family has difficult people in them. Some get overly agitated, some are not constructive in their criticism, some rub other people up the wrong way, some always commit but never deliver, and other traits.
In my new video I share some details for how to manage these types of personalities. I share some golden rules for handling them, how to analyze the situation well, and a method for building a resolution and solving problems.
Here it is:
Can’t see it? Watch it here.