Memfault State of IoT Report

Public speaking

Mark BrowneApril 3, 20192 comments

Public Speaking: This common task goes with embedded system engineering. Pitching a project. Presenting at a conference. Delivering a status report. Teaching. All part of the job.

Stephane Boucher did a v-blog post here last week and is naturally apprehensive about how he did.

If you have not seen it you can catch it here:

First - Stephane - You did fine!

I spent some time (5 quarters, 3 classes a day, computer technology in a tech school) in a classroom and am comfortable in front of a big group. It took some time to get comfortable doing this. Expect that it will get easier.

A useful trick - pick one person and talk to him directly in your mind. You can talk to one person, right? (Do switch up who you are looking at or it gets kind of weird!) 

This is why a lot of v-blogs have one person talking to another. Yes, the other person is the "Rubber Duck!" 


As far as filling time - do a bullet-point list of the things you want to cover. This is a variation of the classic tool used by orators, the memory palace.


The average speaker goes about 100 words per minute. Note that this can range up to 150 words per minute but then this gets hard for an audience to follow; work to speak slowly and clearly. This means that for 15 minutes you need about 1500 words of material. Do some word counts on text (Pro tip - built in feature of word) to get some idea of how much material you will need and what it looks like. If you are a good typist, as an exercise, you can type in the material into your bullet point list to "test drive" what is in your memory. This also primes you to speak fluidly off-the-cuff. Don't have this text in front of you when speaking - only the bullet points. If you do and you are feeling a bit nervous you will take the easy way out and start reading it out.

Reading from prepared text is wooden and mechanical so you probably don't want to do this. 

Also - if you have power points don't read them to the audience; this is deadly monotonous. The average person reads about 300 words a minute; they can read faster than you can speak. They are done with it, and there you are droning on and on. Talk about the topic on the slides, what it means, what they should take from it. 

If you paraphrase a block of text, you will always end up making it shorter. If you expand from a bullet list, you can learn to work through it and fill in as you go along. I put a ruler on my lists and move it down as I go through the list. The danger here is to race through a huge number of things in no depth and end up sounding fragmented and confusing. The bullet points are just a guide (your memory palace) to bring the topic to your mind to discuss. Expect to add in your experience to flesh it out.

Speaking to an audience is a performance task and efforts to remove distractions or prepare ahead of time can be useful. While you are getting dialed in on this there is a lot to be said for dry runs with a video camera so you can watch to see what is working and what you can tune up.

Telling stories from your experience should work well. Stephane did well with covering how he interacted with the ST booth. The story of how ER came to be was excellent. Dig for the stories that you have experienced; these are your stories that you know better than anyone else - they are the fuel for your v-blog.

After some practice with this, you can learn to adapt this technique to material that is not a story but has a beginning, middle, and end.

Restated: Introduction - This is an orientation to what it is your are talking about, then the actual materials and relationships, finally - recap of the main ideas and relationships. Keep in mind that the first and last parts of a presentation are what the viewer finds the easiest to remember so you may want to put the good stuff there. Opening with a heads-up of something juicy to come keeps the anticipation and attention up.

Jokes are hard to get right. I would avoid them until you get more comfortable. Stick with telling people what you know or you have discovered. If it delights you, it may delight other people.

Most people sit at home and are part of the herd, knowing what the herd knows, making their way through the days. A hermit goes out and finds the new things for himself. His life is better but nobody else knows what he knows. An explorer goes out, finds the new things, comes back, and tells the story to the herd so they can live it vicariously. Being a good storyteller is an important part of being an explorer.

What tips have you learned about public speaking?

Memfault State of IoT Report
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Comment by stephanebApril 3, 2019

Very insightful!  For me, I think success will be about preparing more so that I don't feel as much tension in my body and my mind from the moment the 'go live' button is clicked.  From a state of less tension will come the interesting stories - I think...  Thanks for taking the time to write this blog!

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Comment by Alex_ODonnellApril 10, 2019

Presenting projects internally at work is stressful enough. I can do it because I know most people in the room.  Presenting externally, company wide or to strangers is harder.  The worst presentation I had to do was a 10-15 minute presentation with slideshow as part of a job interview. ( I don't see that covered in Cracking the Coding Interview).   I wish I would have found a helpful guide like this before that interview last year, who knows I might now be working in San Francisco.  Thanks for the insights.


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