I attended the Technically Speaking seminar in Dallas a little over a week ago. The seminar was tailored towards technical folks who want to improve their public speaking skills and give better demos and user group presentations.
Now, I feel like I actually have some talent for standing in front of people and teaching difficult subjects. I’ve taught as both a college instructor and a corporate trainer. But I had a devastating experience the first time I stood in front of a user group to do a technical presentation. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I knew it was a train wreck just five minutes in. I felt like Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite: “I’ll just tell them that I have nothing to say.”
So, having learned the hard way that a user group presentation is a different kind of beast, I set out for Dallas to pick up some new skills. You know, like nunchaku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills.
I got a lot out of the Technically Speaking material, especially Dave Gunby’s
presentation “Making Your Gray Matter with Presentation Skills.” It made me a lot more aware of what good public speakers are doing.
Why Claudio Is A Great Technical Speaker
The timing of the Technically Speaking event couldn’t have been better because, just five days later, Claudio Lassala came to town. Claudio is my favorite technical speaker. He not only knows his stuff but he’s one of the few technical speakers who is actually entertaining as well. The first time I heard Claudio was at the Tulsa TechFest in 2008. Claudio spoke on Design Patterns and gave the clearest explanation that I had ever heard on what is a fairly complex subject. And his jokes were actually funny! People left the room buzzing about how great the presentation was.
So, I made an intentional decision to pay more attention to how Claudio presented his material rather than to what he was actually saying. This wasn’t easy because I found the material to be so engrossing, but I really wanted to learn the secrets that make Claudio an excellent technical speaker.
Here are some things that I noticed during Claudio’s presentation:
1. Claudio uses graphics and analogies to illustrate a principle.
To demonstrate the futility of adding obvious comments to code, Claudio showed a conversation between a cartoon boy and girl, with a cartoon narrator describing each part of the conversation. It quickly became apparent that you don’t need a narrator (“Comments”) constantly narrating the conversation (“The Code”) in order to follow along.
Also, to demonstrate why it’s better to keep related code together within a class, Claudio used up-and-down arrows that proved just how much your eyes have to travel in order to find code when it’s scattered all over the place.
2. Claudio is an expert at “Free Coding” during a technical presentation.
Watching Claudio “free code” during a presentation is a thing of beauty. He’s so adept at using tools like CodeRush and ReSharper that he’s literally coding at the speed of thought. However, “free coding” during a presentation is a risky move for anybody, even Claudio. At one point he compiled and got four errors that had to be fixed before he could move on.
3. Gesturing comes naturally to Claudio.
During the drive from the airport, Claudio told me how his family immigrated from Italy to Brazil and joked that his family couldn’t have a conversation without using their hands. Later, during the presentation, I realized that there was actually something to this. Most people have a lot of difficulty knowing what to do with their hands while speaking (hands in pocket) but gesturing comes naturally to Claudio.
So, what’s his secret?
Now, none of these struck me as particularly earth-shattering revelations. I must have missed something! So, the next day, I asked Claudio what he thought made him a good speaker. Interestingly, he said that he’s never read any books on public speaking and that he hardly ever rehearses his presentations. Claudio attributed his success as a speaker to his enthusiasm for technical subjects and to his genuine desire to see the audience benefit from the material, rather than any desire to show off how much he knows.