A much younger Dave speaking at a Perl conference

Collecting talks

I gave my first public talk sometime between the 22nd and 24th September 2000. It was at the first YAPC::Europe which was held in London between those dates. I can’t be any more precise because the schedule is no longer online and memory fades.

I can, however, tell you that the talk was a disaster. I originally wasn’t planning to give a talk at all, but my first book was about to be published and the publishers thought that giving a talk about it to a room full of Perl programmers would be great marketing. I guess that makes sense. But what they didn’t take into account was the fact that I knew nothing about how to give an interesting talk. So I threw together a few bullet points taken from the contents of the book and wrote a simple Perl script to turn those bullet points into HTML slides (it was 2000 – that’s what everyone did). I gave absolutely no thought to what the audience might want to know or how I could tell a story to guide them through. It was a really dull talk. I’m sorry if you were in the audience. Oh, and add the fact that I was speaking after the natural raconteur, Charlie Stross and you can probably see why I’m eternally grateful that the videos we took of the conference never saw the light of day. I left the stage knowing for sure that public speaking was not for me and vowed that I would never give another talk.


We were experimenting with a session of lightning talks at the conference and I had already volunteered to give a talk about my silly module Symbol::Approx::Sub. I didn’t feel that I could back out and, anyway, it was only five minutes. How bad could it be?

As it turns out, with Symbol::Approx::Sub I had stumbled on something that was simultaneously both funny and useful (well, the techniques are useful – obviously the module itself isn’t). And I accidentally managed to tell the story of the module engagingly and entertainingly. People laughed. And they clapped enthusiastically at the end. I immediately changed my mind about never speaking in public again. This was amazing. This was as close as I was ever going to get to playing on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon. This was addictive.

But something had to change. I had to get better at it. I had to work out how to give entertaining and useful talks that were longer than five minutes long. So I studied the subject of public speaking. The Perl community already had two great public speakers in Mark Dominus and Damian Conway and I took every opportunity to watch them speak and work out what they were doing. It helped that they both ran courses on how to be a better public speaker. I also read books on the topic and when TED talks started coming online I watched the most popular ones obsessively to work out what people were doing to give such engaging talks (it turns out the answer really boils down to – taking out most of the content!)

And I practiced. I don’t think there was a conference I went to between 2000 and 2020 where I didn’t give a talk. I’d never turn down an opportunity to speak at a Perl Mongers meeting. And. while I’m certainly not Damian Conway, I like to think I got better at it. I’d get pretty good scores whenever there was a feedback form.

All of which means that I’ve given dozens of talks over the last twenty-plus years. From lightning talks to all-day (actually, a couple of two-day) training sessions. I’ve tried to be organised about keeping copies of the slides from all of the talks I’ve given, but I fear a few decks have slipped through the cracks over the years. And, of course, there are plenty of videos of me giving various talks over that time.

I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be good to gather them all together on one site. And, a couple of weeks ago. I started prodding at the project. Today, it reached the stage where it’s (just barely) useable. It’s at talks.davecross.co.uk. Currently, it’s just a list of talk titles and it only covers the last five years or so (and for a lot of that time, there were no conferences or meetings to speak at). But having something out there will hopefully encourage me to expand it in two dimensions:

  • Adding descriptions of the talks along with embedded slides and video
  • Adding more talks

The second point is going to be fun. There will be some serious data archaeology going on. I think I can dig out details of all the YAPCs and LPWs I’ve spoken at – but can I really find details of every London Perl Mongers technical meeting? And there are some really obscure things in there – I’m pretty sure I spoke at a Belgian Perl Workshop once. And what was that Italian conference held in Ferrara just before the Mediterranean Perl Whirl? There’s a lot of digging around in the obscure corners of the web (and my hard disk!) in my near future.

Wish me luck.





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