Giving your first technical talk

minute read. Posted on April 26, 2015 in Business & Tech

I did something yesterday that’s always haunted me. I stood in front of an audience and gave a presentation. I was almost crippled by nerves the entire two days leading up to it. It wasn’t fun. I’ve given talks in the past, but only via the internet. Standing in front of a crowd was a whole new level for me. There wasn’t a happy ending for me after doing it either. I screwed up my delivery and stuttered and forgot things and stood like a statue staring into my laptop screen.

At least that’s my perception of how it went down.

While it was extremely uncomfortable and scary, I’m going to talk again. And again. Until I’m good at it. I wanted to write this while the feelings are still strong, to encourage others that even though it probably will suck, you will get through it and want to do it again.

Lessons learned

The biggest lesson I learned was simply that life goes on after the talk. I woke up yesterday wanting to throw up, putting everything else aside in fear that I would somehow have a literal heart attack and die right there on stage or something. I woke up this morning feeling invigorated to do it again.

Practice your slides the same way that you’ll be looking at them when giving the talk

I had practiced the week before by looking at Keynote in the editor mode. When I presented, I used the presenter mode. That turned out to be a bad mistake, as I kept getting confused as to what slide or bullet point I was on, which lead to anxiety while giving the talk.

Write out the opening few slides

At the last minute I decided to write out, word for word, the first few slides (my introduction). I don’t think that’s usually advised, but it turned out to really help get the nerves calmed down and adjust to hearing your voice in front of an audience.

Use a remote

I stood behind a pedestal with my face down, not showing any emotion or excitement about what I was talking about. Next time, I’ll use a wireless mic and walk around, which will in turn not make me rely on the exact words I wrote down and make for a more sincere presentation.

Shake off the mistakes

When you make a mistake or forget to say something, only you know. Your audience doesn’t know how your talk is supposed to go. And when you get physically shaken up (stutter or go blank), don’t think that the rest of your presentation is ruined. Just get back in the flow, shake it off and forget about it.

Don’t take it so seriously

In reality, giving a talk is not (usually) a make or break thing. You’ll do worse if you put too much pressure on yourself.


Lisa Sabin-Wilson from WebDev Studios told me something before my talk that I’ll never forget:


“People want you to do well. They’re there to learn and take inspiration from you, not to pick out the flaws in your presentation.”

You did fine

For the record, even when you feel like you did the worst you could do, you most likely did okay.

@trevanhetzel excellent job on the presentation yesterday. I learned a lot.

— mlaulun (@mlaulun) April 27, 2015

@trevanhetzel Your @WordCampMpls was amazing. Couldn’t tell it was your first. Keep on Keeping on! #FlyThatWheel

— Russell Aaron (@KrashKartMedia) April 27, 2015