Diverse Speaker Training Workshop Part 4

This workshop is for people from marginalized or underrepresented groups who are thinking about speaking at WordPress events. You do not need to have any experience in public speaking, and this workshop is for all levels of experience.

Part 4: Becoming a better speaker, creating great slides, handling questions and signing up

Learning outcomes

  • Learn a few tips for strengthening the delivery of your talk. 
  • Understanding techniques to improve your stage presence
  • Learn some ways to help handle nerves
  • Learn tips for handling Q&A
  • Identify the basics of making clear, presentable slides

Comprehension questions

  • What are some techniques to address nervousness while speaking?
  • What are some do’s and don’ts of becoming a better speaker?
  • What are some best practices when it comes to handling Q&A?
  • What are some common tricky question types, and how can you handle them?
  • What do you want to avoid when creating your slides? What are some hallmarks of good, clear slides?


Jill 0:03
Becoming a better speaker. We are going to be talking about practicing speaking, do’s and don’ts, handling nerves, handling the Q&A section, and getting post-talk feedback.

Now, anyone who [inaudible] Practicing speaking, the most important thing, okay. Practicing speaking, the most important thing you can do to become a better speaker is practice. The more you speak in front of a mirror, in front of friends, or in front of a roomful of people, the more comfortable and the better you’ll become. You can even give your talk to a friend over Skype. You can also video record yourself,r take notes on behaviors you exhibit while speaking, then practice reducing them. When you practice, time yourself. You might be surprised by how long or short your talk is when you’re speaking out loud. It’s important to know how long your talk is going to be taking. If you’re looking for opportunities to practice speaking, you might see if there’s a Toastmasters in your area. They’ll provide you with many opportunities to speak in front of a supportive group of people and give you tips and tools for improvement. And you can also practice at smaller meetups. WordPress meetups are good for practicing for WordCamps. And if you want to practice for WordPress meetups, you could find smaller related meetups who’d be interested in hearing about your WordPress topic.

Becoming a better speaker: do’s and don’ts. No matter how much public speaking experience you have, there’s always room for improvement. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you improve. Do speak slowly. Many speakers speak too fast but audiences almost never complain that someone went too slowly. Take pauses in between sentences. It may feel strange to you, but it will seem very natural to the audience. Have water available and drink it. Most events will provide water for the speaker. But make sure you have water on hand just in case. When you find yourself going too fast, taking a drink of water is a great way to slow yourself down. It might feel like it takes forever to take a drink but the audience doesn’t mind. Very your voice. This gets easier with practice. You don’t want to speak in a monotone so make sure you have some inflection in your tone. Look at your whole audience. Make eye contact with people if you can, but make sure you scan the whole room and don’t just look at one part of the audience. One trick here is to locate some friendly faces in multiple sections of a big audience and then adjust them one at a time in a loop. Make sure the audience can hear you. If you aren’t sure whether the mic or your voice is loud enough, ask the audience if they can hear you. Ask the people in the back to raise their hands if you get too quiet. Keep your hands above your waist. If you do this, you’ll find yourself gesturing naturally. Remember to breathe, and practice without notes. Even if you’d like to have your notes with you to make you less nervous. practicing your talk without notes helps you map your content to your thought process. You already know your subject matter so avoid trying to memorize your notes and script verbatim. This will help your talk sound more natural and for you to feel better about deviating from your script. And now for some don’ts. Don’t drink too much coffee. You’re already jittery from nerves, so you don’t need a coffee buzz on top of it all. Don’t turn away from the audience. If you need to point something out in your slides, make sure you keep your face pointed towards the audience as you point. Don’t use filler words like um. You might not even notice that you’re doing this. So ask friends to point it out in rehearsal or record yourself and take notes. To help yourself break the filler words habit, take a small breath or a sip of water instead. Don’t read your slides or notes directly. If you must, like I’m doing right now, make sure you look up from your notes and ad lib at least a little bit.

Handling nerves. Everyone gets nervous about public speaking; it’s part of being human. In fact, it’s hardwired. For our caveman ancestors, anytime more than five pairs of eyes were looking at them at once, that meant that in all likelihood, they were about to die. We still react that way when we get up in front of a group of people and see them all watching us. Keep in mind that your audience is on your side, they want to see you succeed and all of them would be nervous if they were in your shoes. In fact, it’s okay to admit that you’re nervous; people will be sympathetic. Here’s some things that you can do to help soothe your nerves.

Practice! It really does get easier with practice. The more you practice, the better you will know your material and more confident you’ll be. Sleep! If you’re well rested, you’ll do a better job. Resist the urge to network or socialize too much the night before.

Exercise. The best way to get rid of nervous energy is to burn it off. Physiologically, the reason you get nervous is so that you’ll have the energy and adrenaline to fight or flee from your predator. Running or getting some other form of exercise is a great way to burn off that nervous energy and convince your body that the danger is over.

Breathe. When we get nervous, we tend to take shallow breaths into our chest. This is a part of the body’s preparation for fight or flight. And it actually deprives the brain of some of its important oxygen. Take long, slow breaths into your belly and this will help calm you and clear your mind. Be sure to take breaths before getting on stage, when you’re on stage before you start talking, and every so often during your talk.

Dress comfortably. Being body conscious never helps so make sure you’re comfortable in whatever you’re wearing. Take time for yourself before you speak. This helps you compose yourself and get mentally prepared. If you could go for a walk, listen to some favorite music, go over your notes, or just take some really deep breaths.

Know the stage. Try to find a time before you give your talk to see the room where you’ll be speaking. Use your own devices. If you have your own laptop, clicker, etc. You’ll be more comfortable with your equipment. If you won’t be using your own devices, come early to ensure you’re able to get your notes onto the system and that you can use the system with ease.

Adopt a persona. This doesn’t mean don’t be yourself. It just means be the speaker version of yourself. For instance, if you talk with your hands when you’re nervous, embrace that and make that part of your speaker persona. You’ll behave differently when you’re in front of a big group of people. Go with that and don’t fight it.

Be excited. Nervousness could actually be excitement. There’s no chemical difference between feeling excited and anxious; it’s the same physical state. So if you think you’re nervous, try turning it around and remind yourself that you’re just excited.

Handling the Q & A. Many talks have an audience question and answer session at the end. So first of all, timing. Ask the organizers in advance what the expect expectations are. Try timing your talk when you rehearse it and make sure that you’ve left enough room for an adequate amount of Q&A time if that’s something that you’ll be expected to do. How much time should you allow for Q&A? If the organizers haven’t specified this for you, it usually depends on the length of your whole session. In general, 10 to 20 minutes is adequate. For example, if your whole presentation takes up a 45 minute slot, you might want allow 35 minutes for the presentation and 10 minutes for questions.

Interspersing Q&A. Some people prefer to take questions throughout their talk rather than holding them until the end. You can let your audience know up front what you prefer. Bearing in mind that if your audience will be using a microphone due to the size of the room, or the fact that your talk is being recorded, you’ll need to give the room technician a heads up about your q&a plans so they’re ready with the audience microphone as needed. Don’t forget to ask for questions. If you’re saving the q&a until the end, don’t forget to do it once you finish your talk. To remind yourself, you can add a slide at the end of your talk, saying thanks and ask them for questions. And here’s a good tip. Repeat the questions back to the audience. Unless the audience is mic’d, repeat each question before answering. Your audience and anyone later watching the video if your talk is being recorded will thank you. Even if the audience and recording can hear the questions, sometimes it’s nice to repeat the question for everyone to hear it again or to phrase the question more clearly. Some people are especially nervous at the q&a because of because difficult situations could arise. Here are some tips to make it easier.

Tricky questions. Often speakers who are brand new to public speaking, and even those who aren’t, are nervous about getting asked a question that they feel they don’t know the answer to or that has a tricky answer. There are ways to handle that situation. Remember to repeat the question back to the audience. This buys you a little bit of time to think about how to handle the question. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know. The audience will have far more respect for you for admitting that you don’t know than if you try to fudge it and fail. You can say something like, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure about the answer but let me look into that for you. Could you send me a tweet or email after the session and we’ll stay in touch?” You can throw it to the audience with something like, “Good question. I’m actually not sure. Does anyone here have any ideas?” Throw the question to a friend or colleague in the audience. “Good question. My colleague, Jane here actually knows a lot about that. Hey, Jane, do you have any ideas on this one?” You can also talk to your colleagues and friends beforehand to make sure that they’re okay with being put on the spot like this.

The smarty pants. Handling the smarty pants in the audience who thinks they know better than you and goes on and on is a big fear. And this is something that Miriam mentioned ahead of time. It doesn’t happen often but if it does, one thing to keep in mind is that in these sorts of situations, other people in the audience are thinking about how much of an idiot the know-it-all is, not about how you’re handling it. Don’t be afraid to cut someone off if they’re monopolizing the Q&A or derailing. It’s possible to do this politely but firmly, “I think we’re going to have to move on now because time is running out and I really want to get a few more questions in.”

Unrelated questions. Sometimes people ask questions that have little or nothing to do with your talk, and answering the question will derail the conversation. One way of handling this is to say, “That’s a good question but it’s outside of the scope of what we’re talking about. I’d be happy to answer it for you privately after.”

Silence. What if you finish your talk, throw the floor open to the audience, and there are no questions? That’s totally okay. There aren’t always questions. You can have one or two people you know, in the audience ready to ask a question, or even chime in with a different angle. For example, if you’re a developer, have a designer ready with an observation on your topic from that point of view. You can also ask and answer your own questions. For example, “Something I didn’t go too in depth in the talk but you might be wondering about is..” or “A question I’ve had come up before is…” You can ask the audience a question. For example, “Something I didn’t go into in depth in the talk, but you might be wondering about is…” or “A question I’ve had come before is…”

Errors. Don’t be afraid to correct errors after your talk. If someone points out an error, either during the Q&A or later, go ahead and update your presentation online and include the corrections if you give the same talk again. Be sure to verify that the correction is actually accurate before doing this.

Contacts and slides. Once the Q&A is over, let people know how to connect with you once you’re done and where to find your slides. Give out your Twitter handle and/or email. You can also include this information on your final slide so it is up on the screen behind you while you take questions.

Getting post-talk feedback. We often forget this part of the process but getting feedback after your talk is really important if you ever want to do to get better at public speaking. You want to get feedback both about your content and your speaking style. You want feedback about whether your content was interesting, well organized, easy to follow, etc. This is true whether you plan to ever give the same talk again or not because a lot of the knowledge gained can be generalized. You also want to know about your speaking technique. How is the pace, volume, approachability, etc? Where can you get feedback? Ask conference organizers if they send out a survey and whether you can see your own feedback. Ask people you know who are there for feedback. The more specific questions, the better your feedback will get. Don’t ask “What did you think?” Ask, “Was there something you thought that could have been better? Could you hear me? Did I speak too quickly or slowly, etc.” Keep in mind that asking people for feedback directly will be different from asking organizers for the feedback that was sent to them. People tend to be softer and kinder when speaking to you, as opposed to when they think that their feedback is only going to organizers.

Creating great slides. In this section, we are going to talk about good slide decks and a few more tips. Good slide decks. Let’s first start with a public service announcement: You do not need slides with every talk. Some talks can stand on their own. Slides can be your friend and your enemy so don’t rely on them completely. Something to ask yourself, if the slide projector were to break down, could you give your talk without it? That said, when used correctly, slides are amazing and can bring a lot to your talk. Used in the right way, slides emphasize and help you get your points across. Look at some of the tips. Let’s look at some of the tips for creating good slide decks. Give your slides a theme. It could be that you illustrate all your points with lol cats, or they could all be the same background and typography. Whatever it is, having a visually unified deck makes all the difference. Many speakers end up with a look to the slides they stick with from presentation to presentation. This is great and makes the talk stand out and feel part of a cohesive set. It may not be the route that you want to go but it’s something to consider. Don’t use a default slideshow theme like the templates that come with Keynote or PowerPoint. We’ve seen them all 1000 times and they look generic and boring.

Don’t write out what you’re going to be saying. This can be a flexible rule for useful important quotes, but nobody likes someone reading lines from a slide. Make your text size readable; think of the person sitting at the back of the room. Use code sparingly. Nobody likes pages and pages of code on a screen. Not even developers can stay awake through that, depending on the situation and the person. Including a slide at the end of your deck to thank your audience. You can also use a closing slide to remind you to do your Q&A. Enhance the mood of your talk with slides. Use them to add humor and to help you get your point across. Check the copyright on your images. If you’re using a creative commons graphic, remember to give proper attribution to its creator. Consider sketching something original, creating your own images, or using your own photography. Make it personal and unique. Slides don’t need images, you could just have words. Check your contrast on a wide range of screens to make sure it’s legible. Also consider choice of color. You can check color contrast using an online tool to be sure it’ll be easily readable. You just plug in your background and foreground color codes and the tool will tell you if it’s in the acceptable range. Take care when selecting fonts. Don’t use a fancy font that’s cute but unreadable and don’t use too many different fonts together.

Make sure you’re creating your slides for the right screen size. Try to find out in advance what aspect ratio the projector will have and stay away from edges of the screen to be safe, keeping key information out of those areas. Let’s look at a few examples from your slide decks. This is a good example of a slide that sets the mood of the whole presentation. The deck supports the presentation and acts not just as useful information but as a backdrop to help create a cohesive talk. This is a deck that stands on its own, either with or without the verbal part of the presentation. It carries a theme throughout the slides and delivers the message with clarity. It also demonstrates a strong personality, something you shouldn’t shy away from from your deck. This deck has a strong sense of design that clearly delivers the message of an expansive subject area. Slides are used to break down this complexity and it’s all done with a clear vision and a deck that stands on its own apart from the talk. You’ll find a collection of more tips on creating great slides and other resources at getspeak.in. There are links to contrast calculators and examples of inspirational slide decks that you can explore at your leisure.

A few more tips. Practice going through your deck using external monitor using a presentation mode, which lets you see your notes. Think about bringing your notes printed out on paper in case the presentation setup doesn’t end up allowing you to see your internal notes. Bring a backup of your slides with you on a thumb drive, including any special fonts you’ve used. Save the presentation in a few different formats, including PDF. If for some reason there’s any issue with your computer, you will be able to easily borrow someone else’s and ensure that your type looks just as good as you intended. Upload your slides before your talk, if possible, and include a link to them at the end of your slides. Slideshare and Speaker Deck are two good services where you can upload slides. Remember to tweet out the link afterwards and send it out to the event organizers so that they can post it. If you start to do more speaking, invest in a presentation clicker to advance your slides without having to use a keyboard or mouse. It’ll let you stand away from your laptop and keep your hands in a more natural position while you speak. And a note on live demos: It can be very tempting to do a live demo and hop back and forth between your demo and the slides. This could be hard to watch, especially if something goes wrong during the demo, as it often does. Consider recording these bits instead and embedding the videos within your presentation.

Questions and sign up. Thank you for attending today. We’ll be passing around a sign up sheet. If you’re interested in speaking at an event, please let us know. This is not a commitment but we’ll get in touch with you to discuss the possibility of speaking at an upcoming Meetup or WordCamp.

WordCamp Central would like to know how it went so this will be a chance to have an open discussion on what worked well, what didn’t go well, what would you like to see change? What could we have done that we didn’t do and what made you nervous. That’s a discussion to have with your group. A note on… So this is something that we’re starting to have the groups who run this workshop do. We would like to take a photo for our meetup page and for WordCamp Central to have. Anyone can opt out. So this so we’re not actually going to do a photo right now with us. We’re not an actual meetup. But please, those of you out there in the world doing this, please do take a photo. We’re going to be creating a page with all the success stories and everything which we’ll talk about in a moment. And this is that moment, your results [inaudible} that slide in.

We’d like to let WordCamp Central know how it goes. If you speak at a Meetup or WordCamp and especially if anything new comes out of your speaking such as becoming a requested speaker or taking on a leadership position or getting a job, please let us know so that we can let WordCamp Central know. Also if you love this work and want to train others to do this, or be a train the trainer or help our team with other things like marketing and admin, the WordPress Community Teams Diverse Speaker Training Group is always looking for more help. Contact Jill on Slack or Twitter @jillbinder. And now we have time for any questions or comments or anything before we wrap up the main section. Okay, great. Thank you everybody for attending. Miriam?

Miriam Goldman 23:46
Oh I was just about to say that it was very well done. So yay.

Jill 23:53
Thank you so much. I appreciate that.



I lead the Diverse Speaker Training group in the WordPress.org Community Team. We have a workshop that encourages more diverse folks to apply to speak at WordPress events.

I helped organize the first BuddyCamp and for three years co-organized WordCamp Vancouver. I was named one of the top 100 Influencers of WordPress in 2014 by Torque Magazine and one of the top 10 Women of WordPress by CloudWays.

Aurooba Ahmed

Interests: content-first web development, PHP, JS, React, HTML, CSS

I care about friendly useable websites built with clean and elegant code. Always doing my best to keep learning and building my best.

Angela Jin

An inveterate volunteer, Angela has a longstanding passion for building strong, inclusive communities. She joined Automattic in 2018 as a community organizer for the WordPress open source project, and adores working with WordPress communities around the world. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Angela is currently trying out Madrid, Spain, where she delights in learning Spanish, exploring by eating, and reading a good book.

Miriam Goldman

WordPress Tech Lead at Kanopi Studios. WordCamp Ottawa and WordPress Ottawa meetup co-organizer. WordCamp speaker. Karate sensei, and percussionist.

Chandrika Sista

Chandrika is a WordPress developer. She loves to build custom WordPress websites and plugins. She started working with WordPress in 2011.

Currently working as a web developer for Camna LLC.

Bhargav Mehta

Humming to the melodies of A. R. Rahman is my full-time job. Expanding the horizons of knowledge by reading is what people always find me doing. E-commerce raises my dopamine levels and hence I work on E-comm projects. Currently working as Assistant Project Manager at Commerce Pundit.