2 min read

Practicing talks

Clay Johnson, the author of The Information Diet, recently wrote about how to prepare to give a presentation.

I was shocked.

First, he says

When I started writing my book, I knew that authors generally make more money from speaking than they do from royalties, so I wanted my talks on the Information Diet to be great.

I probably should have stopped there, since we clearly have completely different goals. He wrote a book and is giving talks in order to make money?

He goes on to suggest a course of preparation that involves an enormous amount of practice.

I guess stand-up comics do that, but me: I’ll flip through my slides and think through the tricky bits, but mostly I rely on experience and innate ability.

In a talk I gave about giving talks, I mentioned that others have said to do 10 practice runs for every presentation. But for me, my practice run is the time I gave the talk to a different group. I can’t stand the sound of my voice, and I’m certainly not going to watch myself on video, not even this short one.

Mr. Johnson suggests having a test audience, in part to try out one’s jokes. The intended humor in my talks is almost entirely spontaneous; if I have idea for a joke in advance, I will generally abandon it, as if I think about it too much it will just seem stupid.

The main reason I don’t practice talks is that I don’t want to waste time; it would take a lot of practice to get just a bit of improvement, and I could spend that time writing or programming or looking at data.

Also, I think if I give a talk too much, by practicing or otherwise, I’ll be less excited and interested in the material. Without practice, I’m not so polished, but I’m more enthusiastic.