Ten-minute presentations aren’t easier than 60-75 minute sessions.
They’re much, much harder.
Start by writing the first sentence and the last sentence. If you only have ten minutes, you don’t get the luxury of an agenda slide or a recap slide – you get a single sentence for each.
Ideally, the first sentence describes a pain or a frustration with not understanding a concept. Here’s examples I’ve used:
- Database administrators often wonder what the term CXPACKET means.
- Are you stumped about SQL Server licensing under virtualization?
- Why are we supposed to make sure Page Life Expectancy is over 300?
These sentences can seem cryptic if you’re outside the target audience, but that’s a big part of a successful lightning talk: knowing what you’re not going to explain.
Make a list of things your audience already knows. In ten minutes, you don’t get the luxury of bringing people up to speed. For example, in my CXPACKET lightning talk, I assume that the audience already understands the basics of wait stats and how to measure them.
Make a list of things you won’t cover. No one is going to walk out of your lightning talk thinking that their learning is over, so stop trying to cover every concept. Your goal is to get from the first sentence to the last sentence with as few concepts or definitions as possible, and then give them a place to continue their learning journey.
Only do demos if you’re comfortable with failure. In lightning talk sessions, several speakers are lined up, and you have no idea whether you’ll go first or last. You may have to walk your laptop up to the podium between lightning talks and get things working in a matter of 30 seconds. The projector may not get along with your laptop, or the resolution may be something you weren’t expecting. If you have to show processes, use screenshots or a movie.
When in doubt, think about these people watching you troubleshoot your demo:
Rehearse it in front of your coworkers and write down their questions. Give it in a slow, regular pace, not a lightning talk pace, and let them ask unlimited questions. Don’t answer the questions – only write them down. Figure out which questions you have to cover inside the lightning talk material in order to make sure the audience understands your final sentence.
Aim for 8 minutes of material. Be comfortable pausing for laughter, giving the audience time to think, and finishing a little early. You never, ever want to hear the moderator say that time has expired.
Above all, be relaxed and have fun. Nobody goes to a lightning talk session to learn rocket surgery.