When I read this acting advice by Lauren Gunderson it dawned on me how powerful it would be if every tech conference speaker applied it to their talks. Change her word “scene” to “slide” (or section) and it mostly fits.

“Go faster. Speak with urgency, pick up your cues, keep the energy driving until you hit the pause. Earn the pause. Crash into it. It makes the funny things funnier and the drama more gripping."

Tech speakers are often afraid to pause. Pause strategically. Go fast until the reveal, then pause and let the audience crash into it; digest it.

When I do my talks in a “top 10” format I pause extra long between items in the list. It lets the audience catch up. Or, if they’ve fallen asleep, the pause wakes them up and they’re ready for the next item in my list.

“Every scene should have a revelation, an “oh shit!” moment” And if a section of your talk doesn’t, do you really need that section doesn’t, do you really need this section of your talk?

I once saw a talk where the person spent the first 10 minutes walking through the installation process… and he hadn’t yet even told us what the software did! So much detail about the installation process and there was absolutely no “reveal” there. Everyone in the audience knew how to ./configure ; make build ; make install. Personally I wanted to leave the talk.

“Enter the scene with purpose." If you can’t pinpoint the purpose of a slide, then how can you talk about it? Don’t use the “speakers notes” section to write what you are going to say; use it to write the purpose of the slide and how I’m going to get there.

“Do your character work first. Know your character’s purpose, motivation, goal, fear, desire. Know your character’s role in the whole play. Know the big story. Recently I had to figure out how to remove 20 minutes from a talk. I outlined the talk from beginning to end. Then I wrote down what were the 3 things I wanted the audience to learn. When people got home from the conference, how would people finish this sentence: “Tom gave a talk and I learned….”. I went though and crossed out anything from the talk that wasn’t in the direct line of getting to those 3 points.

(Hat tip to my director/actor/playwright sister Frances for pointing me to these tweets!)


Ok, here’s her full twitter thread: