Tips for Giving an Awesome Meetup Talk

After you go to a few meetups and have a blog to show others, the next step on the First Client Checklist is to actually give a meetup talk.

For most people, "give a talk" are scary words - but the benefits of giving talks so outweigh the fear that you might feel, that it's worth it - even if you are terrified.

Ask to give a talk

The first step to give a talk is to actually ask to give a talk.  Message the meetup organizer on can ask:

"I'd like to give a talk at an upcoming meetup - can I sign up to do that?"

As a meetup organizer myself, I can tell you that the organizer will be thrilled to get that message.  One of the most difficult, constant battles about running a meetup is finding people to talk; so if you reach out to an organizer and offer to speak; you just became their new best friend.

Types of talks

Next, you'll want to determine the type of talk that you want to give.  For programming meetups especially, there are a few staple talk types:

  • Lightning talk 5 - 10 minutes, and a good choice if you don't want to start with a longer talk
  • Long talk with slides: Can be 30 - 60 minutes.  This is your "typical presentation" style of talk.  You may show code on the slides, or even run live code - but you generally don't type live code.
  • Live coding: You build something by coding live on stage.  These can sometimes go wrong though, so always have a backup plan.
  • Interactive session: Talk to the audience for a short time about a topic, and then have the participants get out their own laptops and code along.  (Make sure to tell them to bring their laptops beforehand)

The meetup organizer may allow or not allow certain types of talks - so be sure to talk over your plan with them.  Generally, they will be flexible if you say you want to do a certain style of talk.

Picking a topic

If you've been following the First Client Checklist, then picking your topic is easy!  You're going to pick one of the topics that you have just blogged about.  Just make sure that whatever you wrote about is applicable for the meetup you're going to.  Talking in public about a topic that is on your blog is a great way to get people to check out your blog - and also gives you instant credibility as a speaker.

If you don't have a blog to pick a post from, then here is a shortcut for picking a meetup talk topic:

Think of something that you recently did at your job.  This can be a problem that you solved, or a framework/tool that you use.  Talk about that.

The people going to meetups have jobs too - and one of the reasons they go to meetups is to get better at their jobs.  That means that anything that has helped you recently in your job, will probably help someone else as well.

Tips for giving a good talk

All the general rules for public speaking apply here - but there are some specific ones that apply specifically for giving talks at a programming meetup. 

  • Don't read long text off of your slides
  • Pick a good color scheme.  If you're showing code, especially make sure your text editor is readable from the back of a room.  Dark colors on a dark background is bad - and so are light colors on a light background.
  • Make the font really big.  Even bigger.  When you're looking at your laptop screen, it should feel like the text is uncomfortably large.
  • Provide a link to code samples. allows comments on a specific meetup - so make sure to post a link to your github or other code samples before going up to speak.
  • Practice.  Make sure to run through your presentation at least once.
  • If you're doing live coding: have a backup plan. Making different git branches for different parts of your presentation is a good idea, because if anything goes wrong, you can always revert to the next working branch.
  • Slow down.  Most people talk too fast - even when they are trying to talk slowly.

Leave your contact information

You've given your talk, and shown the blog post about your talk - so now people are starting to see you as an expert in your field. Make sure people know where they can get in contact with you!  This isn't the time to pitch, or do a hard sell - but you can say that you're a consultant, and that you have availability, and then leave your email address.  

Make sure to put the link to your blog post and your email address at the end of your presentation - and then make sure to host the presentation somewhere where people can access it.  If I'm giving a coding talk, then I'll usually put the presentation directly in the github repo, and then I'll make sure to leave a comment on directly to the presentation.  

It will be fine

People go to meetups to meet other people, and to learn new things.  If you're incredibly nervous, the audience will give you a lot of slack; and even if you give a terrible talk, the audience probably won't mind, because the meetup will still be worth it to them if they're meeting new people.  So you can do it!  Message a meetup organizer now.

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