How to Make Your Tech Talk Suck

People don’t really remember the good things. Sure, maybe you can name your three favorite movies, but how much do they stand out in your mind from all the other movies you’ve seen? On the other hand, everyone remembers how much the Star Wars prequel trilogy sucked, even though said trilogy is more than a decade old. And Sharknado has gone on to six successful sequels, even though the only memorable thing about Sharknado is how horrible everything about it was. So if you want to give a technical presentation that people will truly remember, follow these five simple tips to make it as vapid and agonizing as possible. And if, by chance, you’d prefer not to inflict a lifetime’s worth of suffering during your talk, just, you know, do the opposite.

1. Deny wi-fi access.

You don’t want your audience to be distracted by internet on their laptops while you speak. After all, the fewer things your listeners can occupy themselves with, the less engaging you have to be. And if they are forced to fidget with their phones for relief of torturous boredom, then you can catch them in the act. You can stare at them intently until their gaze lifts to meet your eyes, and you can which their cheeks redden with burning guilt.

Not providing internet access can also keep your attendees from looking up details about how your topic applies to their niche use cases. This way, they’ll be forced to raise their hands and ask how your solution can support their proprietary SOAP-over-FTP interface with MicrosFocus Cobol on Kubernetes. It’s a chance for you to show off your vast knowledge and for one member of your audience to demonstrate how engaged he is while the others dream of happier times.

2. Sell something

People can smell a sales pitch right away, and that’s a good thing because smell is the most powerful of the senses. Remember: many techies instantly tune out when they realize you’re a marketing hack. And once they tune out, you no longer have to pretend that you know what you’re talking about. Win-win.

3. Love your slides

No amount of subject matter knowledge or verbal eloquence can eclipse a rich slide deck. For best results, fill your slides with large, complex diagrams or a volume’s worth of text. Remember, the more information there is on your slides, the more people will think you know. And if people in the back have to squint to make out your slides, that means they’re paying that much more attention! When you do have text on your slides, be sure to read all of it verbatim. Do not deny your listeners your masterful rendition of what they read on the screen several minutes ago.

Bonus tip: the most informative kind of slide is the logo slide. When people see how many companies have adopted your solution, they’ll no longer need to know what it does or how it works.

4. Use the magic words

Since you’ve read this far, I’m going to share with you some magic words that will take any so-so presentation and elevate it to the level of total garbage. You’ve earned it.

The first magic word is “um…”. Throw it in every now and then (and sometimes in between). The word “um” is a pause, a chance to think and to reflect. It is a place of respite in a complex and troubled world. Who knows where the mind of a listener may wonder during that blissful break in the information she came to hear? Perhaps she may think of her loved ones, with whom she cannot be because she’s stuck listening to you. Perhaps during one of your “um”s, she may invent a cure for cancer. Would you deny the world a cure for cancer by not punctuating your speech with “um”s?

The other magic word, well, technically a magic phrase, is “you know”. Experts agree that if you say “you know” often enough, then your listeners will indeed know. And you don’t want to insult your attendees by allowing that they don’t know something that they really should know. They will appreciate the vote of confidence that comes with hearing “you know” at least once in every sentence, you know?

5. Keep it fresh. Very fresh.

Sure, you could practice your talk in advance, know what’s coming on every next slide and how to seamlessly lead from one point to another. But think of how much more exciting your talk will be if you keep it new. Don’t ruin the element of surprise, especially the surprise for you. Your presentation can be a journey of discovery you and your audience embark on together. You will laugh. You will cry. And by the end, you will be the best of friends.

Got any other tips for giving abominable presentations? Tweet me at @yevthedev, because while I may not be the world’s best presenter, one can always get worse.

A Java guy at Microsoft. Into all things cloud, open source, dev relations, music production, and other geeky tomfoolery.