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TIL: How to start a talk

☕ 3 min read

2019 is a challenging year for me. I’ll give my first talk, in English, in front of a larger audience than the 40-folks standard of local meetups I’m used to.

Actually, I’ll give two talks:

I did quite a few talks in the past, but they usually were in French – my native language – and in front of the local tech community, in meetups. As you might imagine, I’m both thrilled and scared. Thus, I’m preparing these talks – the last thing I want would be to screw up in front of hundreds of people I don’t know 😅

I already have plenty of good resources about giving such talks and preparing great slides. In fact, I used to provide such advice when I was coaching colleagues to speak at meetups, back in Paris.

But today, I came across a short video titled “How to Start a Speech”. The fact it’s a 9min video is great: it goes to the point. I watched it after lunchtime, and it was both catchy and insightful. Here’s what I learned.

There are 2 common mistakes speakers usually do when they start their talk:

  1. A very formal talk introduction: “My name is Nicolas Carlo, I work at Busbud, today I’m gonna talk about ‘The secrets of Hexagonal Architecture’”. All of this, people already know – they do have a program. As I’m spending time repeating this information, it gives the audience time to disconnect from me and look at their phone while I’m going through usual stuff.

  2. A very hesitating introduction: “Aaaaaah eeeeeeeeeh… Is the mic working?… Yes… Ok… Right… hmmmm…”. Which is obviously not very engaging. It could happen though because of stress. My personal advice here is to practice the talk before – in front of colleagues at work, or/and in a local meetup. Practicing out loud at home and recording the video is also really helpful to self-improve our talk delivery.

The second one is obvious, but I didn’t think too much about the first one. It’s obviously the classical way of doing it, and most of the speakers I know do it like that – including myself.

Then, here are 3 better ways to start a talk:

  1. 🤔 Ask a question that matters to the audience. The idea is to make people relate to the problem. If I raise a question that you also have at work, it’s likely you’ll be interested in knowing the answer. The talk is here to answer that question.

  2. 🙀 Start with a fact that shocks. It’s really easy today to access facts, studies, and different resources. A fact can illustrate the whole point of the talk, or be somehow related. Having a powerful fact that will force the audience into rethinking what they know is really catchy.

  3. 📖 Tell a story. Actually, it’s not something new. Still, it holds true. Even more for conferences talks. “Once upon a time” makes children lean forward. And the grown-up way of saying “Once upon a time” is to tell a story, usually one from your own life. A story that connects you to the subject of the talk. A story that explains why it is important to you. For example, “the first time” you discover the benefits of the thing you’re presenting.

That’s it. I’ll personally try to rework the introduction of my Confoo talk to start with a story – which is not that hard, I do have a story and fun facts to tell about it!

Here’s the full video if you have some more time to watch it. In my opinion, it worth it:

And you, do you have tips & tricks for public speaking?

Published 13 Jan 2019

I write about web development, agile practices and personal organization.