Thoughts on how to give a great lightning talk

Last night at devshop I noticed that some lightning talk speakers were having trouble getting their points across within the allotted time, so I figured I’d write down some thoughts. Let me know if they’re any help!

Lightning talks are 3 minutes long with 2 minutes for questions. That means that you have barely any time to say anything, so you should take care to say only the things you really want to say.

  • Practice at least once. 3 minutes is no time at all. If you don’t practice your talk once up front you might run out of time before you even get to your main point, and that would be too bad, because we all want to hear what you’re working on!
  • Focus on one thing. It’s tempting to explain a couple more things in your talk, or just “quickly” demo that one other cool thing, but it benefits you and everybody else when your message is simple and to the point. One good strategy is to ask yourself what the one thing is people should be taking away from your talk, and then just cut everything out of the talk that isn’t about that.
  • Know your audience. Remember you’re demoing to everyone from programming newbies to experienced computer scientists, so keep your wording and demo clear and concise. There’s always an opportunity after your talk to connect with people who want to dive more deeply.
  • Remember that you’re being livestreamed. Your talk will be streamed to potentially hundreds to thousands of people watching the Devshop live stream. Not only that, but MDG will upload your talk separately afterwards, and it will build up thousands of views on Youtube over the coming months. It will work in your favour to take the opportunity to present a polished, clear and concise talk. Who knows, maybe months from now people will still be talking about it!

Lightning talks are like designing for mobile first: you don’t have the talk real estate you normally do, so you need to focus on what matters and leave everything else out.

What lightning talks are great for
Lightning talks are great for communicating an idea (just one though!), giving a short and sweet demo of your app or product, or highlighting something in the community. They don’t work so well if you plan to give an extended deep dive of your product, a package or technical element of the app you made, or if you want to talk about a bunch of different things. In that case, get in touch with MDG and maybe you can give a longer 10+ minute talk.

Help designing a great lightning talk
If you need help fitting your lightning talk into 3 minutes (which is barely any time at all), you should take the time during devshop’s coworking hours to run through it with someone (many people will be delighted to help here) and try and cut stuff so that your talk works well within the format.

Anyone have anything to add to this?


I don’t have anything to add at the moment, but this is a great idea! We should possibly distribute this or something like it to future lightning talk speakers to help them prepare.

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And turn off Flux!

Just kidding, your post is great, Rahul.

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