Main Content

August 3, 2015

By: Ben Travis

This week in Stepping Up Your Game, we're interviewing Dan Tello, a developer at Viget who has presented at tech conferences like BD Conf, GIANT Conference, and Converge. In this interview, we'll learn how to prepare for and deliver a great presentation at a developer conference.

Why do you speak at conferences?

Everyone has unique strengths, interests, and experiences that others can learn from. The amount of public sharing in the web development community is what enables us to do our jobs. Career-wise I would be nowhere without the blog posts, Stack Overflow answers, tutorials, and conference talks that enable me to to my job every day. Speaking at conferences is a great way to give back and share something we’re excited about at the same time. It’s also a great way to affordably attend multiple conferences a year :)

What are some of your favorite speaking moments?

At the first talk I did, I still had a flip phone—I polled the room, and I was the only one in the room still holding out :) After some laughs and self-deprecating humor, I asked the audience how many people in the room were still paying less than $30 a month for their cell phone plan, smiled at the crowd of unraised hands and walked off stage :)

How do you find developer conferences to speak at?

My first talk was in the attendee-track at Frond-End Design Conference in 2013. I was already planning on attending and saw that there were speaking opportunities for newbies, so I submitted a talk and got on the lineup. I recommend submitting talks to conferences and meetups you’re already interested in attending, or have attended in the past. Once you give one talk, chances are you’ll get asked back or contacted about other conference opportunities.

How do you choose a topic?

Pick something you’re passionate and excited about, and a topic that you think isn’t getting enough attention. My first talk was about building an 8-bit NES-style side scroller with JavaScript and Canvas. It was such a fun project, and there many game development talks at the conferences I was looking at. An exciting topic that needed more attention. Perfect fit.

Lessons learned from internal team and client experiences are great starting points, as well. In the past few years, everyone’s had to re-invent their design and development process to account for mobile. We had some internal and client struggles dealing with the baggage of desktop-focused design, and confusion around native vs. web apps. These topics came up enough that it seemed worth focusing on and put together two different talks on the topic and presented them internally, and externally at conferences.

What kind of prep do you do for a developer conference presentation?

I spend a good amount of time writing the title and summary of my talk. It’s important to nail down the main thing you get across. A solid summary provides boundaries for your talk that help keep the topic focused as you flesh things out. Next comes the outline. I also spend a good deal of time structuring and revising this before moving forward. From there, I’ll start to fill in sections, essentially writing a script. When everything’s written, I’ll start reading things out loud to see how it sounds and how sections flow together. Reading out loud makes it obvious what sections need work and what transitions need smoothing out. Notice I haven’t mentioned anything about slides yet. For me at least, any time I jump too early into slides, I lose focus and momentum. You’ll get bogged down in design details, and be entering content that’s still in flux and that you’re likely to have to re-do anyway. I’ve learned not to touch them until I’m happy with the order and flow of my content, and it’s pretty locked down. I’ve found that once I have my script, filling out slides is a breeze. You need just enough to remind you and the audience where we are in the presentation, and to add visuals to any content better seen than explained. Run through everything out loud multiple times, and then rehearse in front of actual people. I always schedule an internal run-through at work to get practice and feedback from my peers.

How do you get better at speaking/presenting?

Think like an audience member. Attend lots of talks yourself, and pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t. Ask yourself, is this section useful? Is it clear? Is it boring? And then ask someone else the same questions. Peer feedback in run-throughs is invaluable. And lastly, rinse, wash, and repeat. Like everything ever, you get better with experience.

To learn more from Dan, follow him on Github or Twitter.

comments powered by Disqus