I recently did a presentation for the Intuit Girls Who Code class – it was the first of many presentations I hope to give throughout my career. Some people seem to feel that public speaking is one of those fears that is even greater than death. I’m not a big fan of being put on the spot either, but with enough preparation (and maybe a friendly starting audience), it can actually be a pretty enjoyable experience. Now, I don’t claim to know it all from just one presentation, but these were the things I used to get started.
In the beginning, the first two hurdles I saw were:
Opportunities are actually a lot easier to come by than most people think. Presentations aren’t necessarily shown to hundreds of people at a time. In fact, that’s probably the worst way to get started as a speaker. There are plenty of opportunities around in unexpected places. Here’s some examples:
- You have a new coworker that doesn’t know how to use Git. Create a presentation and teach them all about the wonders of this versioning tool. (1 on 1)
- You have a group of summer interns that need to come up to speed on the best coding standards for your team. Grab all that information and create a presentation that’s way more interesting than the boring wiki you normally tell new team members to read. (1 on 5)
- Worked with some interesting new technology that not everyone on your team knows about? Present all your findings during a lunchtime/staff meeting. (1 on 10-20)
- Go back to your alma mater and teach your 21 year old self how to do something that’s not pulling all-nighters and partying too hard. (1 on 50-100+)
You can scale your talks accordingly. Start small with friendly people that will give you great feedback…then work your way up to a larger and more intimidating audience. Once you master the few, working your way up won’t seem too bad.
Topics on the other hand…this is one that I struggled with more than finding opportunities. Especially when you’re early in your career, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what would be an interesting topic to teach others about. Topics can be too basic, too complex, too narrow, too generic…the list goes on and there’s extremes at either end.
This one is more personal – what works for some may not work for others. I took some advice from Zach Holman, who has an amazing resource on speaking. In particular, he states that anyone can be an expert on most things if they focus and narrow in on something that they’re passionate about. Even if you’re not a complete expert in that particular area, it’s really about “making your audience reconsider their own perspectives. You don’t have to be smarter than them or even be more correct than them to do that.”
Generally, chosen topics are about something that you have done or experienced personally. However, another way to think about it is that the best way to learn something is to teach it. If there’s a particular area that you’re interested in learning more about, the best way to thoroughly understand that area is to teach it to someone else. You can’t teach what you don’t know.