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Speaking Advice


December 15, 2018


  1. Find and repeat a core message on three pillars
  2. Don't take questions. if you do, repeat the question, but answer the question you want, don't buy into others' frame
  3. Stay positive
  4. Record and review your rehearsals
  5. Memorize and improvise; DO NOT READ
  6. Record your actual talk


Conference Speaking

share an inspiring idea by re-explaining it in a simpler way.

memorize and improvise


Your job as a speaker is only partially technically correct content. Do not neglect your other job: Entertaining. Some speakers are 100% entertainment; I don't necessarily recommend that, but speakers can be extremely successful on that alone.

Entertaining doesn't have to mean being funny. Movies don't have to be funny for you to enjoy them.

Your audience can be just as entertained by your personal stories and cool demos as they are by funny jokes.

At the end, your audience aren't going to remember every point you made, but they will remember how they felt coming out of it. If they come out inspired, they can google and follow up on the points you made on their own. But first they must be hooked, or you are just wasting your and their time.

Topical ideas to entertain:

  • your hobbies, things you are ABNORMALLY passionate about
  • a common interest/experience you share with your audience
  • Memes and pop culture applied to a technical context (COLLECT THESE AHEAD OF TIME)

Talk Organization:

  • Opening
    • provoke an immediate response, set the mood
  • Body
    • aim for a series of buildups to a punchline
    • leave breathing space after
    • preserve momentum
  • Conclusion
    • save some of your best for last
    • avoid the anticlimax
    • be brief, sudden, definite

Principles of Entertaining:

  • Simplicity
  • Vividness: choose unusual words, create imagery
  • Twists: thrill people with the unexpected, don't go in a straight line

Ways of Being Funny:

  • Exaggeration
  • Understatement
  • Twisted Definition
  • Pun
  • Parody
  • Misunderstanding
  • Make fun of yourself

Ways to Entertain Without Being Funny:

  • Live code (for best effect, only use your IDE, no slides)
  • Telling an embarrassing story - make the audience cringe, then release the tension
  • Telling a DRAMATIC story - use build ups and sudden twists, vary volume, pitch and rate of your words, use body language.
  • Other forms of evoking feels/emotions
  • Bringing history to life - tell the hidden story of how a well known thing came to be
  • Show a visually engaging demo like a 3d scene or animation

Entertaining talk examples (note: these are some of the best talks in the world, don't feel like you have to live up to this yet):


Building your story

  • Write down the point of your story in one sentence
  • Setting: where does it take place?
  • Characters: Who's involved? limit the number of people
  • Time: When was this?
  • Statement: the problem or conflict
  • Outline the plot: What happens in your story? list the events and make sure you reach a climax
  • Decide where you begin and where you start
  • (Optional) Vivid description: paint a picture
  • (Optional) Expressive dialogue: make your audience live the moment with the characters you mention

Example storytelling talk:

Always Be Collecting

Good talks often aren't constructed on demand. They are grown over time, pulling various threads from your lived experience that you only subsequently realize are relevant to your talk. So building your talk will be easier if you have an organized, searchable archive of stories, quotations, anecdotes, jokes, memes, and images that you can use in your talk.

Use the Pause

The pause is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal.

It can be used in two ways:

  • generate anticipation for what's coming (after posing a question or dilemma)
  • allow the audience to reflect on a point you just made

Longer pauses can help convey emotion, or build up to a punchline.

A Cold Start is a great form of pause - you don't always have to start by introducing yourself.

Easy Wins

Some cliches are easy to get audience engagement:

  • asking for a show of hands on a topic
  • including local favorites (or languages) in your talk
  • shouting out community leaders

Creating the Community

Warmups, range

fixing speaking voice:

toastmasters basic manual

  • the ice breaker
  • organize your speech
  • get to the point
  • how to say it
  • your body speaks
  • vocal variety
  • research your topic
  • get comfortable with visual aids
  • persuade w power
  • inspire your audience


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