A Tool For Spontaneous Public Speaking

Published on by David VanDusen.

Fairly frequently, when one colleague or student asks for the explanation of a concept, pattern, or decision, some number of others will express interest in hearing the explanation as well. Often this evolves from a whiteboarding session to a more formal presentation. Remote participants express interest, too. At that point, it’s often valuable to record the call so that it can be transcribed and archived for posterity.

Over time as I’ve done more of these presentations, I developed tools and strategies for making these presentations as valuable as possible for all the attendees. Beyond public speaking skills and deep understanding of the subject, there are ways to help the audience focus on the presentation and connect the pieces of the explanation together.

One such technique I’ve used is to open about:blank in a new tab in my browser, add contenteditable to the <body> in the debugger, zoom right in, and go full screen. Then, as I moved from one topic to another, I’d write a word or two to act as a heading.

White page with “Questions?” written, followed by a caret
I usually make a joke about how “about:blank” is my favourite website as I’m typing it in.

One huge advantage of having this up on a screen share that’s being recorded is to make it easier to scrub through the video afterward to find the bit you’re looking for.

For the live attendees, this helps provide a mental anchor for the new information that’s being presented. Changing the text regularly helps to establish a sense of how much content has been presented.

It also gives note takers meaningful headings for their own notes. One other approach I’ve tried is to take notes for the group in a doc as I’m presenting, but this had major drawbacks. One is that my notes are written in my style with my understanding of the topic, and struggle to be generally accessible. Another is that the presentations would drag on because of the amount I’m typing. By keeping the amount I’m typing to a minimum—just headings as I change topics—the session flows more smoothly.

After some success with this practice, I put up a tiny app that smooths out the rough edges of the look. It’s pre-zoomed-in, uses a sans-serif font, is dark mode, and has some other bells and whistles. Feel free to use it the next time you find yourself in an appropriate situation. It lives at slide.figureandsound.com. 📽