Tips for InfoSec Public Speaking

For many security professionals career progression often requires an increased amount of public speaking. This may mean delivering a talk at Defcon, presenting to venture capitalists, or even supporting sales teams in explaining research on any various security topics. Of course it is no secret that the venture into public speaking represents and incredibly difficult task for technologists, especially in information security. This article discusses my journey into public speaking as well as tips and tricks I learned at comfortably giving solid speeches.

Learn From Failures
Be aware that much of this is in fact trial and error, so don’t be afraid to fail. I decided to try my hand at being an industry analyst at EMA in 2007 this was a big jump from the previous role as a vulnerability management coordinator and forensic investigator while working in the public sector. To say the least, I was not comfortable stepping out from behind the monitor to share my thoughts and insights in a public forum but I knew it was necessary.

My first foray into public speaking came at the Rational Software Developers Conference in Orlando in 2008 where I gave a talk on application security assessment. Long story short, I bombed. I did several webinars that I wouldn’t site as any point of pride, though I’m sure they weren’t horrible. Then came my second major attempt at GFIRST in Atlanta in 2009. Saying I bombed is an understatement. People were making fun of me on twitter…it was bad. What I learned though was that I needed to manage my time, I needed to know at least two takeaways before I took to the stage.

Since those bombs, I’ve made a great deal of progress, am very comfortable presenting, and do the majority of my presentations to rave reviews. Getting there was not easy. Here are a few of the things that really helped me.

Know Your Material
When I say know your material, I do not mean have your talk memorized. Though that can help in certain cases, memorization of a talk is not really knowing your material. I mean know everything there is to know about your topic and if you don’t, know what you don’t know. In the security industry, it is a virtual guarantee that someone in the audience is either thinking they are smarter than you, or they are going to try to prove it with some pointed questions. Knowing your material backwards and forwards is a key ingredient in the biggest, tip I can give, be comfortable in your own skin!

Create an Outline and Story
When you’re talking for an hour, make it less of a lecture and more of a story, it will keep your audiences attention longer. In order to do this, create an outline for your story, this will make it easier to implement more than just pointed jokes and foreshadows in order to keep the audience interested.

Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin…And Clothes
There are tons of reasons for you to be talking, the audience WANTS you on stage, they want to know what you have to say. They are all looking towards you, so you don’t want to have to worry if the fly on your pants that are a little too tight is going to hang on for the entire talk. Be comfortable on stage! The first step to this means be comfortable in your clothes. If you need to wear a suit, make sure it is the most comfortable suit available!

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