Public speaking guidelines
This page contains guidelines for how to properly represent Fedora in public speaking engagements. Those engagements might include:
- interviews with the press, in person, by email, on the telephone, or on film or video.
- formal speaking engagements at a conference or other gathering
- informal speaking to a group, whether organized or impromptu
Being a leader in free software means spreading our message worldwide. To do this properly and scalably, we must have more than just one or two people able to speak on behalf of Fedora. Typically, the most important representation of Fedora comes from a small group:
We also have an ever-expanding group of Fedora Ambassadors who are responsible for grassroots spread of Fedora and our supporting message about the advancement of free software and community. It is vital that people who represent Fedora do so with a consistent message, and with an air of confidence, accountability, and positivity.
The guidelines on this page are designed to give you an idea of the knowledge, skills, and abilities you must possess to gain recognition as a spokesperson for Fedora. Being a good spokesperson requires a combination of talent, learning, and effort. Not everyone who is a great Fedora Project member is a great spokesperson as well.
These are guidelines everyone should observe, regardless of the venue.
- Speak clearly and use direct language.
- Enunciate clearly.
- Speak slowly and with confidence, so you can be understood and heeded.
- Pay attention to questions.
- Jot down notes if you find that helpful.
- Give yourself time to formulate a response in your head before you open your mouth.
- Break down the question as needed, and answer each part fully but without wandering too far off-topic.
- Suggest separate follow-up if needed.
- Break down complex ideas into simple ones.
- Software is complicated, and even tech journalists and target audience are not always aware of details.
- Use analogies or examples to illustrate the idea.
- Point to references only if required, because it is your job to explain, not the audience's job to do further research.
- Avoid jargon.
- Jargon makes your message difficult to understand. If you use a term the average man on the street wouldn't understand, explain it before you use it. (Examples include: Spins, yum repo, RPM, PackageKit....)
- If needed, use an analogy of a common-sense concept to explain.
- Make presentation slide decks simple, not text-heavy.
- Slides full of text tend to be distracting and hard to read.
- Short declaratives, or even names of concepts, cause people to focus on your words.
- Photos or graphs are useful if they support your point.
- Know your material.
- Do your research.
- If you are giving a rehearsed speech, practice, practice, practice!
- Give your talk to a test audience. Time it and solicit critiques afterward. Listen to the critique and use it to improve.
- It's okay to re-use a talk from one venue to another. Re-use encourages familiarity, better speaking, and consistency of message.
- Always include key messaging guidelines wherever possible.
- Know your audience.
- Is the audience a journalist? Community members? General computer users?
- Make sure your message matches the informational purpose of the speaking engagement. Be relevant.
- Avoid continually calling on the same audience member in speeches -- it discourages others.
- Know yourself.
- Be willing to say "I don't know" if you truly don't. People respect honesty.
- Avoid overuse of "I don't know." Are you sure the question is relevant to your topic? If not, take it offline. If you find yourself repeatedly in this situation, revisit the Know your material rule above.
- Anticipate questions.
- Ask yourself tough questions about the material, and know how to answer. You have the ability to be much tougher on yourself than most audiences.
- Have extra slides ready if helpful or needed.
- Keep talk on-target.
- Recognize questions that are off topic. Invite the person asking the question to discuss afterward.
- Avoid "woolgathering" or mental wandering while speaking.
- In interviews, it is perfectly acceptable to invite later follow-up on a related subject.
- Journalists are also susceptible to personal curiosity; help them stay on target if they are not using their time limit wisely. They will usually thank you, because their editor wants a specific story too.
- Be flexible.
- Watch for signs of interest or boredom, and adjust as needed on the fly.
- Always leave time for questions and answers in formal presentations wherever appropriate.
These are guidelines that concern the messages you send as part of your engagement. Some are particular to canned presentations, others are particular to interviews or other impromptu speaking, and others are equally relevant across the board.
- Make your message positive, not negative.
- Avoid criticizing other entities. This includes proprietary vendors and other distribution projects.
- Indicate the Fedora philosophy or practice as a differentiating feature of the Fedora Project, and most importantly how exactly it helps advance free software.
- Turn competitive statements on their head.
- Know our central messages like the back of your hand, and refer to them.
- We showcase the work of upstream, and our community builds features that are adopted by other distros. (E.g. NetworkManager, virtualization, SELinux, PolicyKit, PackageKit....)
- Our statistics are openly produced and we invite others to do the same thing.
- Invite technology comparisons based on current release.
- Audiences often have not done this within the last few years.
- Point out that Fedora ensures that free software rapidly advances, and thus a recent comparison is always needed to make a good judgment call. (This is often useful in addressing apt vs. yum questions.)
- Recognize apples vs. oranges comparisons.
- Point out the fallacy politely: "I noticed you are comparing apt to rpm. Actually, rpm is a software library and packaging standard like dpkg. It sounds like you might be interested in hearing about yum, the program that actually manages the dependencies between software packages in Fedora, like apt does for Debian."
- Recognize hidden agendas.
- Occasionally people ask questions to score points. You can defuse this kind of situation by acknowledging it up front, and emphasizing a positive message instead.
- Recognize something good about whatever the audience member positions as a competitor, then recognize something equally good or better about Fedora's contribution.
- Find time to recognize individuals.
- Talk about one or more persons working on a feature or team, and specifically what each did. Keep the list short, but be mindful of recognizing a larger group over time.
- Thank sponsors, organizers, staff, and so forth.
- Thank your interviewer for his or her time and offer to do it again any time, unless there is a really good reason against it.
(This section concerns how to pick useful speaking engagements.