Engage, Entertain, Educate: Technical Speaking that Works [2019 Class Archive]

“Engage, Entertain, Educate: Technical Speaking that Works” is a one-day workshop led by Andrei Alexandrescu, John Lakos, and Kate Gregory. It is offered at the Gaylord Rockies from 9AM to 5PM on Sunday, September 15th, 2019. Lunch is included.

Because participants are given class time to make short presentations, the number of participants is strictly limited!

Course Description

Successful technical talks require more than just mastery of the topic at hand. They also demand a strong stage presence, a memorable delivery, effective audience management, clear presentation materials, comfort with the environment (e.g., mics, stages, screens), and an ability to cope with the unexpected. This workshop, led by three of the most storied speakers in C++, lets you strut your stuff in several short presentations. After each, you’ll receive specific feedback on how your stuff-strutting can be improved.

For speakers at CppCon, the utility of the workshop should be obvious, but everybody giving (or aspiring to give) good technical presentations will benefit from this session.


The most important prerequisite is a desire to improve your technical presentation skills. You’ll be expected to prepare a few brief talk fragments prior to the workshop, to present them, and to accept feedback on them. You’ll also be expected to critically observe others’ talks with an eye towards identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

Course Topics

The bulk of the workshop consists of small-group breakout sessions, each led by one of the instructors. In a breakout, each participant will give a short presentation and get comments on it. There will be three breakouts during the day, and each group will have a different instructor for each breakout. By the end of the day, each workshop participant will have presented for and received feedback from each workshop leader.

“Celebrity lightning talks” will follow the breakout sessions, whereby experienced presenters give short talks and field questions about how and why they did what they did and do what they do.

The focus of this workshop is on giving presentations, identifying what works well and what less well, and on practical approaches to improving all aspects of technical speaking.

Instructions to Participants

This workshop will include a break session which each of the three instructors. During each breakout, you’ll give a short presentation for comments from the instructor.

  • For your breakout session with Andrei, please prepare two items.
    1. A one-minute story. It can be on any topic, related to coding or not, real or fiction, joke or serious etc. The emphasis should be on conveying the mood of the story and building interest from, and rapport with, the audience.
    2. Please prepare 4 minutes from your tech talk. It can be a fragment, but at best it would be a self-contained exciting elevator pitch of the entire talk.
  • For your breakout session with John, be ready to give a five-minute talk that includes
    1. the beginning of a presentation and
    2. at least a little serious technical material.
  • For your breakout session with Kate, be ready to give a five-minute excerpt from a talk you have given recently, or plan to give soon (if you’re speaking at CppCon, that talk would be fine.) You don’t need a beginning or an end, just do 5 minutes of it. If you plan a mix of slides, demo, and livecoding, it would be terrific if you chose an excerpt that includes both – if that means starting or stopping in the middle of a demo, that’s fine, just set the stage by telling us what happened before the place you’re starting, or wrap up by telling us how it ends.
  • Bring the laptop from which you would normally present, as well as any accessories such as a clicker, a timer/clock, and so on
  • Wear the clothes (including shoes) in which you would normally present

Five minutes isn’t much time, so it’ll be fine if you say something like, “I’ll start like this…” and then, a minute or so later, you say “…and then later in the talk I’ll get to this…”. Don’t worry about a talk conclusion or summary. Use whatever presentation format you like, e.g., slides, live coding, demo, etc. If you’ll be giving a talk at CppCon, a five-minute excerpt from that would be a great way to go.

If you like, you can use the same talk in more than one breakout session. That would allow you to get each of our perspectives on that talk. On the other hand, if you use different presentations for the different breakouts, you’ll get feedback on a wider variety of material. Choose the approach that suits you best.

Attendee Comments

Comments from 2018 EEE attendees:

“Although the time was really short, they managed it to deliver their entire content very well!”

“They are REALLY EXCELLENT speakers. As a first time speaker, I gained a LOT of things to improve my talk, and nice feedbacks from them too.”

“Almost every part of tech talks is covered here”

“The prep for the talk, and the breakout where we have to simulate the actual talk was really useful!”

“Small groups sessions were effective. Seeing others face the anxiety of public speaking, while knowing that even great speakers experience it, made me feel both that it was okay to be anxious and that it was our problem instead of my problem. The groups were large enough to provoke the anxiety of speaking but small enough that over the day I felt some rapport with the others. I went from being a nervous first-time speaker to being (somewhat) comfortable on stage, and I look forward to giving more talks. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Course Instructors

AndreiAlexandrescu Andrei Alexandrescu wrote three best-selling books on programming and numerous articles and papers on wide-ranging topics. His signature speaking style combining complex information with spontaneous interaction and wit made him a popular speaker at conferences worldwide, in spite (or some may say, in part because) of his thick Romanian accent.
John Lakos John Lakos, author of Large Scale C++ Software Design, serves at Bloomberg LP as a senior architect and mentor for C++ Software Development world-wide. Dr. Lakos is the founder of the BDE group and curator of Bloomberg’s BDE/BSL open-source initiative. He is also an active voting member of the C++ Standards Committee, Library Working Group.
Kate Gregory Kate Gregory has been using C++ since before Microsoft had a C++ compiler, and has been paid to program since 1979. She loves C++ and believes that software should make our lives easier. That includes making the lives of developers easier! She’ll stay up late arguing about deterministic destruction or how modern C++ is not the C++ you remember.