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Things I Learned After Giving My First Tech Talk


(Updated: )

Note: This blog post was moved from an older blog

Authors Note: Okay fine. It wasn’t exactly my first tech talk, let alone my first talk since I had to do many in college. My first tech talk was a presentation on How Pixar Models Hair, which went as you expected (poorly). Given the significance of this talk, I consider it my first tech talk, m’kay?

In my CS senior design project class, I had to present on the technical aspects of my project- a virtual lab assistant intended to run on the Google Home. While making it, I plan on spending a lot of time using Dialogflow and Node.js, which I decided to talk about. As I was making the presentation, I learned a lot of things along the way.

Two Days Isn’t Enough Time To Plan a 20 Minute Presentation

My main regret is taking too little time to prepare. Even though I had a month to make the presentation, I only started making it two days before. This lead to a lot of stress since I didn’t really have much time, to begin with. Also, had I had more time, I would have been able to polish my demo, spice up my slides and fix the pacing.

I’m still amazed that I was able to make a presentation in two days, but moving forward, I hope to give myself more time.

Examples Need to Be Solid

This is a function of the first lesson, but I had trouble setting up my example. It probably had to do with me using two different sources for my demo. My demo was a weather agent which they had as a prebuilt agent and in their tutorial. The tutorial code worked for the most part, but it was missing a portion on contexts, which I couldn’t fix in time for my presentation.

If I started earlier, I would have made a good example (or my own instead of modifying predicting code). Seems like time was a big deal.

Practice Helps A Great Deal

The only thing stopping this demo from being a complete disaster is the fact that I spent many hours preparing the presentation- 6 hours to be exact. Because of the practice, I could pace my presentation and focus on the necessary things to present. I guess the reason why those mainline tech talk givers are so good is that they have many opportunities to speak on the same thing,

Again, starting earlier would help, but ¯\(ツ)/¯.

Minimize Fluff

I still regret not giving my presentation the time it deserved but the crunch did teach me to focus on the most relevant aspects of a presentation. I had ugly slides as well and given how my demos didn’t work, I looked into a way around that. I take lots of tangents (as people close to me can attest), but when it comes to presentations, I don’t think that people will tolerate it. Onto more technical lessons.

PowerPoint’s Smart Designer is Kinda Cool

I suck at design. My slides were super plain at first until PowerPoint insisted on designing my slides. I had my doubts, but it did a decent job, especially with rendering a timeline from a bullet list.

I Should Learn How To Use My Camera

I planned on recording my video in 1080p60 instead of 4K since I didn’t feel like combing through gigabytes of footage. Unfortunately, my camera can only film for 20 minutes at 1080p as opposed to 40 minutes at 4K. So I filmed in 4K. As annoying as it was to edit and render (2 hours), at least I could crop the video to show my demos.Turns out that while my camera records 4K at100Mbps, the 1080p options only go to ~28Mbps. Since my camera insists on formatting my SD card in FAT, each video file has a max size of 4ish GB. That’s about ~4 minutes in 4K and ~20 minutes in 1080. So it looks like the camera opts to record 4K in multiple files (up to your max capacity) and keeps 1080p at a single file. I could have gotten around this by recording in AVCHD, but I forgot to switch my camera to that mode. Also, I heard that the AVCHD format isn’t nice to work with.

Lav Mics Seriously Improve Sound Quality

I decided to record my talk. As amazing Røde VideoMicro is, it sounds terrible from 6 meters away (~20 feet in American). I could do a few things to improve sound quality at a distance, but it wasn’t practical. Instead, I used my Røde smartLav+ (emphasis on + which is fine considering the cost and the quality of cheaper alternatives.

Plugging it into my iPhone SE and recording the sound using Twisted Wave made a huge difference. Syncing the sound and video in post was difficult, but it made a huge difference.

OBS Is Better Than QuickTime for Screencaps

I should have used OBS instead of QuickTime since it would have done a better job with recording desktop simultaneously. QuickTime crashed twice during my presentation so I’ll probably won’t be doing that again.

Since my talk was filmed in 4K, I could crop the projector screen which was somewhat legible. Not the best, but it’s readable.

Conclusion

Summing up, most of the issues I had with my presentation have to do with not giving it the time it needed. While I’m amazed at what I could do in two days, I can’t help but imagine what I could have done with more days to prepare.

Also, I learned a bit about my camera, a bit about PowerPoint and a bit on sound. With more practice and intentionality, I hope to get better at presenting.

My professor said that my presentation was like Google talks. I guess that could be good in that it looked polished (slides and demo) or it could be bad since it probably went over people’s heads. Either way, I’ve got a lot of work to do.