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  • conference talks
  • public speaking

14. Talking About Talks

Hosted by Caleb Hearth, with guests Richard Schneeman, Terence Lee, Joe Kutner, Amy Unger, and Stella Cotton.

After your presentation has been accepted for a conference, actually giving the talk can be an intimidating experience—but it doesn't have to be! Join several Herokai engineers as they open up about their techniques for combating nervousness, memorizing slides, and iterating on deliveries.

Show notes

This episode begins with a roundtable introduction from five Herokai engineers who describe what motiviated them to speak at their first conference. If you're a first-time speaker, it's best to let conference organizers be aware of this, not only because they will support you, but also because they will try to give you a prime time slot in order to boost your message (and spirits).

The group then delves into how to prepare and practice for your talk. In general, they agree that improvising is not a good idea, unless you're absolutely an expert in the subject matter. You should also be able to account for the lack of Internet access, which means that live coding is also not recommended. Every speaker is nervous, no matter how many talks they give, but everyone in the room wants you to succeed, and doesn't know if you've skipped a specific sentence or word. It's best to just roll with the flow.

In terms of deciding the subject matter, some of the engineers pick two or three variations on a single topic, and try to submit each flavor to as many conferences as they can. Another strategy is to hone one really unique angle--or even choose a subject matter that is so "common" to a developer's day-to-day routine they don't think about it. Those sorts of talks get people to really engage in something they may have never realized before.

The conversation concludes with ways to get better at public speaking, whether that's rewatching your recorded self and noticing your body language, or simply giving the same talk at another conference, and building on what works.

  • Fog City Ruby, a San Francisco-based meetup about Ruby, co-organized by Stella Cotton
  • caffeinate, a MacOS app which prevents your laptop from entering Sleep Mode


Caleb Thompson: I hope you all know why I brought you here.

Richard Shneems: I have no idea actually.

Caleb Thompson: Oh, well, I wanted to talk to you about speaking at conferences and I picked the conference speakers at Heroku that I knew.

Richard Shneems: Great. Maybe we should start by introducing ourselves.

Caleb Thompson: Who are you?

Richard Shneems: Some people call me Shneems. I go by Richard Schneeman. I work for Heroku, you might be surprised to hear, on the languages team where I maintain the Ruby Buildpark. Oh, I also run a great service you should totally subscribe to called

Terence: Hi, I'm Terence. I also worked at said company Heroku and work on the languages team.

Joe Kutner: I'm Joe Kutner. I run the Java stack on Heroku, and as part of that work, I do a lot of engagement with the Java community. So this involves speaking at conferences. I'm also the author of the Healthy Programmer.

Amy: Hi everyone. I'm Amy. I work on Heroku's API team, and I occasionally speak at conferences.

Stella: I'm Stella. I work on the tools team at Heroku. My thing I'd like to plug is that I co-organize a meetup here in San Francisco called Fog City Ruby. And it's a really rad meetup.

Caleb Thompson: Apparently, I'm your host, Caleb Thompson. I work on the support team here. So what got everyone into speaking in the first place? I guess it's an interesting part, interesting place to start.

Richard Shneems: I was freelancing and I needed customers.

Amy: So I worked at consultancy and to improve people's ability to put together talks and also to, just to get to know each other better, we put on a internal conference where everyone would give it either a funny talk, something they cared about, whatever. And as an organizer of said conference, I did not in fact need to talk, so that was lovely, until one of the people who was going to speak had to drop out. And so I needed 20 minutes of content overnight. And so I came up with kind of a funny, silly talk that I then submitted to Ruby on Rails, and for some reason they accepted me and they put me in the right-after-lunchtime spot.

Caleb Thompson: Ah, the most sought after spot.

Amy: Yes. And it was a really fun experience because I realized like, “Yeah, half the people in the audience are asleep right now, but this talk is hopefully somewhat interesting and like the other half are like actually laughing along a little bit.” And it was kind of a fun experience to be on stage and talking about stuff that I cared about. So I was like, great little lesson in, yes I liked this and yes I can fill those slots that conference organizers really struggle to fill.

Caleb Thompson: And it stuck.

Amy: It did.

Caleb Thompson: Anyone else?

Joe Kutner: I feel like Richard was probably born speaking [crosstalk 00:02:58].

Richard Shneems: I was actually really, really shy. I went to OSS on Rails, which is a meetup group, much like the amazing Fog City Ruby. And for several years I kind of just lurked, I would just go, I'd go to all the talks and then afterwards they have kind of a, they go to a bar and just hang out. And that's where the whole socialization happens. And I would just skip that because I didn't feel confident in ... I would ... Like I was gonna show up and they'd be like, “Who do you work for? Complete this ... Reverse a doubly linked list or something.” And they'd be like, “You're not a real programmer.” And so I just skipped it.

Richard Shneems: And one time the conference organizer just came to me, they were not conference organizer, the meetup organizer, there were like only 12 of us in the room maybe and was like, “Hey, what do you ... You've been coming to this for a while? What can you talk about?” And a version of Rails had just come out and I was like, “Oh, well, I migrated my app from that to that and I can talk about that process.” And I did that and it was such an extreme adrenaline high, like getting ... I'm very terrified of speaking in front of people, but kind of in the same way of like roller coasters.

Richard Shneems: So it turns out that I really liked it. And then after that I went to the bar with everybody and that was my first experience there and people were buying me drinks and I was like, “This is amazing.” And then somebody offered to interview me for a job.

Terence: I did that. And he is now working at Heroku. So the job I asked him to interview for ended up working out.

Caleb Thompson: So Amy you actually mentioned something, I think it could be interesting to dig into a little bit. The slot after lunch.

Amy: Yeah.

Caleb Thompson: So I think speakers have kind of a sense of slots and what slots are better or worse-

Amy: Definitely.

Caleb Thompson: -but maybe that's not as obvious to people who aren't speakers yet.

Amy: The slots are kind of an interesting game that conference organizers have to play. We have like three conference organizers here, so you can correct me if this is not quite the case. From the speakers point of view, we tend to think that the first sessions, if it's a multi-day conference, the first day people actually have the attention span, they're excited, they are there to learn or to prove that they've learned something so that they can then go party at depending on the conference. So if you really have heavy technical content that you want someone to really feel engaged in, you probably want a first day slot.

Amy: You never want an after-lunch slot because people are late coming back. I mean, these conference organizers are giving more and more time for lunch because they recognize that people don't get back. But you will have people who take a two-hour lunch, and for the people who are at the conference who don't have that kind of a social network where you want to stay out for two hours talking to people, and you don't want to leave them hanging and nothing to do on that first day. So at some point the talk has to start, people are gonna be tired, people are gonna be wandering in. So hence the lack of love for the after-lunch spot.

Amy: And then towards the end of a conference, right? You don't want the morning slots after ... There's a significant contingent of people who may be hung over if you're going to some of the conferences where people are excited to drink on the company dime. Then towards the end of the conference you might actually want to be slotted in for maybe a softer talk or more entertaining talk depending on the reputation you have as a speaker, people will start to get mentally fatigued a little bit more and be more excited about going to a talk that has a little bit more of a chance of entertaining them and keeping them engaged because their brains are tired. My brain is tired, totally fried by the end of it.

Amy: The final thing that might be useful for people to know is that if you're a first time speaker, conference organizers really want to help you get over your nerves and so ask if you wanna get over your nerves, you wanna be done. A lot of them are very happy to boot us experienced people out of those prime or first day slots to give them to you and we are happy. And I love when someone is able to give their talk, first talk on the first day and they're over the moon. It's such a wonderful vibe. So ask for that if you want it.

Caleb Thompson: Yeah, there's definitely kind of a science that goes into figuring out where all the talk should go. And I know I like to be pretty early as well, but I'm perfectly happy to be later now that I've kind of been around the block a few times. I do like that right-after-lunch spot though because I feel like the pressure is really low.

Amy: Absolutely. That's one of my favorite things about that after-lunchtime slot. Like I just have to have a couple of jokes land and the part of the room that is not completely asleep is so thankful that-

Caleb Thompson: And then you wake up the rest.

Amy: Yeah.

Caleb Thompson: With the laughter.

Joe Kutner: Yeah. I just feel like that slot's very similar to the second day morning slot.

Amy: Yeah.

Joe Kutner: That it's like a similar vibe. So I actually do the timing and scheduling for the speakers for Keep Ruby Weird for the last four years. We're only a one day conference but when I go through and look at it actually put pretty high energy octane people on the afternoon lunch slot and it's usually a pretty prestigious slot in the sense that I expect a lot out of this person because their job is to wake up the crowd and keep them entertained and make them want to come back from lunch, because if you don't do that then you do tend to have this where people may be more incentivized to stay out longer and keep it where we also I guess just cater lunch in so it helps part of that as well. So they don't actually leave, we'll just keep them trapped all day.

Caleb Thompson: So maybe not so low pressure.

Joe Kutner: Yeah. I actually find the last slot as a speaker the hardest slot because you have the last message and say for the conference of length. And in some ways, like when I've talked to Aaron Patterson about this, who's done a bunch of closing keynotes, part of it is like you're trying to wrap up the conference too. And like, especially for ... It's a little different if you have a multi-track versus a single-track conference. And so with a single-track conference, every one, there's really isn't a hallway track as much, which there are is for a multi-track conference where people will skip talks to just chat and connect and stuff like that.

Joe Kutner: But in a single-track conference, people tend to go to all the same talk so everyone has a very similar experience. And so in those closing keynotes for those kind of conferences, I feel like there's this onus to kind of wrap up and do references to the existing talks. And so I always find that really hard because that means as a speaker you have to, you can't be working on your own talk. You actually have to be attentive and listen to every talk that goes into it so you can actually kind of wrap all that stuff up.

Caleb Thompson: So Stella, I think you know this, but when we're at conferences we can't always make it to our coworkers and our friends' talks because there's just other commitments that we have during conferences. But I have been to a few of your talks and I was wondering if you have any advice for speakers.

Stella: Just general advice for speakers?

Caleb Thompson: Just general advice. Like the biggest thing you wish you could tell someone who wants to be a speaker or wants to be a better speaker.

Stella: Okay. I guess my advice that I would give is unless you're really confident in your ability to give technical talks off the cuff, don't listen to people who tell you that you can just throw some slides together and then wing it. Because I think that advice is actually not universally applicable. And even some seasoned speakers who say that they do that, maybe don't have a very objective view of the way that their talks come together. I maybe do a little too much. I'm a very nervous speaker so I have a full script. I write every word. It's like the same talk almost every time, but somewhere in the middle is probably the right spot but especially if you're a new speaker, like don't listen to those people until you are really sure that that's how it works for you.

Richard Shneems: I completely agree with that. And even, I mean, after speaking for many years, I still almost script. But for a month before a talk I practice sometimes every day, the talk. Like I'll go into a room, close the door and speak out loud. I find that's the only way to practice for me. But after years of doing that, I've also found that within those constraints I've learned how to ad-lib as necessary. So I think that's helped to make my talks more, feel more natural. But yeah, I definitely don't find a lack of preparation to be beneficial.

Stella: I think ad libbing comes from a better place when it's on a foundation of preparation. It means that you still like get, especially with technical talks because a lot of times you're talking to an audience who have very different skill levels, who have very different understandings of the topic that you're talking about and it's so easy to lose people if you're not thoughtful about the way that you present your ideas and the structure of that. So I think that's pretty important.

Amy: Yeah, I'll definitely second or maybe third the idea that don't worry about the advice that you can become too stiff if you rehearse too much. There comes to be a point where you've rehearsed so many times that you have variations on each sentence and that's where I find my natural delivery comes from, is that I have rehearsed enough, that I am confident and clear in my delivery of one of three different versions of the main content of any sentence, and I'm still hitting the key sentences that I know make the talk and make my ideas come across.

Richard Shneems: I guess the other thing as far as stage fright and nervousness, I think almost every speaker has it. Like I was terrified of public speaking as a kid and still am today. I dunno why I do so many talks actually, but I think you're also more conscious as a speaker too on stage when you make mistakes and I think the audience is, doesn't know your material as well as you do and probably won't notice that you made that mistake or forgot to say something that was important, that you probably skipped over. And you just kind of just need to go with it and keep going and kind of just ignore the fact that you may have forgotten to say something. It happens to everyone.

Stella: And the audience wants you to succeed. Everyone in that room wants you to be living your best life on stage. No one there is there to be like, “Oh, that sentence, I could tell that was a little off.” You know, everybody's rooting for you even if you're panicking and sweating.

Joe Kutner: And I think it's very forgiving too.

Stella: Yeah.

Joe Kutner: Like the audience, I feel like maybe ... Like I've gone off on a tangent sometimes or, “Oh, crap, I forgot this line completely,” or, “This didn't make any sense,” but that never seems to come through to the audience. And I'll even point out like, “Yeah, I felt like this section was really kind of choppy,” and they're like, “No, it seemed fine.”

Richard Shneems: Another thing that I do is I try to have a little ritual before I actually go on stage. So I try to figure out, “Okay, what room am I in? We're well ahead of time.” If I don't know that, I'll maybe ask some other people as I just asked Caleb like 30 minutes ago and “What do I want to do right before that?” Is it, if it's later in the afternoon, I probably want some sort of a coffee or like a pick me up, make sure I've got ...

Richard Shneems: If not all venues have bottled water at the stand, so like have you have some water or some mints or something to just, you know, you don't wanna be up there and just like, oh suddenly have dry mouth. And I try to ideally if I can, no matter how much I practice ahead of time, I try to also do a run through the day of and just kind of get that memory, load all of that information into my short term memory. So then if I do go off the rails then I can hopefully kind of remember, “Oh, where was I going with that?”

Terence: Yeah. For me doing one run through, right? First thing in the morning and then ignoring my talk until I have to give it is a pattern that really works for me. I know some other people will just spend the entire morning and afternoon in their room until their slot and then come over and give it and be practicing that entire time. But I think it varies per person.

Amy: I always make sure to watch the talk before mine. For one reason is that it gets my talk out of my head. But it also gives me a guarantee, whatever the conference organizers have said, whatever the morning check, sound check was like, that I know the AV issues going in. That to me is the biggest thing that flusters me on stage is ending up with AV issues. I've had my slides advanced when I stepped on a particular place on stage, but I'm a pacer on stage. For me, having the confidence that the AV equipment is going to work is part of my ritual just because I know it's gonna fluster me.

Caleb Thompson: Are there things that can fail that you can just keep going through with your talk on like maybe your slides fail? Can you still give your talk without the slides behind you?

Amy: I can still give my talk without my slides behind me, but I know that's totally not universal.

Caleb Thompson: Definitely. I've always admired people though who will ... Like something will fail but not catastrophically, like, “The audience can still hear me. I'm gonna go through with this. I've got a time slot I need to get going.” I've always thought that was really cool when they just power through it even if things aren't going their way.

Joe Kutner: The worst thing I ... So normally I'd go to the spot before me so I have every second possible to set up and like, “Oh no, I'm on mirroring and I needed to be this other, no, no, it's the wrong aspect ratio.” And like command-X on keynote is key. Just remember that everybody. Command-X.

Caleb Thompson: And what does command-X do?

Joe Kutner: It switches which displays the presenter view.

Caleb Thompson: Oh, that's good.

Joe Kutner: So-

Caleb Thompson: Stella just had a mind blow moment I think.

Joe Kutner: Also your-

Stella: [crosstalk 00:16:52] I really needed that.

Joe Kutner: -you can reset your timers with, I think it's command-R, so if it's-

Caleb Thompson: Whaaat?

Stella: That one is crucial.

Caleb Thompson: Oh, now, I just had a mind blowing moment.

Joe Kutner: Yeah. So you wanna like ... I always want to advance to the next slide to make sure that like, “Oh, my computer's responsive. Oh.” And I use caffeinate to make sure it doesn't fall asleep. But the worst thing that happened when I didn't go to the talk right before mine was I actually forgot my computer. I left my computer ... I had gone back to my hotel room to practice.

Joe Kutner: And I practiced and then I packed my remote and my jacket and I put it in the bag, and then I went to the talk and I was kind of hit the last 10 minutes of it. And I was like, “All right, I'm ready to ... Oh!” And I sprinted back to my room. And luckily I was giving a talk that involved some props and one of them was a skateboard and so I actually made my entrance skateboarding into the conference talk. So it was kind of appropriate that I was seemingly out of breath because I actually was out of breath. So kind of worked out.

Caleb Thompson: I think that's my new nightmare of being naked on stage, just being fully clothed on stage but not having my computer.

Amy: So I have a question, Caleb, if you're willing to yield the floor?

Caleb Thompson: Absolutely.

Amy: I think we touched on this, how many of us use Keynote, or versus how many of us use another thing?

Caleb Thompson: I'm all about Keynote.

Stella: I'm also all about Keynote. I have such a thing down now with it that even if it's not the best, it's the most efficient for me.

Amy: I love Keynote, but I have not shelled out the money for it and I keep on being reminded by these fine folks that I can get a password by being employed here. So I will say I've done both. Keynote is superior, but I'm lazy.

Caleb Thompson: What is your other both?

Amy: Oh, right. Google Slides.

Caleb Thompson: Oh, Google Slides. Okay. So I ... Keynote, I dislike Google Slides with a fiery passion of a thousand suns.

Amy: Yes. Yes.

Terence: I use Google Slides because I don't have a Mac, so Keynote's not really an option. The nice benefit of Google Slides though is that if you pull a Richard, you can just use another person's computer from anywhere and just load them up and just go with it. So I spend for that. Also, collaboration works really well for joint talks.

Stella: I've seen so many people at conferences where the conference Wi-Fi is going down and is spotty, not be able to load their talks or the images for their talks because they didn't do it in offline mode. I feel like every conference I go to, at least one talk doesn't have images because they forgot to-

Joe Kutner: Oh, yeah. Pro tip, just load your talk up before you're on stage. And I definitely do that.

Stella: Oh yeah, I know. I'm sure that's necessary, but I like that I don't have to worry about that.

Terence: I have some questions.

Caleb Thompson: Yeah?

Terence: So my two questions are how do you decide what topic you wanna talk about or what processes do you use to prepare for a talk?

Amy: I'll take 'how do you pick a topic?' Because I don't give a lot of talks, I usually give like one a year, maybe I'll give it a couple of times. I usually try to spend about six months just focusing on an interesting project, luckily Hooper allows me to do that. And whatever I feel like I've learned at the end of those six months, I pull a list of technical topics I could speak on, and then I try to do different variations on those, you know, a high-level talk that would be accessible to entry level people, a really deep technical dive.

Amy: And after I have a couple of different topics and different kind of pitches in my head for how I might deliver it, I then kind of think about what conferences I would like to speak at, which ones I think are gonna be a good experience and try to guess at where their gaps are going to be in program. So a talk that I gave a couple of years ago on Rack middleware, right? That one was pitched to entry-level people because I don't think anybody really ...

Amy: Like I don't think you need a massive education on what Rack middleware is unless you are doing something very specific with it, and I don't wanna speak to 100 people about that. So it worked best as an entry-level one. And I wanted to speak at RailsConf. I thought it would be a topic that they would think that a lot of people would want to hear, and that I had something valuable to say that would fill the gap of, "Hey, nobody has talked about Rack middleware in awhile."

Richard Shneems: And I think the nice thing about a talk on Rack Middleware is that it really can be inserted anywhere in the stack.

Joe Kutner: Oh, so that what you said reminded me of, it's like, okay, you wanted to think of a specific conference. And I know Caleb has picked talks for, was it RubyConf or was it RailsConf?

Joe Kutner: One of the Ruby-central conferences. And one of the things that they, in addition to thinking of the conference, they also have tracks and a track might be like failure modes or like databases or just something. And if you can make a talk that fits in that track, yeah, it helps your chances of getting actually into the conference. So just pro tip, try that. Don't necessarily throw away all of your other talks. You can submit multiple talks to the same conference. Like I think a lot of people feel like that's cheating or something.

Caleb Thompson: Oh yeah. I think it's a great idea to submit two or even three talks to a conference.

Terence: But yeah, I get about one about one out of every three talks that I submit. I would say gets accepted.

Caleb Thompson: Is that submissions or is that talks? Like if you submit to 10 different conferences, are you gonna be speaking at 3.3 conferences?

Terence: In the past? Yes. And well, and I kind of have a little genetic algorithm for how I pick which conference talks I submit to other conferences. Like if I generally submit two, a minimum of two, like a technical and a non-technical talk to each conference because I just saw sometimes the conference organizer want something slightly different and then whichever of the talks gets picked, then I will definitely keep that one and keep on submitting that one to other conferences.

Terence: And then I will try to brainstorm on what are other different talks I can maybe talk about. So you had previously mentioned that, oh, you go really technical for six months and here are a bunch of different ideas that you could maybe talk about. Well, maybe it's an interesting topic, but just the wrong approach or like you also mentioned targeting a beginner versus an intermediate.

Amy: Yeah.

Terence: And so I think that that's a good thing to be thinking about.

Amy: Yeah, I think it's a really good strategy if you do, if you're looking to get started and you are not needing to make a career out of speaking, that to really deep dive into what you're an expert in. I mean, there's also a great strategy of being like, I don't know anything about this thing, but a lot of people I talk to don't know enough about it either, so I will make a talk for it, and that's a great learning tool as well. But if you can be on stage and talk about something that you have spent a lot of time on, for me that helps with confidence.

Joe Kutner: Yeah. Actually a bit of advice, don't live code man. You're not gonna do well at it.

Stella: Unless you're Kelsey Hightower, don't live code.

Joe Kutner: Yeah. There are a few people that ... But they're evangelists who are out there speaking every week or something like that and they have a lot of practice at it and they have a way of doing it that flows well and they know how to recover. Everything I do is video recorded if it's not slides.

Amy: Yeah, I mean, I think there are absolutely strategies for doing live coding or almost live coding. Certainly having like good checkout points where you can reset if you need to is amazing. The one that I just can't comprehend are the ones that require network because sure you can ... you think that you have a backup of tethering to your phone, but if you ended up in a room and it's too much concrete, too many cell phone signals, I've seen that people just don't have ... They'll have like plan A, Plan B, Plan C and none of them allow them to connect to the Internet.

Terence: I think it's interesting how a lot of introverts can still end up being speakers.

Amy: Yeah.

Terence: Like I'll go up there and I'll actually not remember much of it, kind of go into a fugue, but afterwards I'm just so drained because I am an introvert and it's like I just used all of my energy.

Amy: Yeah.

Terence: If you wanna come and talk to me, you can come talk to me, but I don't have the energy to have a new conversation or initiate anything at this point.

Amy: Yeah. And the dynamic around of questions at that point, right? Like I totally, I have no sense of what I just talked about, but I have a bunch of people who were trying to make their points in the question section.

Caleb Thompson: Statement as questions?

Amy: Yes. And then the second you get off stage they're a bunch of people who think you'd be a good employee for no reason other than you just talked about that. There was a Madison Ruby a few years ago, well, at this point many years ago where Steve Klabnik got on stage and he asked, “How many of you think I'm a good programmer?” Pretty much everybody raised their hand. “How many of you have actually seen my code?” Right? Like nobody has actually, well, not nobody, but very few people at that point had actually seen his code. I think it's just a really interesting thing that you become this person who's trusted for absolutely no reason.

Caleb Thompson: So I have a break from this, but a question for the group. What steps have you taken to get better at speaking? Like it's not your first talk, you had mentioned like, “Oh, you take feedback,” but how do you get feedback and how do you solicit feedback or how do you decide even what you want to do differently maybe next time.

Joe Kutner: I think people can be really nice at conferences and they will come up to you and thank you for your talk and that's about it. And maybe they've got a question, but if you don't ask for feedback then you won't get it from a lot of people. And some people have a different relationship. Like maybe my good friend will be willing to give me feedback even if I didn't ask for it. But I always try when somebody comes up to me and says, “Hey, that was a great talk. Thank you so much.” My response is, “Thank you, I appreciate that. What can I do better?” And they don't always have something, but it at least opens the door for them.

Amy: I mean, I think there's a more nuanced point there though, that like asking someone who also speaks, knows ... they'll know a little bit more about what a good talk is and they also probably have a little more confidence that you're not gonna crawl into a ball and start weeping if they gave you any negative feedback. Like if Stella told me my slides were terrible, I would be like, “Thank you, Stella.” Like, “My slides really do need to work,” because ...

Amy: And I hope Stella would feel confident if my slides were really, really bad to tell me that because it's really not going to affect me. It is something I know is part of a process, is part of my professional and it's not what I'm paid to do, but it is part of my professional career I guess. And so it is valuable feedback. I think a lot of people are a little more hesitant to give feedback who haven't spoken because it is in their mind, such a big thing, and they aren't necessarily, and they also don't know you.

Richard Shneems: I think watching the talks that are video recorded, in particular of yourself, watching yourself in particular after a month later, so yeah, it can help [crosstalk 00:37:26].

Amy: I can not get more than 30 seconds in.

Richard Shneems: Okay. It's uncomfortable, which means it's probably good for you.

Amy: Yes.

Richard Shneems: I like to wait until I have essentially forgotten the talk. So it's like watching it a little bit fresh. If you watch it the day after, you're just, it's almost like rehearsing it again. It doesn't help you. But I'll watch it much later. I've gone back and watched them a year or so later. And then, and this is gonna sound really like I'm a talk Nazi or something, but I'll turn the sound off and watch it without any sound for, to study the body language.

Richard Shneems: I'll turn on just the audio and listen to it without watching it. I think actually learning about the body language is important too. I found like in my earlier talks, I would have like two movements that I would make and I would repeat those movements, and in my mind it was similar to using like, um, um or like verbally. So I worked in, like when I would rehearse talks, I would set up a video camera, go back and watch and try to keep it more fluid.

Amy: Those are actually really good tips. And honestly I think while there are a lot of people out there who like Richard and I have like the cringing and style have like cringing reactions to that. Actually, I think for me a lot of it is hearing my voice at the same time as hearing my internal voice because I sound a lot higher to other people. In my head I actually have a reasonable, not super high end pitchy voice.

Richard Shneems: Super gruff.

Stella: I have this exact same sensation. It's why I can't watch my ... listen to myself talk either.

Amy: And I can push through and listen to my voice itself after a bit. But what gets to me is both hearing the internal voice saying the exact thing I'm seeing myself say on stage. So the advice to you either just turn off and listen or look for your body language, that's awesome, and then, yeah, maybe if I went back and looked at things that are a year or two old, maybe I'd be able to really learn something from that because I wouldn't be hearing the nice voice that I have in my head.

Caleb Thompson: Well, I really appreciate everybody coming here and chatting about speaking. Hopefully we can use this to inspire more people to get on stage. I think that's all the time we have. So thank you everyone.

Richard Shneems: Thank you.

Amy: Thanks Caleb.

About code[ish]

A podcast brought to you by the developer advocate team at Heroku, exploring code, technology, tools, tips, and the life of the developer.

Hosted by


Caleb Hearth

Lead Support Engineer, Heroku

This is Caleb: a dreamer, speaker, and computer whisperer from Austin. When not running D&D or cliff jumping into the water, he works for Heroku.

With guests


Richard Schneeman

Ruby Engineer, Heroku

Schneems is an accidental maintainer of sprockets and Puma. He created, the best place for getting started contributing to open source.


Terence Lee

Build & Languages Architect, Heroku

Terence co-created buildpacks in 2011. He's organized conferences such as Waza and Keep Ruby Weird. In OSS, you'll see his work in Bundler & Ruby.


Joe Kutner

Software Architect, Heroku

Joe is a Software Architect working on the Heroku and Salesforce Platforms.


Amy Unger

API Engineer, Heroku

Amy is an engineer at Heroku.


Stella Cotton

Software Engineer, Heroku

Stella Cotton is an engineer at Heroku. When she’s not at her laptop or speaking at conferences, she’s exploring the trails around San Francisco.

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