I’ve given talks on stage since 2015. With time and practice I found my own style and pace. I learned things that come to me easily and things that I struggle with.
One of these things is speaking fluently and not making mistakes, which is tricky for someone like me who is not a native English speaker.
I remember preparing for my first talk and discovering speakers view. I was genuinely astonished to have a separate screen just for myself where I can see the timer, the next build step and, most important, my notes.
Pretty early on I decided my focus is the audience, which meant I want to present well-researched material that is meant to be understood (rather than just skimmed over or be a show-off). To accomplish this I usually need good visuals and a good script.
Putting aside the complexities of expressing information with visuals, verbal delivery is essential. Here are some of the reasons why:
- keeping the right pace. Usually talks have a limited amount of time. You don’t want to spend extra 3 minutes explaining the part about header compression and then rush over the interesting statistics that you added to your finishing slides.
- keeping the right content. It’s not unusual to see yourself diverging from a topic.
- keeping it fluent and concise. I could ramble and say something in 3 sentences with a couple of umm, ehh and pauses to remind myself that word I just forgot. Or I could have a well-formed one sentence written in advance that conveys the same information, but with less overhead.
- avoid mistakes. Correct grammar and usage of a language will help deliver your message in a non-ambiguous way.
- never go silent. If you ever do, notes are there to help you pick up where your mind went blank.
- publishing your talk notes. Like I did with Humanising among coders. This is helpful, because it’s indexable, scannable and ideal for people with hearing problems.
If you can do this without any external aid, I applaud you in the most sincere and mildly jealous way. I can’t. That’s why I use a script. I write everything I want to say from start to end. I usually do it slide by slide. The volume of the content helps me understand if my slide is overloaded with information and I need to split it in 2. When rehearsing I can see the total time talking and be confident that it’s gonna be consistent when I get up on stage.
With a script in front of me, I managed to give pretty bad robotic presentations. I got sucked into the strict flow that I’ve set for myself and didn’t manage to inspire the audience.
Meanwhile I’ve given really good and seamless presentations. The trick there is a well rehearsed script, where you keep track mentally of the broader topic and sentiment that you want your audience to perceive. Read it with understanding and emotion. It will bring you great pleasure when a talk is delivered smoothly with thoughtfulness and care, when it has a quality of a story told by a compelling narrator.
You choose what works for you: no notes, single-worded notes per slide, rough topics, partial or full scripts, as long as you feel comfortable to present your ideas on stage. There’s no shame in being well prepared, whatever that takes.