Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘speaking’

From geeks to presenters – a talk/training at Spotify Sweden

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Today I went to the Spotify office in Stockholm to test-run a training I’ll give at the MozCamp in Singapore next month. The topic was turning geeks into presenters, how to foster a culture of speaking and presenting in a company and tricks how to become a better speaker.

Slides and screencast

The slides are online and there is a raw screencast (includes some swearing) available on YouTube.


From geeks to presenters

This is a quick introductory talk on how to foster a culture of presenting and speaking and a few tips on how to become a better speaker yourself.

Why present?

The first question to ask yourself is why you’d want to start presenting. There has to be a reason for it.

Geek barriers

It is not easy for geeks to start becoming a presenter. In a lot of cases our nature doesn’t lend itself to being an outgoing person that other people understand. There is a reason why we chose IT as a profession and not something where we primarily deal with people.Furthermore years of bad experiences with company presentations and boring lectures have us conditioned to dislike them. The other issue is that speaking and presenting is considered a task people do who do not code any longer. You know, those managers and the suits and the like. It seems we are more excited about people who write amazing code that never gets released than people sharing what they want to do and get input before we create it. And complaining that people don’t care about our issues without reaching out to tell them about it doesn’t sound too logical either.

Presenting is translating, not selling

The best presenters I know don’t sell with their presentations.They explain, share their excitement and point people in the right direction to find things out for themselves.

People listen if you talk to them!

Giving a presentation internally is a great way to get people up to speed with what is happening. We can have all the documentation and emails in the world – if we don’t know that people read them we can not assume people know what we are on about. Scheduling an internal presentation means people hear at least once about it. External presentations are of course even better, not only make they learn people about what you and your company does, they also give you internal leverage. You are known on the outside for knowing your stuff and the company can benefit from you being associated with it.

Starting a speaking culture

Many companies already do have a culture of presenting but in many this privilege is given to only a few people. Those are coached to be perfect pitch presenters and drive an even larger gap between the people who do things in the company and those who talk about it. Of course we need good professional presenters (and every manager should have some training) but the real success comes by sharing the fame and the responsibilities with everyone in the company.

A few tools

Just in terms to break down barriers and to get people out of the woodwork and start speaking there are a few things companies can do that proved effective in the past.

Powerpoint Karaoke

Powerpoint Karaoke is a great way to get the fear out of presenting. Here is how it works:
  • Download random powerpoints of the interweb
  • Pick a random person
  • The person should present the deck for 5 minutes
Seemingly just a silly thing, powerpoint karaoke can have a lot of positive effects.
  • It teaches you to not be a slave to your deck
  • It breaks down the initial barrier – everybody can look the fool for five minutes
  • You get to know what to avoid in your own slides
  • You start to learn speaking, not just re-iterating (you are not in your subject matter)

Lightning talks

Lightning talks are a great opportunity to discuss issues and solutions and get people to do their first talks.
  • 15 minutes each week
  • 5 minutes: a problem we encountered
  • 5 minutes: a solution we found and applied
  • 5 minutes: discussion if this is a good solution and should become a best practice
I’ve found lightning talks in the past a very good solution for people to get their first speaking experience. They are not scary and they give you a chance to say what you want to say. The reasons are:
  • The speaker knows his stuff
  • The speaker talks about a positive experience – fixing something
  • A Fixed time and duration means predictability which is less scary
  • Everybody gets to have a go

Content repos beat a slide repository

Instead of archiving slide decks and sending them around the company to present over and over again create a content repository much like a pattern library. This allows people to get information they need and assemble their talks from it rather than repeating someone else’s talk flow and fail at that.

Preliminaries – what to do yourself

There are a few things you can do before you start even thinking about speaking. These may sound weird, but they will save you a lot of time in the future and make you a much more focused and better presenter.

Forget about the slide deck

The first thing to consider is forgetting about your slide deck. Your slides are the backdrop to your talk, if you read them out you are redundant. Furthermore everything you can think of can go wrong about your presentation – be safe, don’t rely on them.

Find excitement

In order to really give good presentations, you need to be excited about what you present. If that naturally happens, good. Move on. If not, find an angle that makes the subject matter exciting for you and then tell a story around that angle.

Share pain and excitement

One big obstacle for a lot of new speakers is to move from human to expert that needs to inspire. This step is much less hard to take when you stay human and think of human ways to interact with the audience. Share that you are excited and/or afraid of being on stage and talking about this. Be human, be honest. Good stories on how you reached conclusions, how you bettered your ways and how a failure got turned into a success are a great way to give an inspiring talk. Use them.

Learn to endure and adore yourself

One big step to becoming a good speaker is to get used to yourself, to the sound of your voice and the person you appear to be. How other people see us is very different to how we see ourselves and this very much starts with the voice. Our heads vibrate when we speak which means we hear ourselves muchdeeper than we really sound.

Speak loud, clear and proud

Being understandable on stage is incredibly important. A lot of this is about breathing technique and timing yourself the right way. This takes practice and gets better the more you do it. A great little but also very goofy trick is to put a cork in your mouth and speak at the same time. Try to become as understandable as possible – that way you learn how to breathe correctly.

Record and playback

Watching videos of yourself is awkward but a very important partto becoming a speaker. This is how you come across, and this is the person you are – get used to it. You are your worst critic and that is good. Also have good friends watch you and tell you what can be improved.


Body language is a massive part of presenting or communication over all. There are many studies on the subject with at times scary findings. People do judge you by how you project, not by who you are. This takes time and effort and not many people are happy to go that far. Therefore you need to be aware of what body language works and what doesn’t. What you give the audience is how they react. You need to lead not only with your words but also with your body.

Practice your stage voice and manners

If you have kids – lucky you. If you don’t, get access to some. Then take a good children’s book and read to them. Loud and with lots of gestures and different voices for the different characters. The kid will love it and you break out of your shell and get more confident in projecting and speaking clear and loud.

An incredibly simple solution

Amy Cuddy’s “Your body language shapes who you are” is not only an amazing talk, but gives you a very simple solution to your projection issues. It turns out that you can make yourself more confident and outgoing by just using the same body language as confident and powerful people do. Sounds too simple, but our body chemistry shows proof.Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Learn from others

The first step to being a good speaker is to get inspired and learn by watching other people do it. A lot of conference videos are available on the web, so check them out there. TED is a great resource for seeing amazing talks – but be aware that this is the master class, don’t feel bad about these talks. A lot of rehearsal and work went into them and they only look very easy to deliver.

Go to (un)conferences and share afterwards

Going to conferences is a very good step, even better are unconferences as it means you have to speak, too. Whenever the company allows people to go to conferences it should be on the condition to give a talk (or at least send an email report) about the event afterwards. That way there is no jealousy amongst people and you can set up an archive of what conferences are worth while and which aren’t.

Do not copy!

The danger there though is to copy verbatim what other people are doing. This will not make you or the audience happy as it is a lie to yourself and them. You can find things that you like and start using them but it needs to be natural – don’t force it.

Would you like to know more?

There are a few online resources you can check out.

A call for shorter talks

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Right now I am in San Francisco working on training materials for the Mozilla Evangelism Reps program. As a part of this I am analysing great talks and point out the tricks the speakers used and what new speakers can learn from that.

I love giving talks and I love watching good talks. I used to watch Southpark and American Dad episodes on the cross-trainer in the gym but lately I replaced them with TED talks and presentations from YouTube (why isn’t there an option to download them without an add-on) and Vimeo.

Both when watching and when giving talks I realised a thing lately: shorter talks tend to be better. Yes, a well crafted long talk can be very exciting, too, but I find myself drifting off quite quickly. A well written and executed 15-20 minute talk can bring across the same messages as a one hour talk that is padded with a lot of demos or stories.

Running the danger of many a “how dare you suggest how to run an event, what have you done to earn a right to say something about that” comment and tweet I wondered if we shouldn’t think about aiming for shorter talks at events and if they aren’t more effective. Here are some reasons for shorter talks:

  • The audience’s attention span is not stretched to its limits
  • You can have more talks, thus offering more choice and also a chance for unknown speakers to have a slot
  • Speakers are forced to plan their talks better. You concentrate on one thing that makes a difference instead of once again telling “the history of HTML5” or “how medieval sock-knitting relates to responsive design”
  • Talks become more of a “check this out and look it up later” giving the audience resources to look up in their own time and on their own terms
  • After the event re-use is easier. A 15 minute talk is easier to edit and release on the web and will get much more viewers than an hour or longer talk – simple file size and dedication from the viewer’s side are the reasons here
  • Content becomes more reusable. If your talk is shorter you are likely to show things that people can try out for themselves later. In a longer talk you can show all kind of cool stuff that only works in your setup and a special version of the browser and so on. In a short talk you don’t have time to explain how people should set up their environments
  • We have more time for Q&A

Of course this doesn’t apply to all talks. A good inspirational session or something discussing an idea in depth will take more time and a good speaker will make it worth your while. I have, however, seen shorter talks work very well in unconferences and lately more and more conferences seem to favour them, too. I for one am happy to deliver more short, focused items (maybe several in different tracks) as it keeps things fresh.

Of course some talks are performances and the time is planned well and it makes sense to allow the speaker to deliver a short play around a topic. This is very much not me though and for quick educational items maybe less is really more.

Comment on Google Plus if you are so inclined.

So you want me to talk?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Do You Expect Me To Talk?

Conference organisers: I also made a shorter cheatsheet with all this info for you.

Hi, I am Chris,

I love public speaking – so much that I spent most of the last five years on the road (with an average of 37 conferences a year in over 30 countries).

I am also a very busy man (yes, my Twitter stream might make you think otherwise, but I am not kidding) and I am getting roughly 200-300 emails a day and about an offer to speak each day. This is not boasting, I am happy that people want me to speak, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

If you’d like me to speak at your event send me an email with the subject [Speaking opportunity]. Please include:

  • The dates and location of your conference
  • The nature of your conference (who do you target, how many people you expect, how many talks will be there)
  • The nature of the talk (keynote, workshop, panel…)
  • If there are any travel arrangements or not (more on that later)

Speaking Terms

I am a professional presenter with lots of experience. Therefore I want to make sure that there is no misconception about what I expect and deliver.

If I speak at your event I will:

  • Deliver a fitting talk for the intended audience. I am happy to discuss content with you but I will not send slides for review and allow changes by conference organisers. I tend to deliver a unique talk every time I can and it will be an up-to-date talk. This can not be achieved if I need to send in the deck weeks in advance. Slides to me are wallpaper of a presentation and I treat them as such.
  • Deliver the talk on time and stick to the defined format and duration. I need to know what time frame you expect and what format you want it to be in. I will show up at the times you need me to be there and set up on stage with enough time for AV people to wire up microphones and other equipment. I tend not to need any dry-run or setup, but I am happy to do so if that is your conference policy.
  • Use my own computer to deliver my talk. Many times I will go beyond slide decks and show live code and examples. My setup is a Surface Pro or Macbook and I will bring my own dongle and remote control.
  • Attend your event to mingle with attendees. I do speak because I want people to learn something. Therefore I will take part in your conference to be able to answer people’s questions before and after my presentation or workshop. I consider parachuting in and out of conferences and only mingling with other speakers a waste and unprofessional demeanor for a conference presenter. We’re not rockstars or actors who deliver a concert or play and leave. That said, I can’t always be there for the whole conference, especially for multi-day events. I’d appreciate a schedule where you really need me to be there.
  • Promote my presence at your event. I will tweet and blog before, during and after the event about what I will do at your event and interesting things I encounter.
  • Publish my slides and screen recording after my talk. If there is a good enough connection, this normally happens right after the presentation. Everything I create at your event will be licensed Creative Commons unless otherwise agreed.

I expect you to:

  • Provide me with a prime speaking slot. I’ve proven to be a good keynote speaker and find interesting topics to open or close conferences. I also work well as a moderator or on-stage interviewer. I don’t feel I am used to the best of my abilities for your event when I speak to a half-empty room in a side track. I am happy to promote and remind people of side-track activities though.
  • Deliver a professional stage setup. I bring my own laptop and connectors, but I expect at least a power plug and a microphone. I am very good with audio engineers (having been one myself) but I am not there to fix audio issues or set up projectors. I expect this to work and be available. I normally don’t need an internet connection, but would love to have one.
  • Record and publish my talk. As each of my talks are unique there is no danger that people can attend one they already have seen on the web. Recordings are a great advertisement for your conference.
  • If possible, I’d like you to cover my travel and hotel. I am on stage and need to be able to concentrate on that. I can not do so if I need to find lodgings and organise travel to your event in addition to presenting. I don’t expect first class or business class flights, but I do expect to arrive a day before the event and leave the day after with lodging organised in between. I do not want to book and pay myself and get reimbursed. International payments are a mess and I don’t have time to deal with paper work in between events seeing that I am presenting almost every two weeks. I am sorry if that sounds harsh, but I want to concentrate on my talks, not try to explain to the tax department what all these invoices are about.
  • Keep me out of sponsorship discussions. I am at your event as Chris and to present. I will not “pay to play” and I won’t speak at sponsored speaking slots. I am happy to provide you with contacts of who to invite instead when we negotiated my participation. I am also happy to introduce you to company colleagues dealing with sponsorships, but this is not – at all – what I do. If you are looking for a corporate sponsoring to sell speaking slots, I am not the person you want.

All this is a lot of work, and beyond what is generally considered practice for presenters. Therefore I expect professional treatment by the conference organisers the same way I am professional about this.

Some of these are negotiable and depend on the nature of your event. For example I am fine to cover my own travel expenses for a single track, independent, not-for-profit event, but I don’t see a point in doing the same for a commercial multi-track conference with a high price tag on the ticket. If you make money, it is just fair to share the load. I go above and beyond my call of duty as a presenter and I’d like to see this being appreciated.

Deal breakers

I am an agreeable person when it comes to supporting events, but there are a few things I am not happy about:

  • I will not deliver sponsored talks and I am not interested in being asked to speak so you can get my company to fund your event. I want my presence to be disconnected from any sponsorship. Paid keynotes are terrible for all involved, the 90s are over.
  • I will not come to speak at an event that supports any kind of harassment or offers a platform to presenters who bully others
  • I don’t pay to play. If I can’t justify my time and effort to my employer to come to your event then I can’t come. Unless I take holiday and then I expect to be fully reimbursed for my efforts
  • I don’t support events that didn’t make a good enough effort to represent the diversity our market should have. I am happy to introduce conference organisers to people I support and know to be great presenters on my behalf

How to be a kick-ass speaker – MozCamp 2011

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I am currently at MozCamp in Berlin and my job was to entice all the contributors to the Mozilla project to get out of their shell and start speaking at events about all the great stuff they do. It seems people liked what I had to say, so here are the slides and the audio recording. I will cover this topic more in the next few months, as I think the way we do information sharing in the web development world right now is not really scalable.

The slides are on Slideshare (this time)

Be a kickass speaker – Mozcamp 2011

The audio recording is available on

On controversial slides, talk distribution and lack of context

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

My life lately revolves mostly about going to conferences and presenting. This gives you an interesting insight into how they are run, how other people present and what impact it has on the audiences.

I’ve done this for a while and I think I am pretty good at it. I also see other people who are incredible at it, I see a lot of potential in others and I see a lot of failed presentations.

I also see problems with the way we distribute presentation content on the web afterwards and this is what I want to discuss today.

Powerpoint hell is just not us

Presentations on web technologies (and generally covering our market) are a very strange beast. We are in a “new media” environment where we despise all the things that IT and office life was before we started linking documents with each other over the world wide web or load cool apps onto our smart devices.

A sure-fire way to fail presenting at a web-related conference is to use old school power points with headings and bullets and reading them out to the audience. Therefore we go to other extremes: the “inspiring pictures with a single word”, the “typography heaven with awesome transitions” and the “I have no slides, let’s get to live coding on the CLI or in my editor” are the most common ones.

What we lose by doing so is the context. Our presentation materials become part of the talk and not an information resource. This is good – it means you as a speaker get the attention. But it can be a problem further down the line.

Our “new media presentation style” is very different to what we did before. I use a lot of humour and comparisons with the real world in my talks. Some of my slides seem totally disconnected until I explain their angle. Aral Balkan does similar things. A lot of times he explains the usability of interfaces by showing ticket vending machines at airports. This is great. Real life frustration makes it easy to remember not to do that online.

Slides are backdrops

The gist is: our slides are not the talks, our slides aid the talks we are giving. They are a visual catalyst for the things we talk about. When you see something and you hear about it at the same time it is more likely to stick. It is as simple as that.

The dangers of re-use and distribution without context

Once the talk is over you can bet your life that the first question (unless you covered that already) is “are the slides available for download?”. And this is where it gets interesting.

For the people at the conference it makes a lot of sense to get the slides and check them later on reminding themselves of your talk. Conferences are jam-packed with talks and it is good to have a reminder to re-focus after the party. This is also a very human trait – we are hoarders and want to get our hands on everything we get offered. Free stuff never stays behind – people take it. Wether they need it or not is not the question. Better to get it in case we need it later than not have it.

I’d love to think that people download my slides and read them and all that (which is why I share them) but I am quite sure that this is very rare occasion.

It really breaks when the slides are just that – slides. The aid to support the talk that without the talk lacks a lot of context. If I look at the PDF of a talk a few weeks later and only see pretty images without remembering what they meant at that time I get confused and frustrated.

Even worse, if you distribute slides of that ilk, people will find and watch them when they haven’t seen your talk at all. And this is where it gets dangerous as people can make their own assumptions as to what you tried to achieve.

Attention getting devices can backfire

In our quest to be different to the dreaded talks we had to endure in school and office life we tend to push the boundaries of presenting.

People in web tech swear on stage, make outrageous demands in a ironic manner, and show things that are very much the direct opposite of what you expect. These are attention getting devices that – paired with a good speaker – can be very effective and also very entertaining. They can also cause controversy and misunderstanding.

The other day I had quite a back and forth with a presenter on Twitter about a slide deck he published. I’ve seen the speaker talk and respect him for what he does. I am very much sure that in the context of his talk the slide deck brought the point home and made a lot of sense.

But, as it is right now on the web without notes or any other information, a NSFW picture of an almost naked tattooed lady with taped nipples and massive breasts as your first slide is likely to cause more trouble than it is worth.

He had his reasons for using it, no doubt about that, but with the distribution being disconnected from the rest of the talk, what are the effects of this?

Why shock when you can convince or show?

There is a lot of talk about gender diversity at conferences and in IT. I am not going to poke this hornet’s nest, but I am sure that a slide like this one is a great way to keep an endless discussion with continuously mounting emotions going for months instead of concentrating on solving the issue.

Shock slides and campaigns can work. They also have been done in the past and are to me a cheap way of getting attention. Web sites like and ogrish were a very successful thing in the past and Benetton in the 80ies had massive success with their controversial campaigns in magazines. Heck, every boulevard paper has some nudity on their covers to sell issues. Page 3 girls appeal to the audience they try to reach.

So, in essence, this is an old hat. It only works when all you want is attention and your product doesn’t have much to do with the shock content. Benetton sells clothes, something very personal that people buy and own for themselves. They wanted to get their name talked about and expected people to find out about their products on their own. We can not assume people to do the same about our slides, design ideas or code tricks as they are not as excited about our them as we are.

The question we should ask ourselves is what we achieve with this. You get attention quick and you probably get talked about a lot. What people talk about though is that there was “some guy on some conference showing a naked lady (run over puppy, open wound, vomiting child, whatever…)” and not what you wanted to bring across in your presentation.

Using shock slides is the equivalent of kicking someone in the shins and then asking for the way to the station. Yes, you have their undivided attention, but you are not likely to get out of them what you wanted.

By all means, if you want to keep using them – do so. But be aware that when you fail to provide context you will not get your message across. If you use nudity or sexist material you will also contribute to an already existing problem.

If you publish things you are as responsible for their content than when you are on stage presenting them.

Saying that “nobody complained” is not an excuse for offensive material. Not all people who are offended say so and confront you. Actually most are intimidated and will not say anything but tell others how they felt and what your behaviour did to them instead. This is how discrimination and bullying works – you shock and intimidate by coming from a position of power. And you being on stage is a position of power that can be used to inspire others or for personal satisfaction.

So, to me at least, we should stop using any shocking materials in our slides as an attention getter. We are better than that. Our messages should be the “a-hah!” moment, not the packaging they come in.

The best of all worlds

As to the overall distribution of our talks, I think it is time to reconsider our ways.

If our slides are only a backdrop to our talk and we don’t even have notes or a transcript, let’s not give them out. Let’s wait for the video to come out and distribute them together with the video – even if it means that people have to wait. In essence this is a good test to see if people really care about them or if they just want them right on the spot for hoarding purposes.

If you want to release them immediately, try to give them more context. Have notes on your PDF or presentation document. I tend to record the audio of my talk while I give it and publish it along the slides. I always want to sync the slides with the audio but it is a lot of work so most of the time I forget about it so I am not sure just how effective this is. If you use keynote you could do that automatically as it records a movie of your slides if you ask it to. In any case, I can point out what was said and debunk accusations that way.

I also started to go the other way around. I wrote my Fronteers 2011 talk as an article, then split it up into paragraphs and created a slide for each. That way I could publish it as a blog post that makes sense and with accompanying slides.

The new HTML slide format I use based on DZSlides allows me to have the talk as a searchable, printable page with support for old browsers and as a slide format at the same time. I am cleaning this up and adding some new features to release soon.

Let’s be professionals

In essence, it boils down to one thing: if you want to be inspiring and an educator, don’t leave things online that lack context or cause controversy. It confuses people, causes misinterpretation and helps neither you nor the people you try to reach. This is about the people you talk to – not about you.

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