Five tips for public speaking as a (starting) Software Developer

Wessel Loth Wessel Loth 4 minutes

There's no way to say this nicely: I've historically always hated speaking in public. Up until my professional life, speaking in front of a group was always paired with anxiety and disinterest in the subject matter. In hindsight, this makes total sense: during your educational years you definitely get some experience in presenting or speaking, but it's rarely ever about a subject you're passionate about. Always about a certain topic like politics, a book or something like your pet hamster. Not really subjects I can enthusiastically talk about!

Speaker on stage holding a microphone

But then, one day, it clicked. I was talked into working on a two-day workshop about the Angular framework together with a very experienced colleague. I thought: at least the focus will be all on him, and I’ll be supporting the show from the sidelines. But that turned out to be completely false! I was passionate about the subject, well versed in the details and it really sparked something in me to see the admittedly small crowd hanging on my lips. From that day on, I’ve been slowly & steadily expanding my experience with public speaking up until a point where I can now very much look forward to the next time I’m speaking at a meetup or conference.

Throughout the years I’ve had quite a few questions along the line of: How do I become more confident at presenting in front of a crowd? How do you present so calmly and even make some jokes in between? How do you do it?

That’s why I wanted to write this small summary with five tips on what helps me speak calmly and confidently in front of a crowd. Disclaimer: I’m no pro, I get anxious with bigger crowds and I should in no way be your single source of advice. But still, I hope there’s some tips and take-aways I can give you!

Tip #1: Be interested in your topic

This is obvious to me, but it’s the basic requirement for me to succeed when giving a presentation. If I’m not interested in the topic, I’m not going to be able to give a convincing talk on it. Of course, throughout your career you’ll often be pushed to present on something you don’t really care about. But when able to, make sure to pick something you’re interested in and enthusiastic about to share with others!

Tip #2: You are the expert

It took me a while to realise this, but it turns out that when you’re on stage, people will automatically assume you know your shit. Just stepping onto that stage with some form of (faked!) confidence already gives off signals to the crowd that you must be some sort of grandmaster in the technology you are presenting about. Personally, feeling this vibe in the room gives me a huge confidence boost. I see it in the faces of the crowd in front of me: they’re listening and interested in what’s coming next. And in truth: it doesn’t really matter what’s next. Because when they’re convinced you must be some sort of expert, you can convince them of (almost) anything!

Tip #3: Practice

When it comes to talks that are strictly time-boxed, It helps me a bunch to rehearse the talk once or twice because actually giving it in front of a bigger crowd. Ask a friend, some coworkers or your partner at home to listen to you talk. Even if they don’t know anything about the subject matter, they can usually give feedback on your body language, gesturing and hiccups or annoyances in your way of speaking.

Speaker on stage

Tip #4: Rewind (if you’re giving the same talk multiple times)

When possible, always record the session as you’re giving it, so you can watch it back later. While giving a talk, there will always be moments during the session where I’m thinking: “damn, I have to change these slides next time!”. When rewatching this session, I can usually find these moments back relatively quickly and view my own reaction from another perspective. This always gives me fantastic insights on how to tweak certain parts of the presentation to just go that little bit smoother next time.

Tip #5: Have fun!

Perhaps the most valuable tip of them all: have fun! Because if you’re not having fun while speaking, should you really be forcing yourself to do it again? Speaking in public is something anyone can do, but not necessarily something everyone should do. Because really, if it’s not giving you an energy boost to stand in the spotlight, it’s going to reflect in your performance. For me, things like anxiety, stumbling over your words or even blackouts occur when I’m speaking about topics I don’t care about or don’t feel confident about. Which is why for me, having fun is actually the most important tip of all!

Wanna hear me speak during your event? Check out my about page and reach out to me!