How to use code to deliver your best tech talk ever with Jhey Tompkins

Antonija Bilic Arar

Jhey wanted to turn the idea of obligatory slide deck upside down by delivering his talks - in the browser.

At tech conferences, you usually expect to learn more about a specific technology or a tool, hear more about how to ship better software, be more productive, or learn about emerging trends in the industry. Not how to use coding to become better at – public speaking!

That’s why Jhey Tompkins’ presentation at the Shift conference in Miami blew away the audience. Jhey not only told but showed the audience how to use creative coding with JavaScript – using code to create art and multimedia content – to deliver highly entertaining and interactive talks. 

Bringing ideas to life with code

Jhey used to work at Google, Uber, Nike, and Monzo but describes himself only as “a web developer that thrives on bringing ideas to life with code.” And brought ideas to the life he did at the stage at Shift, interacting with his slides in real-time via voice and hand gestures with his phone and even giving the audience a chance to participate by popping emojis over his slides. 

Photo: Filip Popovic

After you’ve seen it, it’s hard to believe Jhey only started exploring the idea of this talk about a year ago. He admits this talk at Shift Miami Supercharge your skills with creative coding, Volume VIII: Make it pop! was the best in this series.

Building slides is hard

And he did start his public speaking journey by building slide decks, just like everyone else starts: 

Building slide decks is hard, whatever the format or the tool you use. 

My goal is to do something different for every talk I do. With slides, it takes a long time to design news slides every time.

In the end, no matter how much time I would spend doing the design, it never turned out just like I wanted it to. It takes work to show your personality through slides!

Jhey Tompkins

He used to get a lot of advice on how to make his slides pop by using animations, this or that element, this tool, or the other. But slides were just not it for him:

It’s all boring. I wanted to turn the idea of the slide deck upside-down.

Why not do it in the browser? 

Jhey Tompkins

Would you like to see 20+ slides and walls of code?

Learning public speaking and becoming confident on stage is a journey, Jhey says. His journey started by learning how not to do a tech talk from Chet Haase and his talk “Top Tips for Terrible Tech Talks”. 

The takeaway from that talk for me was to try and be a person in the room. Would you like to see 20+ slides with blocks of text or massive walls of code? Make it less formal. Make it engaging!

You can always see how good your presentation is by checking out the faces of people in the audience. No matter how good you find your content is, if they’re checking their Instagram while you speak….

Know your content inside out

Asked to share a tip or two for engineers to improve public speaking, Jhey offers simple but universally true advice – just be yourself. 

It’s a personal journey. It was a personal journey for me too.

 I can’t tell people how to do it. But once you start doing it, you find out who you are, what you like, and if you want doing public speaking at all or not. If you do, you become better the more you do it.

Jhey Tompkins

The biggest thing, he adds, is knowing your content inside out and trying and testing different things to find out who you are and what you want to say:

I know who I am. I simply present who I am and what I know. 

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