Memorable Talks

Owen | Sep 22, 2022

In Successful Talk Proposals, I finished by suggesting that a track record of memorable talks goes a long way to any future proposal being successful.

But what makes a memorable talk?

For some years, I’ve been quietly asking attendees at PyCon UK what talks they remember from previous years and what makes those stand out. I’ve noticed some common themes in their responses…

Stories, Metaphors and Hidden Worlds

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the things that make a proposal stand out also do the same for the resulting talk. If you can tell a story, find a metaphor or describe a world the audience never knew existed, your talk will stick in the mind.


This one is tricky to plan! Many people, when asked to recall a talk, will leap to one where they personally learned something hugely useful. The reasons for that learning are often deeply personal and relate to the circumstances of the listener more than anything specific the speaker said or did.

The takeaway? If you know something in some depth, there’s a good chance somebody will benefit from hearing it.

The next few themes are more general. These are patterns I’ve noticed from many people and relate to talks on a huge variety of subjects:


Engage with your audience - Inject some humour, refer back to something that occurred earlier in that conference, include some audience participation.

Anything where your audience feels they are part of the talk and not merely passive spectators will make them remember what they did and how it made them feel.


Put yourself in harm’s way and the audience will love you for it!

We’re talking live coding, hardware demos, live responses to data provided by the audience, anything where it could all go wrong!

It doesn’t seem to matter whether it actually goes wrong or not. People remember when speakers take a risk on stage.

A Twist

I said earlier that telling a story is a sure fire way to make your talk successful and a plot twist is a well-known literary device.

It’s no surprise that a well-crafted twist works just as well for a talk as it does for a piece of writing.

Here’s a lightning talk from PyCon UK 2022 that uses a classic bait-and-switch twist:

My PyCon Photos