How Do I Livecode Without Panicking?

March 18, 2021

Have you ever seen a mind-melting technical talk where someone was livecoding and you thought "That's cool, but I could never do that." Or maybe you thought: "I'll do that, but later in my life when I am more established. And no I'm not saying when." Or "That amazing speaker is just better than me. I can't do that because I am not a witch."

The truth is that amazing speaker isn't better than you. That amazing speaker probably just has notes.

When preparing a talk where you want to incorporate a bit of livecoding, consider a few steps:

1. Build a Demo

Put together a demo of what you want to present. Test it. Make sure it works. Refactor the code until you're ready to show it off.

2. Decide Which Pieces to Livecode

Does everyone want to see you build every single file? Maybe but probably not. Stay focused on the parts that matter to the overall message of your talk.

3. Create Your Notes

For my talks and workshops, I create markdown files for notes that can be clicked through as steps. The less thinking the better. Type one step. Click Next. Type the next step. Click Next.

Teacher Notes

This means that there's no question about what I should be doing at any given moment. Plus, I am never frantically scrolling through a long markdown file because I have lost my place. Creating separate files for each step takes longer, but I've never regretted the peace of mind that it brings.

4. Practice with Your Notes (Over and Over Again)

Once you've created your notes, run through your presentation lots of times. Run through it yourself. Record yourself doing it. Present in front of friends or family members or coworkers. As you practice, make sure that your notes reflect what you're actually doing and contain no mistakes.

Keep your notes on a second screen if you're presenting remotely or on an iPad/tablet if you're presenting in person.

5. Present with your Trusty Notes (+ a Baked Version)

Will you be nervous when you give your talk? Of course you will be. But with your notes, you'll have a trail map for where you're headed, and you'll feel prepared. More often than not, preparing in this detailed fashion will save you from unfortunate crashes. If something goes wrong, you can always pull out a complete version of the project and show people around the files.

6. Do It Again

Now you can give the same presentation somewhere else because you have such good notes.


Livecoding works. It's engaging and interactive because the audience wants to see if you can do it. When you rehearse and bring your notes, you'll bring your confidence. No magic beans required.

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