Compelling Conference Talks

Doug Daniels

VP Engineering at Datadog



"As part of recruiting for engineering, companies often give talks at conferences. Many of the talks I saw early on in my career were engineering-style presentations, where someone decided they had information to convey, so they wrote the text on slides, and they would then just read the text off of the slides, with the slides staying up for five to ten minutes. While this conveyed information, it wasn't compelling."

Actions taken

"I had the chance to see graphic and visual designers do presentations, and their approach was the exact opposite. Slides changed every 15 to 20 seconds, and they never said the text that was written on the slide. Instead, their speech interleaved with the text and images to tell a complete story."

"Stories are important here - you should aim to tell your audience a story, as people really love a story."

"Choose something really interesting to you that you can tell as a long-form story, and then figure out your narrative and how you will explain that visually to the audience. Think about what you would show if you had to show a poster every 15 seconds. The more frequently you can move the slides, the better."

"You will also need to prepare before presenting with these kinds of slides, as you won't ever be able to look at them to see what you need to say. There's a really good article on waitbutwhy.com, where the author discusses having to give a Ted talk. He explains that at some point you've prepared enough that the material is second-nature. At that point, you can start to riff on it and that's where you want to get to. If you have enough preparation, what you'll come out with is something that will be fun and engaging."

Lessons learned

"This kind of talk takes a lot of time to prepare for, but is really engaging. Nowadays, I tend to do fewer talks because I know that I will need to do a lot of preparation, but when I do decide to give talks I invest more time in, and I can then easily give the talk multiple times."

"Finally, don't drink a bunch of coffee before your talk! You're likely to speak too fast anyway, so you should aim to slow yourself down and speak as slowly as possible."

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Doug Daniels

VP Engineering at Datadog


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