Saturday, October 3, 2015

How I prepared my keynote

The idea

My speaking buddy Corey Latislaw and I were both speaking at Write/Speak/Code. We talked about taking our speaking career further, and decided that keynote will be the logical next step. We were not sure how people get to keynote, but figured that we can brainstorm ideas and submit them as conference proposals.

Corey ended up keynoting at Droidcon NYC and I gave my keynote at Android Summit, just half a year since that day we brainstormed. Not bad!


This is a fancy word for cutting paper into little pieces, write one point on each, and arrange them on the table. This is how I organize my ideas. I like the transient feeling of pencil and paper. Nothing is set in stone, and I am free to rearrange everything.

Talk it out

Once I organized the storyboard into a linear narrative, I sounded out the ideas i.e. I gave a very early version of the talk to a lovely white wall in my house.

It was horrible. I stumbled in many places, unable to vocalize my thoughts. Normally I just talk to my technical slides without any scripts, but a keynote is very different. I need a strong narrative, and I decided that scripting is the way to go.

Write the script

I started writing my talk as if it was a blog post. Unlike speaking to my pencil-and-paper slides, I can jump from place to place to flesh out the paragraphs. I wrote 5 pages of text, and felt really good about it.

Read the script to time it

Next I read my script aloud to see how long it would be. It was 11 minutes, and I panicked, because my keynote was supposed to be 30 minutes.

Add more material

I knew I needed to add more material, but I was not sure what. At that point I was hosting the Technically Speaking hangout, and after we got off air I told Caroline Goyder that I am short on material. She told me to tell stories. Of course!

I added some personal stories, and also added a section at the end to give some counter points to balance the rosy picture I painted in the early part of the talk.

Make slides

My talk was much more meaty at this point, and it was time to try talk it out aloud to actual slides. That meant I had to make the slides.

My slides had a lot of illustrations. I redrew the pencil-and-paper slides on a drawing app on my tablet and imported them into Keynote, adding drop shadows to make them pop.

You can read more about how I draw the slides here: How to make hand-drawn slides.

Practice with my slides

Once the slides are done, I read my script while advancing the slides. It was 25 minutes long, which was perfect. Next I gave the talk to myself with just the slides, no script or speaker notes, to make sure there were enough visual cues for me to remember the flow. I recorded this version with Quicktime so I can make timing adjustments as necessary.

Live audience via Google Hangout

I want to get some feedbacks for my talk, so I scheduled a Google Hangout with my friends to give it to a live audience. We had quite some technical hiccups, namely, they could not see the slides. As a result some part of the talk was a bit confusing, but overall they liked the content, and gave me some pointers to improve.

Schedule tweets

Finally, I scheduled some tweets with Buffer so the audience can get relevant links as I speak.

I wrote a separate blog post to explain how I did it: Live tweet my own talk.

My outfit

I want to wear a dress for my keynote, but I need somewhere to clip the microphone. A belt wouldn't work since the dress I picked didn't have belt loops, and I didn't want to wear a jacket. I ended up wearing shorts under my dress.

The bad news is that I had to run to the bathroom to clip the microphones onto my shorts and thread them up to my neckline. The good news is that the shorts were robust enough to support the weight of two microphones, one for the sound system in the room, one for the video recording.

Show time

I went to the venue early to test the projector, walking to the back of the room to make sure that the text is readable. I also tried my presentation remote. After that I spoke with the cameraman and AV person to make sure that everything was in order. With that, I was ready for show time!



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  1. Slides looks really good but I am really curious about those ice-creams changing colors :) I didn't understand anything :) Looking forward to see the video recording. Is it going to be released?

  2. Thanks for sharing your process, Chiu-Ki! I get very nervous prior to speaking, and it was reassuring that you too struggle to vocalise your thoughts. I guess the difference is the preparation - knowing your content back to front and practicing it in front of others. Thanks again!