Technical presentation delivery notes

time to read 4 min | 654 words

I’m writing this post as I’m sitting in the airport, leaving the CodeMash conference. This has been my first “true” conference for a while, because I was able to not just speak and stand in a sponsor booth but actually participate in a lot of sessions and talk to a lot of people. I had a blast, and both the IRS and my wife consider this a work trip Smile.

I have been presenting in international conferences for over a decade now and I wanted to put in a few words for people who are speaking at a technical conference. None of this is new, mind. If you have been reading any recommendations about how to present in conferences, I’m probably going to bore you. I’m writing this because I saw several sessions that had technical issues in how they were delivered. That is, the content was great, but the way it was delivered could be improved.

Probably the most important factor that I need to mention is: Make your content readable.

When you are presenting, use big fonts everywhere. That means that (ahead of time) you should make sure that your PPT’s content is readable from the end of the room, if you are presenting code in an IDE, make sure that you know how to increase the zoom so the code is readable. For that matter, syntax highlighting is not an optional feature when showing code.  And use the default syntax highlighting for the language you are working with. And no dark themes.

I’m assuming that what you care about is the code, so you want to show that, in a way that the people in your talk are familiar with, so no new themes, aqua on pink color schemes, etc. Go with the default.

But code is just one factor of it. If you are showing output, make sure that this is readable. That means that if you are writing to the console, make sure that the console font it big enough, use colors for emphasis, etc.

If you are showing XML / JSON / data formats, make sure that they are pretty printed. If you dump something like this:


The audience is going to be too busy parsing the text to actually pay attention to what you are saying.

And if at all possible, use a console application and have no architecture.

If you are actually talking about a React app, you can’t do that, and if your talk is about architecture, you are going to need to show that. But for most cases, if you are showing off some new language feature, or talk about a particular service or API, you want to use a console app to demo it. This is because it allow you (and your audience) to focus solely on the problem at hand rather than look the the control –> service –> repository magic via DI that hides a lot of the backend details.  In general, you want to strip away as much as possible that isn’t directly core to your topic.

Another thing that I noticed, when you want to show additional data (files, artifacts, etc), make sure that you have them already opened before you start.  If you are doing a demo, have screen shots available for when / if the demo mess up.

Everything I just mentioned might seem obvious, but you need to go over that before you go and present, it was surprising to see several speakers make some of these mistakes.

Now, to be fair, that might sound like I’m piling on people, but that isn’t my intention. I’m aggregating a lot of different small mistakes to point them out, they can detract from the presentation, but at least in the sessions that I was at, they didn’t kill the presentation for me.