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My Guide for Crafting Tech Talks in 2024

·8 mins

My tech talk journey starts back in Jan 2019 - and it’s been a wild ride so far: I’ve delivered over 20 talks in many different countries and learned heaps along the way. This guide shares those lessons, aiming to help you craft talks that resonate and engage.

Quick note: This guide reflects my personal approach. It’s not one-size-fits-all, so feel free to adapt it to your style. You can check out my past talks for a taste of what I’ve made.

Approach to Crafting a Tech Talk ๐Ÿ› ๏ธ #

Creating a tech talk for me is akin to storytelling, where the audience’s engagement and takeaway are paramount. My strategy revolves around a few core principles:

  1. Relevance: I make sure the topic resonates with current trends and challenges that my audience faces.
  2. Clarity: Simplifying complex concepts into bite-sized, understandable pieces is key to accessibility.
  3. Engagement: I weave a narrative that educates and entertains, making the learning journey enjoyable.

Adding to these, there’s a fourth, somewhat “secret” principle guiding my process: ensuring my talks align with my thought patterns. Memorizing talks isn’t my forte. Instead, I craft each slide to naturally lead into the next, trusting that the “me that wrote the talk” and the “me on stage” think the same way, and that to go from A to B they will do A, F, K, T, B.

From Idea to Outline ๐Ÿ“ #

Turning a spark of inspiration into a structured talk is a journey filled with ups and downs. That said, I usually know the beginning and ending of this phase: I start with an idea of something I want to talk about, and end with a bullet point list of slides.

  1. Finding My Focus: Every talk begins with that “aha” moment โ€“ an idea I canโ€™t wait to dive into. But first, I take a step back to ensure it’s something that will not only captivate me but also resonate with my audience.

  2. Understanding the Playing Field: I always consider who’ll be in the room and what they’re hoping to take away. This helps me tailor my message, whether I’m addressing newcomers or seasoned pros, in a 20-minute sprint or a longer deep-dive.

  3. Crafting the Hook: Next up, finding a title and abstract that act as my north star. This isnโ€™t about being catchy for the sake of it; it’s about clarity and setting expectations right from the get-go.

  4. Laying the Groundwork: With my direction clear, I sketch out an outline. This isn’t set in stone but guides me to ensure I cover all bases without wandering off track. This first outline is usually just a rough unnumbered bullet point list of the key things I want to talk about.

  5. Building the Story: I think of my talk in three acts - setting the scene, tackling the challenge, and revealing the solution. It’s about taking the audience on a journey that feels as natural to them as it does to me. I take the previous bullet points and tweak them until they fit in this “story approach”.

  6. Writing the Skeleton: Once I think I’m in a good spot, I move to making a numbered bullet point list. On this list, each top level bullet point is numbered and represent a slide. Nested bullet point within each of those are unnumbered and serve as the notes with the details about content of the slide.

  7. Iterate and Refine: I brainstorm each section, not in isolation but as pieces of a larger puzzle. It’s a back-and-forth process, tweaking and adjusting until everything clicks.

  8. Seeking Feedback: Once I have a skeleton I am happy with, I bounce ideas off friends or colleagues. Fresh eyes can spot what I might have missed and offer new perspectives.

And once I think the skeleton has a good flow, it’s time to turn it into slides.

Rules For Making the Slides ๐Ÿ–ผ๏ธ #

Once I have the skeleton ready, making the slides is relatively simple. But, in a way, it’s also a complete rewrite; sometimes I might notice that things flow better in a certain way, or that I have to move a few things around to keep the ideas floating. Either way, I do follow a series of specific rules:

  • Timing is Key: I aim for a slide per minute to maintain a comfortable pace, avoiding overloading the audience with too much information or too many transitions.

  • Choosing the Right Tools: Preferring offline tools like PowerPoint or Keynote ensures I’m prepared for any internet connectivity issues at conferences.

  • Breaks for Clarity: Using “title only” slides to segment my talk helps give the audience a moment to process the information, making the overall experience more digestible. (these don’t add to the 1min=1slide count)

  • A Dash of Humor: While I enjoy incorporating a meme or two (limiting myself to one per ten slides, circa), it’s about striking the right balance between humor and content.

  • Simplicity and Focus: My slides are straightforward, focusing on the essence of the message with minimal text, making sure the key points stand out.

  • Designing for Visibility: Ensuring slides are legible from the back of the room is a priority, with a clear font and space at the bottom for better visibility.

  • Personal Branding: Adding my name or social handle along with the event name on each slide helps in making connections and enhancing recall. I usually only skip the title one at the start.

  • Lets NOT Live Demo: Jumping right into the content keeps the momentum going, with pre-recorded demos or animations to explain complex concepts without relying on risky live demos. In other words: don’t challenge the live demo gods, unless strictly necessary.

  • Who Am I == Thank You: The slide where I introduce myself is visually very similar to the last slide, with both my name, contacts and avatar (in the latter I also add links to other resources and the slides, usually). You can’t introduce yourself at the start and expect everyone to still remember you at the end!

Once I am happy with the slides and have them ready for stage time, I export a PDF version, to have as backup if something goes horribly wrong at the event. This export also serves another purpose: after having done the talk on stage, I’ll upload them to SpeakerDeck for easy access and sharing.

Further Resources and Inspirations ๐Ÿ“˜ #

I’ve learned a lot from others in the field. Here are some resources that have inspired me:

  1. Hynek Schlawack’s article on the art of speaking and its impact.
  2. David Neal (ReverentGeek)’s guide on creating awesome tech talks.
  3. Zach Holman at offers tips on public speaking in tech.
  4. Gary Bernhardt wrote for DeconstructConf insights on how to prepare a talk.
  5. Tanya Janca (shehackspurple) provides presentation tips for technical talks.
  6. Derek Sivers on how to communicate effectively.
  7. Lindsey Kopacz’s advice on helping accessibility at conferences as a speaker.
  8. Dan Abramov discusses preparing for tech talks in a three-part series.
  9. Sophie Koonin’s blog on things experienced speakers wish they’d known.
  10. Jo Franchetti for Samsung Internet Dev on public speaking for beginners.
  11. Kevin Dickinson for Big Think on expressing your thoughts clearly.
  12. Gant Laborde’s’s Public Speaking Hits on GitHub.
  13. Rachel Nabors’s thoughts for new speakers.

Conclusion ๐ŸŽ‰ #

While this guide covers the fundamentals of tech talk creation, I deliberately avoided talking about aspects like call for papers, conference selection, and practicing. If you would like a “part 2” on those topics, let me know.

My hope is that this guide serves as a starting point for you to explore, experiment, and ultimately find your unique voice in the tech speaking circuit. The journey from an idea to the applause at the end of a well-received talk is both challenging and rewarding.

Remember, each talk is an opportunity to share your passion, insights, and discoveries with a community eager to learn. Don’t hold back just because you have never done it before - everyone was in your position when they started!

Acknowledgments ๐Ÿ™ #

I’d like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the conference organizers who believed in me and gave me a platform to share my thoughts and experiences. Your faith in my ability to contribute meaningfully to our community has been a constant source of motivation. To every individual who attended my talks, offered feedback, and engaged in enriching discussions, thank you. Your insights and questions have not only helped me grow as a speaker but have also deepened my understanding and passion for technology. This journey wouldn’t have been the same without your support ๐Ÿ™‡โ€โ™‚๏ธ

One More Thing ๐Ÿ”ฎ #

Embracing the spirit of 2024, I’ve created “Tech Talk Writer Assistant,” a custom GPT tool designed to streamline the tech talk crafting process. It embodies my experience and insights into a resource for all - basically, all the things I’ve written above plus a sparkle of making it help you step-by-step. And, to be clear, it doesn’t use/include the resources I linked as my inspirations: it will only give you the exact same list of links if you ask for more resources.

You can check it out here โžก๏ธ Tech Talk Writer Assistant.

Keep in mind that it requires ChatGPT Plus, and that GPTs don’t always behave super consistently. If you have any feedback, do reach out! I really want to make it better so that I can also leverage it myself ahah.

Lorenzo 'kelset' Sciandra
Lorenzo ‘kelset’ Sciandra
Lorenzo Sciandra is a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft, where he helps leading React Native initiatives and collaborations with partners like Amazon and Meta. An active maintainer of React Native since 2018, he combines his technical expertise with a strong commitment to open source and mental health advocacy.