Tips for speaking and recording lectures

I’ve watched a lot of conference videos on a lot of topics. Few lectures are recorded well and it doesn’t take much to greatly improve most recordings I’ve seen. Here are some tips for improving recordings of lectures.


If you’re speaking, here are some tips for you.

  • Know where the microphone is and which direction it is aiming because a lot of mics are very directional; turning your head away from the mic greatly reduces the microphone’s ability to accurately pick up your speech. You go from being heard to sounding like you’re mumbling from another room.

    Either wear a mic attached to your head that turns with you (such as an ear clip or head piece) or practice holding a portable microphone in front of your mouth even when you turn your head by turning your chest with your head. If the mic is stationary, practice pivoting around the head of the mic so you’re always speaking into the mic even when you’re not facing the same direction as the mic. This should allow you to look at the person to whom you are speaking while still being recorded by the mic.

  • Don’t gesticulate between the projector and the screen. Anyone standing in between the projector and screen gets in the way of the projection by casting a shadow on the screen. If the recording captures what’s projected instead of the feed coming from the your computer, your audience can’t read your slides. If the recording captures the video feed instead of the projection, those viewing the recording won’t see what you’re doing in front of the projection. Either way, your gesticulation means something you deem important enough to do is lost on some of your audience.

    Instead use your computer to highlight something on the screen as you talk. Use the computer to highlight something (via drag-and-drop or selecting interesting words and paragraphs). Structure your slides to focus on one point at a time. This approach will let you simultaneously draw the audience’s attention to something on-screen while speaking aloud to elaborate a point.

  • Enunciate your words, don’t mumble. Your audience chose to hear and see you, you should be heard and understood clearly.

    Practice speaking slowly in front of people unfamiliar with your talk. Ask them if they could understand what you said. You are more familiar with your name than anyone you’re speaking to so don’t rush through speaking your name.

  • Don’t poll the audience (“How many people here have used the BarFoo system?”, “Anyone already familiar with the Foobar programming language?”, “Who has visited my website?”). You should speak to an audience outside the room (ideally audiences you will never meet watching your recording later, including audiences seeing/hearing you after you’re dead). It’s too late to change your talk to suit a different audience. Clear thinking and clear explanations contain summaries of situations that convey how you understand the situation you’re about to elaborate upon.

    If you need to speak to a particular audience instead of a general audience, make sure the lecture description contains expected prerequisites.

  • Are you taking questions from the audience? Repeat each question before you answer each question so the recording (the most important audience) understands the context of your response and everyone listening to you understands what you got out of the question.
  • Consider not using slides because they distract the audience away from what you’re saying and because you probably have too many slides which are hard to read or contain too much information for anyone to remember.

Event organizers

If you’re organizing a set of lectures or recording someone speaking, here are some tips for you.

  • Distribute the recording of the talk in formats that favor free software because everyone can play formats that favor free software such as WebM, Opus, Vorbis, Theora, and FLAC. Installing VideoLAN Client or a free web browser such as GNU IceCat lets users see WebM movies in free formats.
  • Convey details clearly and completely in your invitation by laying down clear ground rules for your event when you invite speakers. Tell speakers in advance what they can expect from the audience (who is likely to attend, what reception are speakers likely to get). Anyone who doesn’t like what you’re describing can decline your invitation.

    Tell speakers:

    • that their lecture and any subsequent question/comment period will be recorded and/or distributed live online in whatever format(s) you pick.
    • the specific license under which all recordings of the event will be distributed. Don’t be vague by saying recordings will be distributed under “A Creative Commons license” (which one?) or by saying the recordings will be “Freely available” (which freedoms will you convey to recipients? Or do you mean available at no charge?). Name a specific license such as “The Creative Commons By-No Derivatives 4.0 license” and provide a clear reference for the license such as a valid link to the complete license text.
    • that you expect all speakers at your event to highlight some idea or favor something in their talks. If I were organizing a series of lectures about Free Software, I’d expect each lecture at the series to focus on and favor software freedom for its own sake and not “Open Source” or proprietary software, nor would I want speakers to fail to distinguish between the GNU operating system and the Linux kernel, no matter how inconvenient expressed opinions might be to business sponsors.
  • It is better to record the speaker and only record the speaker well than to record everything in the room poorly. Do not be shy about recording speakers! Place your camera in the front row and get a feed from the in-house audio system used by the speaker. Condenser mics in located far from the speaker (such as those attached to a camera at the rear of the room) do a poor job of recording the speaker. The speaker’s talk is the primary attraction, so if you are organizing an event give the speaker a mic attached to their head (so the mic turns with their head) or a mic they can hold as they turn and have backup equipment ready should the speaker’s mic fail.
  • Don’t interrupt the speaker(s) for administration details during their talk. In recordings of the 2014 DEF CON talks I noticed that convention administrators interrupted the speaker’s talk to give first-time speakers drinks and a speech announcing the interruption. I found this annoying to do at all; the interruption meant waiting for off-mic administrators to finish, and the interruption broke my concentration when I was focusing on the talk (the reason I spent time with the recording). Instead I think administrators should engage with speakers after the talk, or between the talk and Q&A, or after the Q&A has finished.