The Lighter Side of Tech: A Q&A with John Richards

johnrichards-headshotProgrammer John Richards talks about WordPress, conference presentations, and making even the most technical topic funny.

By Marcia Mannen

Your talk, “Dreaming of REST,” about WordPress, was funny and technical. How did it evolve?

Troy DeArmitt gave me some feedback about making tech talks more exciting. He suggested making it more personal. I was excited to try to make it more interesting and try to include the fun and energy that comes from our Toastmasters talks. I want to give some emotion to the technical side of things.

With this kind of talk, there is a danger of using too many acronyms. I went to the Radiolab talk here on campus and they said something about making science more exciting by using analogies rather than just using acronyms. I was hoping to bring a bit of that to my talk too.

The talk was a rehearsal for a WordPress conference, what made you want to present there?

Last year, I went as an attendee, and I really enjoyed it. It was coming around this year; they put out a call for speakers. Since I was in Toastmasters, I decided to submit myself as a “fallback.” But they liked my pitch so I was chosen to present.

The conference had more than 200 attendees. Were you nervous?

There were four speaker tracks all day long so I had fewer than 200 people in the audience. I was a little bit nervous but I was prepared. A big thing I’ve learned from Toastmasters is that people are rooting for you to do well and not waiting for you to flub up.

Did you make many changes to your speech after receiving feedback at the club meeting?

I made a ton of edits based on the feedback I heard at the meeting. I had five or six people give me great advice. I also did a test run with our developers in my office. They gave me great feedback, but none of it was the same as what I got from Toastmasters. I think the Toastmasters feedback helped me to make clear transitions.

This was my first actual public, work-related talk so I’m excited for that fact. I’ve presented in my office but not to a larger group. It was one of my goals for work to give a talk like this, so I’m really excited to be able to achieve that.