Tips for Lightning Talks

It seems a little counter-intuitive, but a 5 minute lightning talk is far more difficult to prepare (and present!) than a standard 20 minute or longer talk. The principle challenge is fitting everything that you want to say into the allotted time, while still maintaining an engaging narrative.

At the recent satRday conference in Cape Town (17 March 2018) we had a number of great lightning talks. A few of the speakers gave us their tips on creating a brilliant lightning talk.

  • Have a strong hook. You don’t have a moment to lose! You need to grab the audience’s attention from the moment you take the stage.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Avoid getting bogged down in the details. You only have time to present the big picture, the core of the idea. Provide references to a repository with further information and encourage people to contact you if they want to know more.
  • No more than 5 slides of content.
  • Be sparing with text. Don’t burden yourself (or the audience) with slides full of text.
  • Focus on a single idea (or at most 2 or 3).
  • Less is more. One slide = one thought.
  • Know your target audience. It’s difficult to cater for an audience with a diverse range of expertise. You can take one of two approaches: try to cater for everybody or target a specific niche. The latter approach is probably best. If you lose some people along the way it’s not a big deal: you’ll be done in 5 minutes and they’ll bounce back.
  • Don’t talk too quickly.
  • Use visualisations. Design them carefully so that their interpretation is self-evident and you won’t need to spend time explaining them.
  • Use images, animations and funny GIFs. You’re there to inform and entertain!
  • Think of your slides as resources. Provide links which people can follow to find out more.
  • Clear contact details. Make sure that your contact details are conspicuously evident on your first and last slides. Make it easy for people will want to contact you. A Twitter or GitHub handle works best.

Thanks to Andrew Clark, Neil Watson, Jasen Mackie, Hanjo Odendaal, Vishalin Pillay and Sean Soutar for contributing their tips.