Joe Stump on How CTO Improves Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

In Chapter 13 of 17 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, Internet entrepreneur and SimpleGeo Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Joe Stump shares how his public speaking and presentation skills are improving over time. As his college Interfraternity Council (IFC) president, Stump learns to overcome nervousness and butterflies. As Stump progressively becomes a thought leader, he finds value simplifying his presentation and slides. As his talks become less technical and more about future and innovation topics, including mobile location services, Stump uses more statistics to support his points. Stump is the co-founder and CTO at SimpleGeo (, a San Francisco-based mobile location infrastructure services company. Previously Stump was Lead Architect at Digg. He programs in PHP, Python, Django and enjoys scaling websites. He earned a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Eastern Michigan University.


Erik Michielsen:  How has you approach to public speaking changing as you learn and grow as a though leader?

Joe Stump: I don’t get nervous anymore, obviously I’ve been speaking in front of a lot of people a lot, so that’s gotten a lot better.

Erik Michielsen: When did that stop?

Joe Stump:  Um… That actually stopped a while ago.  I did a lot of – I mean you were in B school and you know that everything is a group project and everything ends with a presentation.  And every class that I had I had group presentations or single presentations, I had to take speech in college because of business school as well and ended up on IFC as the IFC president, so I had to give like a speech in front of the whole Greek organizations on campus.  So, I think I got over a lot of that in college.  

The big thing that has changed as I’ve grown as a leader- well as I’ve attempted to grow as a leader in the tech space, is when I first started giving talks I felt that it was really important to put as much shit on a slide as humanly possible, right?  And it was literally like twelve-point font, all code, monotone, you know it looked terrible. Everybody is like “Ehhh” Everybody in the back is like, “I don’t even know what he’s talking about.”  And now if you look at my slides, they’re literally just like a funny picture background and one or two words, and that’s it.  

Everything that I talk about when I talk is off the cuff.  I don’t actually plan what I’m going to say other than I have my slides as an outline.  And the reason why I do that - a really good buddy of mine in New York, Eric Kassner, I use to when I was doing really heavy technical talks I would have him review my slides.  He’s a friendly nerd of mine.  And he was like, “Why are you putting all of this crap on slides?”  And I was like, “Well, I like to have something for them to read and I want to give them as much information as humanly possible and…”  

And he was like, “Dude.  You can bullshit about this stuff ad nauseum. You don’t need to worry about putting a bunch of crap on slides.” He’s like, “Get up there, be yourself and just talk as if you and I are having a conversation.”  That’s probably the best speaking advice that I’ve ever gotten.  And that’s – the biggest fundamental shift is I get up, I talk ad hoc, just from the cuff about what I know and what I’m passionate about and it either resonates with people or they think I’m an idiot, which is fine too.

Erik Michielsen: Now, how has that changed as you’ve talked less about tech and more about ideas and innovation?

Joe Stump:  I actually just recently learned a lesson on this one. Now that I’ve gotten away from more technical talks and getting into more of the “what does it all mean and where are we all going” kind of talks is that I use a lot more statistics and a lot more kind of metrics to get my message across.  Like one of the current things – there are a couple of things that I think are really interesting about mobile location kind of stuff.  

One is that there’s about 1.5, 1.8 billion people on Internet.  There are 5.8 billion mobile subscribers.  We have a four billion person gap that’s going to be closed – those four billion people will be on the Internet probably in the next year or two.  So, if we thought the Internet is growing quickly before, we haven’t seen anything because those mobile subscribers are just waiting for the Internet to come on to the network.  So, I use a lot of numbers to talk about that and to back that up.  

And recently a lesson that I learned from that was that I have sources for all that stuff but I don’t generally put them on slides, and I recently quoted a report from Africa that said that students in Uganda and Kenya spend fifty percent of their disposable income on mobile communications.  And this woman who was from Kenya got up and was like, “That is absolutely false!” Like she went off to me with the microphone in front of the whole thing and I’m like, “Clearly I need to cite my sources.”