The metsitaba newsletter for tech speakers, 11 Oct 2017

One way to give a great talk is to be funny on stage. Make your audience laugh! You’ll get superb feedback scores, and invitations to speak at more conferences!

The one tiny problem is that this is very hard to do well. I don’t attempt it as a rule. I have used humor deliberately in short talks, because I feel I can sustain it, but never for a longer conference talk. The resources in this week’s newsletter have inspired me to try harder, and I hope they will inspire you too.

It turns out that there are reliable techniques to make yourself amusing on stage. You don’t need to be Michael MacIntyre or Trevor Noah. You just need to be funnier than the last speaker. Who probably wasn’t funny at all.

In my experience, people want to enjoy your talk. They are on your side. You just need a little technical help to get them there.

I've never written a newsletter before, so I've no idea what I'm doing here. Please help me to make this newsletter better each week. You can email me directly: You can tweet too: @metsitaba. I'm really asking for your help to make this work - thank you so much for reading!

A special thanks and shout out to Tammy and Cora for helping to make this newsletter even better!


Speaker Profile

David Nihill
Do You Talk Funny?

This talk is a primer for using comedy effectively in technical talks when you are not a funny person. David Nihill is an Irishman who came to America pretending to be a successful comedian back home in Ireland. It’s a classic fake-it-till-you-make-it move, and he got a book out of it too.

The thing I like about this talk is that you can see yourself in David’s shoes. You can see how it would be possible for you to achieve the same level of audience laughs and funniness. David takes you through a few simple techniques that are instantly applicable to your own talks. You’re getting a two-for-one here—not only is this a great talk, but the subject is directly relevant to your goals as a speaker.

One more thing. He talks about memory palaces. I use this technique to give short talks without needing any notes. It’s like magic, and it really works.

Three Conferences


AlterConf is a not-for-profit traveling conference series that was born from a need to create a space for inclusivity and diversity in tech. It was created by Ashe Dryden, one of the foremost voices in diversity and inclusion in the tech industry to go beyond the limited definitions and basic discussions to create a deeper, nuanced conversation. If you’re interested in working toward a more inclusive future, then this conference is for you.

European Women in Technology

Gender diversity is a topic on the forefront of many minds in the tech world. The European Women in Technology conference brings attention the issues, challenges, and opportunities within the community through workshops, technical classes, networking opportunities and more. It’s about connecting, learning and sharing the experiences of industry leaders while developing women’s skills, both soft and technical. 

µCon London 2017

Microservices are still evolving and growing, and there is much yet to be discovered. µCon is a conference to learn about this evolution, share challenges, emerging practices and ideas. Join this event to learn more about the flexibility of Microservices, how other teams have adopted the technology and their takeaways. 

Learn from the best

The fringe benefits of failure

The performance

JK Rowling needs no introduction as a writer, but she is also a skilled orator. The commencement address to university graduates must be the worst nightmare of anyone asked to give such a talk. The pressure to say something meaningful, and say it well, is crushing. Rowling not only rises to the challenge but chooses to execute a difficult talk structure. The first part of the talk is lighthearted and humorous. The second part serious and almost grave. This structure is very effective. The laughter at the start makes the weighty message that follows more intense and poignant.

The trouble is that you have to get your audience to laugh in the first half, which means you have to commit to performing comedy. Rowling chooses a strategy that will also work for you, or indeed any speaker - self-deprecation. If you want to make your audience laugh, get them to laugh at you - those laughs are guaranteed. Trying to tell actual jokes, or perform like a professional comedian (the mistake of many a best man at a wedding), is to guarantee a lost audience.

The other thing to note is Rowling’s delivery. She has practiced her timing. The laughs come more from the strategic pauses, not so much from the content. She also pauses to allow her audience to laugh. The pauses work, because once you have setup the self-deprecation trope, your audience knows what is coming. The pauses create just enough tension before you give them what they want.

The best thing about this technique is that it is easy to practice. To being with, just introduce a single item of self-deprecation into your next talk, and try a strategic pause. If it falls flat, nobody will notice anyway. If it works, keep adding more of the same.

The Symposium


Seven greek philosophers attend a sumptuous banquet—with a catch. As soon as they finish eating, large quantities of wine are provided, and each is challenged by the host to give a speech on the subject of Eros, or love. The debauched evening ends at sunrise with Socrates the de facto victor, as he is still awake and talking.

A surprisingly short and easy read. Go get yourself some classical education.


JK Rowling, in the speech mentioned above, engages in Horatian satire towards her own failings. Horatian satire, one of the three classical satires, (the others being Juvenalian and Menippean), is the one you want to go for in your talks. 

Satire, and humorous satire in particular, is a technical tool of the conference speaker, and as such is one you must also study at the theoretical level. Rowling’s study of the classics certainly paid off!

CFP Calendar

These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.


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