My Process for Writing a Talk

There’s a ton of blog posts out there with advice on how to write talks. They all discuss the “right way”, but in reality I don’t think anyone follows a process prescribed by someone else.

I’m a very visual person and in a way I write talks backwards. “The right way” would be to write copy and then build the slides around it. I shouldn’t even be opening Keynote until I have solid, well-articulated copy. But that’s not how I’ve been writing talks.

I’m definitely not recommending you follow my way of doing things, but I thought it would be fun to share my process. I’ve developed approximately 6 talks between meetups and conferences. I put a lot of time and effort into each one. My How to Performance talk was probably 100-120+ hours depending on if you count revisions and practice I did before each conference.

Here’s my process:

  1. Talk to anyone who will listen about something I’m passionate about or working on recently. The talk I’m currently writing is about Security. I’ve ranted and explained all sort of things I believe about security and patching applications to anyone who will listen; my dog, my husband, my friends and coworkers. If I keep talking about it enough, I know I care about it enough to turn it into a talk.

  2. Collect ideas in a Google doc so I can access the file anywhere.

  3. Come up with a title (see I told you this was backwards because this is “supposed to” be after an abstract)

  4. Write an abstract.

    • Write something, anything down that resembles a beginning, middle and end of an abstract

    • Show it to my husband who tells me how to write a better one

    • State that I can’t do this, I don’t know how to do this Table flip

    • Go to the gym and work out my frustration

    • Come back and bang out a kick-ass abstract

  5. Write an outline. This is where it starts to get weird.

  6. Open Keynote and pick colors. Colors are very important to me. I was a photography major and have a design and art background. If the colors don’t feel right I can’t write the talk.

  7. Collect memes and gifs to help express myself.

  8. Build out the middle slides; the meat. This is generally where I start adding all the gifs I’ve saved over the past couple months that I think would go great with sentiments I have in the talk.

  9. Freak out that this talk isn’t going well and it will never be good. I’ve given 3 well liked talks at 8 conferences and I still believe they were a one-hit wonder and no one will like any future talks. This is something I deal with every time, and it’s hard. It’s difficult to tell yourself you’re going to be fine. That’s why it’s good to have a great support system of family and friends who will help pull your head out of your ass so you can keep working. Crying

  10. Start writing copy for the beginning slides I never added. Add slides to fill in the opening of the talk as I write them.

  11. Write the copy for the ending slides I never added. Add slides to fill in the end of the talk as I write them.

  12. Go back to the middle slides and write the copy for those adding, removing, and reordering slides as necessary. Once I’m satisfied the talk is “written” I go back and edit copy. Written to me just means I could go give this talk as is and it would be complete, but confusing. It’s not perfect but all my main points are in there.

  13. Give talk at a local meetup.

  14. Make changes based on the meetup feedback.

  15. Practice. Edit. Practice. Every night for 2-3 weeks leading up to the conference.

  16. Give talk at a conference.

  17. Make changes based on things I felt were confusing and based on questions/feedback I get.

  18. Repeat 15-17 until I retire the talk.

Rinse and repeat

This process, while convoluted at points, is my process. This works for me. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. It’s your talk. If you a) get up and actually do it or b) people find your talk interesting, then you were successful. Find what works for you and what gets you up there on that stage. That’s all the matters.

I’m giving talks at 4 conferences so far this year. Mountain West Ruby Conference in March, Twilio’s SignalConf in May, Brighton Ruby Conference in July, and AbstractionsConf in August. You can always find what conferences I’ll be at on my speaking page.

Categories: conferences opinion tips

Survey: Tell Me About Your Experience in Open Source

I’ve started working on writing some new talks and developing an idea I have around open source contributions. Before I fully flesh out the idea I thought it would be beneficial to get the perspective of other developers about their experience in open source.

To help with this I’ve created three short surveys; one for project maintainers, one for contributors, and another for developers who have not yet contributed to open source. Answer as many questions as you like, all of them are optional. I promise not to use your name or other identifying information without your permission in any presentations that come out of these surveys.

Thank you for participating!

Survey for open source maintainers (contributors with push access/commit bits to projects count):

Survey for open source contributors:

Survey for developers who have yet to contribute to open source:

Categories: updates opinion

Marissa Mayer's Work-From-Home Ban is not a Feminist Issue

We wanted Marissa Mayer to be our heroine, our champion — the woman who had it all. She would be a great mom, a great company leader, and at the same time fix what was broken about corporate policy where it relates to women. It's now obvious that's not going to happen.

Throughout all this, we have started treating every decision she makes as a feminist issue and that's a problem. Banning work-from-home is a work place issue. Yes, the majority of people who work-from-home are mom's who are juggling work and being the main caretaker of their family, but there are plenty of others who are not. The problem with highlighting it as a feminist issue is that it clouds the real problem: the lack of trust and respect Mayer has for ALL her employees. Men and women are both affected by this policy change.

Anyone who has read Daniel Pink's "Drive" knows the studies on how to motivate workers. It's not money or being watched every second, it's autonomy, purpose, and mastery. And when you take away an employee's ability to make a choice about how and when they work, you're taking away their autonomy and their happiness. By disallowing her employees to work from home she is telling them "I don't trust you and I don't care about your autonomy.". That's a bold statement and it will definitely hurt her relationship with everyone at Yahoo.

I understand the sentiment of an employer needing to know everyone is working. The problem is that if she feels that people are taking advantage of remote work and not actually working, making sure she can see them in the office isn't going to fix that. Unmotivated people aren't necessarily motivated by being watched. They will do the bare minimum to appear to be getting work done. If she believes employers are abusing the work-from-home policy, forcing them into the office doesn't mean productivity or creativity will rise.

Full disclosure: I'm somewhat biased, being a remote worker myself. I personally don't do well without quiet working spaces or with office drama. I find that environment distracting and since moving to remote-work my productivity has soared. My stress level has dropped dramatically and part of that is not having to deal with a half-hour commute each way. Being able to control my own environment is key to my creative process.

My company is almost completely comprised of remote workers. The reason is because we wanted the best talent the US had to offer, not the best talent within a 50 mile radius of our headquarters. Remote work isn't for everyone, but it's up to managers to determine who is and who isn't capable to producing work at home. Completely banning remote work will hurt employee moral, and that won't be good for Yahoo.

For a company that's already flailing this is not the way to draw new talent. Yahoo needs to figure out how to attract the top-notch developers that are flocking to Google, Facebook, or various well-funded start-ups. When Silicon Valley has all the choice, why would anyone choose to work for a company that so blatantly states that it doesn't respect their employees time or lives outside of work?

Categories: opinion