Learning from other/experienced speakers

For this year's London Perl Workshop (LPW) I've suggested that one of the themes could be "first-time speakers", which means we need to do things to encourage and help new people to speak.

I've some ideas for how we might do that, and am hoping others will have ideas too. This post is about one of those ideas.

If you go to conferences or watch the videos of talks, you'll naturally find yourself evaluating the speakers. Some you'll be impressed by, and engaged with their topic, and others, not so much. We're all different, so our sets of speakers will be different, but probably overlapping.

Maybe we can all learn something from those speakers...?

So I've compiled a list of questions to ask good speakers, and have started emailing them out. Once I've got a good number of replies, I'll collate them in some way into one or more blog posts.

These are my questions so far:

  • How long did you spend preparing for the last talk you created/gave?
  • How long have you been giving presentations at conferences / speaking in public?
  • Were you a natural speaker? What were your earliest talks like?
  • How do you come up with topics to talk on?
  • How do you go about preparing a talk?
  • What advice would you give to someone who’s never given a talk at a conference, but would like to give one?
  • What would you suggest for a first talk: lightning talk, 20-minute, or 50-minute?
  • Do you get nervous before speaking?
  • What other speakers do you enjoy listening to, and why?
  • What else should I have asked you?

What other questions should I ask? Who should I ask? Either reply in comments here, or email me: neil at bowers dot com.


This is a great idea. Can't wait for results.

As for questions, I'd add: "What do you do if you notice your audience is getting bored/disinterested with your talk?"

And maybe: "What software you use to make the slides?"

I noticed Damian Conway had really nice slides where code sections had relevant bits highlighted.

It'd take ages for me to do the same thing with what I use.

Some hints I found interesting can be found in Conference Presentation Judo by Mark Jason Dominus. You might want to add him to your list if he's not there already.

I can't judge whether those suggestions made me a successful or at least better presenter, but they definitely make sense to me.

I use PowerPoint 2011.

Those code slides are produced by making a single original slide of the code (in yellow text on a black background), then copying it multiple times in a row, then stepping through the sequence with the "copy format" tool (whose icon looks like a paint brush), highlighting one component of the code per slide in white-bold. This process literally takes only seconds per slide.

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About Neil Bowers

user-pic Perl hacker since 1992.