Tag Archives: speaking

Tips for giving effective presentations

Some quite good points from Physicist/Feminist:

The “What” vs. the “So What”: Doumont stressed the idea of getting across your message.  He differentiated the message from the information.  The information can be thought of as the “what”.  The message is therefore the “so what”.  One of the most useful things he said was to “maximize what the audience gets out of the presentation, not the information you put it.”  I think it can be really tempting to put as much information into your presentation as possible, but it is more effective to parse out unnecessary information and concentrate on the “so what”, the motivation for your work.  Your talks should always have a message.

You should read the full article, it has lots of great tips.

The point of maximizing for output not for input is key. My current method to try to get to that is start with a much larger slide deck, dumping in everything I find interesting about the topic. Then I start aggressively editing. Giving yourself time to edit is the key, because everyone’s first draft leaves a lot to be desired.

Android Talk at the Poughkeepsie ACM

I didn’t get home last night until 10:30, and sleep didn’t find me until after 1am. All of this was because of a talk I gave at the Poughkeepsie ACM on my experience with Android Development with the Where is Io application.

Why the ACM, and not the LUG? That question got asked at dinner, as the ACM regulars are well aware that I run MHVLUG. There were a few reasons. The first of which is that we did an Android talk in May, and while my talk was substantially different, the concept would feel stale to me. We’ve got a 2 year no repeat policy on topics, which I think works out quite well. But I had this quite good talk that I really did want to do locally and not just for the folks in Harrisburg.

But something else happened over the course of the fall, which got me more excited about this talk. It occurred to me that mixing things up a little is always a good thing. MHVLUG is my familiar turf, and at this point I know the audience really well, so it’s less of a lecture and more of a hangout with friends for me. I am definitely in my comfort zone there. ACM is new faces, new audience. I had spoken there previously, and while I knew a couple folks that come to LUG meetings are ACM regulars, it promised to be a mostly fresh crowd. Growth for me, and a chance to generate a bit of crossover between the groups. I advertised the talk to the LUG on the off chance that we’d get a few folks to come out.

The ACM does dinner first, meeting second (reverse of MHVLUG). I happened to show up at the Palace just as Ben and Tim (2 of the other MHVLUG officers) did. As we walked in we found the ACM table which was 7 folks, with an open spot for me.  At +3 we kind of broke that assumption so wedged another table over.  It turned out that wasn’t the last table addition we’d need. By the time food was being ordered there were about 16 people at dinner. Bob Cotton, ACM president, turned to me at one point saying this was the most people they’d had in a while.

Gulp. At that point I realized an expectation was set, if no where else than in my head. This was going to be more of a draw than the ACM meetings typically got, which meant I felt an extra burden to not be wasting anyone’s time. I knew the talk didn’t suck, I’d given it before, and I’d refined it again, but live performance is what it is, and until you get swinging you never know.

Dinner ran late, which means we got to Marist late, and while I was expecting a few other faces than at dinner, people who said they’d be there, I wasn’t entirely expecting 20 more faces. Neither were they. There was a chair scramble while I set up.

The talk went very well, one of my better performances. It clocked in at about 50 minutes, which seems to be my new norm, open questions for 30 minutes following, with stragglers there for another 40 to ask more questions. It had been one of the biggest draws in a while, and when people want to keep discussing the topic for a full hour after you ceded the floor, you know you stuck the landing. I still get quite an adrenaline rush after a solid presentation like that, which led to the whole issue in falling asleep.

Bill Collier told me at the end of the evening I’d be welcomed back to speak any time, and I’ll definitely take him up on that.

Drupal Talk Roundup

A couple weeks ago I gave the first MHVLUG talk of the year on the work I’ve done with Drupal for the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association, and MHVLUG. I think it went well, but it’s sometimes hard to tell, especially because I’ve been trying out some new approaches on talks, so feedback comes in different ways.

When I was building the Android presentation for CPOSC, I realized I was building a generic Android tutorial, and I stopped myself. Why would anyone want to hear me give that presentation? You can get that all over the internets, on the youtubes and vimeos of the world. So, I thought long and hard about what I could uniquely bring to the table. The answer was pretty simple, talk about the things that I racked my brain on, in the context that I ran into them when building my application.

This drupal talk was much the same. Two days before the talk, while doing a dry run at home, I realized that I had a tutorial that was better covered by the internets. So, I started over, and edited heavily, and managed to produce a personal narrative of working with the PFP that showed the nuts and bolts of Drupal along the way. It was a much better presentation. It also made it easier to put a call for action in the presentation, for people to get involved with local non profits.

Because this was a narrative, and not a tutorial, the audience interaction is very different. People stop and ask clarification during a tutorial, but questions during a story are often considered rude. This led to a very distinct boundary between talk, running just about an hour, and questions, which carried for 30 minutes after that. Without questions during the talk, it’s a little harder to tell if people are engaged. I do have a vivid image in my head of looking out out on the audience and even the laptop folks were all eyes up and watching, so I think I succeeded there. The 30 minutes of questions, coming from at least 8 different people, helped reinforce that.

I also made a few mechanical changes to the presentation in Open Office, which others might find interesting. I’ve moved to using Fade Smoothly (Fast) for slide transitions, and Fade In (Fast) for element animation. Getting rid of the hard appear makes the whole thing feel more fluid, and as long as it’s fast, it doesn’t get in the way.

I also realized that when you put up a slide you feel like it should get your time, but sometimes there is nothing really to add. I had a brief walk through of drupal installation. During dry run I realized I spent way too much time talking about slides with relatively little talk worthly content. To keep myself honest during the talk I made those slides automatically advance after 5 or 10 seconds (depending on complexity). That meant I got all of that on screen, but capped it to 40 seconds, and didn’t find myself saying something like “what more can I say about this slide”.

Overall I think things went quite well, and am now looking forward to the ACM talk tomorrow night.

My Thoughts on the Central PA Open Source Conference

I love this new movement of small regional open source conferences that seem to be springing up everywhere. Democratizing the conference space by making it local and affordable is a wonderful thing. When I was at Ohio Linux Fest last year, I got told I should really check out what the folks in Harrisburg were doing with the Central PA Open Source Conference. Given that a trip to Harrisburg would also mean a good chance to visit friends in York as well, I submitted once their call for papers opened up. Having just gotten back from CPOSC, I can tell you they are doing some really great awesomeness there.

First off, the quality of the people at CPOSC is just really amazing. Every random conversation I ended up in was really compelling, and made me wish there was more time between sessions to have even more of those. I learned some very interesting things about mobile web development when I didn’t know, I learned quite a few interesting Drupal tricks that are invaluable, and I found a really vibrant and welcoming open source community in Central PA.

The facilities were brilliant. We were in the Technology Building for Harrisburg University, on the 12, 13, 14th floors, which were truly state of the art. Touch screen controls for all the rooms, power wired to all the desks, really good chairs… just all around brilliant. The flat screen displays in the hallway we even flipping through Linus quotes all day, which while a little detail, really helped set the atmosphere.

The organization was really tight, which I always appreciate as a speaker. The speaking blocks were 50 minutes, with 10 minutes in between. The organizers ensured every session started on time, and ended on time, giving 10, 5, and 1 minute warning cards. The graphics on these included Veloceraptors and Wolves, which I didn’t even realize until after my talk. A well run event is one that seems like no one is running it but, mysteriously, everything is just where it needs to be when it needs to be there. That’s was CPOSC to a T. To everyone that made CPOSC happen behind the scenes, I applaud you greatly.

The schedule at CPOSC was great. The speakers and content were top notch. I’ve now learned that on the presentation win scale there is something even better than a perfectly in context xkcd comic to make your point: using video from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to explain software architecture. My only regret on the speaker front is that by consuming one of the slots with my own talk, I inevitably collided with a talk I actually really wanted to see.  Oh well, thems the breaks.

Finally, my audience was great. I had somewhere between 50 – 60 people in my talk, all were very engaged, and really focused on what I was saying. I felt really good about how the presentation went (though I’ve of course got my mental list of things I’d change afterwards, it’s never a good talk without that), but I did feel that I was on my game. I got a number of great questions at the end of the talk, and people coming up to me later in the day asking more questions and just striking up conversations that followed from there (see point 1 about the quality of the people being excellent).

I can’t wait until CPOSC 2011, and will definitely do my darnedest to get down to it. Knowing how good the speaker pool is now, I’m going to have to make sure I keep my game up to play there.

A Few Tips for Casual Speakers

I enjoy speaking in public. I think I got the bug for it by doing theater in high school. When I took the job in the Linux Technology Center back in 2001 a big first part was to get known in the community, so I submitted papers all over the place. A few of my close friends even got to see my horrible first attempt at conference presenting at Urbana Illinois that year. But, you have to start somewhere.

So here are a few pieces of advice that I’d give to anyone that does public speaking.

Give Yourself Enough Time

If you are giving a talk with slides, start at least a week in advance building those slides. Much like a paper in college, if you wait till the last minute, you’ll end up with the first draft only. Everyone improves after 2 or 3 drafts, especially if this isn’t what you do all the time. I’ve seen a lot of people make the presentation cramming mistake.

Slides aren’t an Essay, they are Supporting Materials

It’s an easy trap to fall into, but the point of pushing big pictures up onto a projector is really to augment your talk with things you can’t say. If people came to your presentation to just read text, you didn’t need slides in the first place.

More Pictures

If your topic is something that requires mostly text, at least spice it up with a few small pictures integrated into at least every other page to mix it up. When I’m making slides now a days I find that if I’ve got 2 text slides in a row, it feels boring, 3 in a row, and I’m doing something wrong.

My favorite presentations are mostly pictures.

Don’t Read Your Slides!

I consider this speaker Sin #1. The audience is not illiterate. When you put text on the screen the audience will read it faster than you can get to it. If you follow the previous suggestions and get rid of text in favor of pictures, this helps solve that.

Black Background

Seriously, it’s a simple change, but it makes things look so much slicker. This was one of the suggestions from the presentation class I took that I was surprised by, but it’s really true.

Practice Run

Make sure you take your talk through a practice run. If you can find a few people to listen to your run, great, but if not, just do it yourself in an empty room pretending their is an audience and a projection behind you.

At the end of every talk I’ve given, I’ve immediately realized something I wanted to change. I should have shortened that first bit, or man I wish those were in a different order. I’m bad on this one myself, but something I’m trying to force myself to do better.

Respect Your Time Slot

Part of the reason to do a practice run is to ensure you are close to your time target. When you got scheduled for a talk you were given a slot of allotted time, the audience was advertised to about it being that amount of time.

Whatever you do, don’t run long. It’s rude, and as long as your main talk is still going people aren’t going to want to interrupt you to give you the hook. If the audience really wants you to stay longer, and wants more of your content, they’ll ask lots of questions, and the host can decide how long they really can let things run.

If you are going to run short by a substantial amount (like having 20 minutes to fill an hour slot), and there really isn’t content to fill the rest, tell the host in advance (and not right before the talk starts). This will give the host some time to pad in filler so it looks like the shorter duration was always the plan. It makes you and the host look good.

Avoid Dropping out of your Presentation

I fall into this trap quite often, where I want to show some code, so I got to an editor. It’s rarely a good idea, because it breaks the flow of the presentation. Also, it takes you longer to find files, search for the right thing to show, change editor colors, or do google searches than you think.

If you are going to show code examples, copy them into your presentation. It takes a little more time, but it helps keep focus.

If you Make a Mistake, Move on

When you are actually in the heat of the moment, treat it as theater. If you miss a beat, whatever you do, don’t back up, just keep heading forward. Maybe you’ll find a place to insert the point later, maybe you’ll get it as a question, and can expand off of that.

No one recognizes your mistakes nearly as much as you do, the audience may never have figured out that something went wrong.

Give More Presentations

The best way to get better at giving presentations, is to give more of them. If you’ve got a local user group for something you are interested, get on their speaker schedule regularly.

There are other, more minor tips I could make, but these seem to be the major ones that come to mind, though I’d love to hear other thoughts in comments. An remember, no one is perfect. I fail on many of these things in presentations I give, but remembering tips like these help make my presentations better.

And most importantly, remember to have fun in giving a presentation. The audience is getting most of their information not from your words, or your slides, but from your body language. If you are excited and having a good time, the audience will pick up on that, and will be far more engaged. So once the preparations are made, the slides are loaded, and the lights go down… enjoy the ride.

Speaking at Central PA Open Source Conference

The full agenda for the Central PA Open Source Conference is now out there, and I’m on the agenda:

Sean Dague: Solar System in your Pocket – Developing Android Applications

It started with a simple discussion after a local astronomy meeting trying to figure out which moons of Saturn we were looking at. This seemed like the perfect first Android application, building an astronomy simulator that would let me answer that question wherever I was. Little did I know that trying to do this would take me on a Journey through most of the major subsystems and interfaces in the Android SDK.

This talk will take you along on that journey of writing your first Android application. It will touch most of the major concepts involved in mobile development for Android, and many of the interfaces you’ll need to write you first application. Most importantly it will give you a list of things *not* to do when developing for the mobile space.

Sean Dague has been an open source software engineer in the IBM Linux Technology Center for the last 10 years. His spare time is split between the outdoors, amateur astronomy, and random bits of open source hacking.

I’ve been looking through all the talks listed, and I’m quite impressed.  I want to attend at least 2/3 of them, which is going to be a problem unless I can clone myself, as it’s a 3 track conference.  From an interest density level this looks like it’s going to be a really great conference, so I’m very excited to be going down for it.

This will also add some impetus to getting the 2.0 of Where is Io out there, which I’ve been hung up on building a custom view.  Once I get that one custom view finished, I should be back cranking out more regular releases.