This week I’d like to talk about the tools that you can use to give better presentations. You might think this means reviewing a list of gadgets. No. Socrates did not need gadgets, and neither do you. Finding the best slide clicker to move backwards and forwards in your presentation is not going to save your sorry ass if your talk sucks.
As an aside, there are no good clickers—they all have various flaws. Definitely don’t use any that depend on wifi, as they will fail (Keynote App, I’m looking at you). You can’t rely on conference WiFi. And even if you buy one that you really like, the A/V people might not let you use it because their one is already configured. Here’s how you solve the clicker problem: do you remember the countdown sequence [V] at the start of old movies? It goes 3, 2, 1, and then the movie starts? Just add a few countdown slides at the start of your deck. Then you can mess around with the clicker, getting comfortable moving backwards and forwards, without revealing any of your slides ahead of time.
Let’s talk about the real tools. Let’s talk about slides, words, and preparation. We’ll leave props to another newsletter as they are a whole world unto themselves.
Are you building your deck in PowerPoint or KeyNote? That’s fine. I use KeyNote. But have you tried the alternatives? They might suit you, or the context of your talk, better. The Google G-Suite Slides app is perfectly serviceable. Why would you use it? It has fantastic collaboration. If you need to prepare your deck with the help of other people, or you’re doing a double act, this might be the way to go.
Have you tried using an HTML-based slide builder, like reveal.js? It’s not for everyone, but doing your presentation inside a browser does make web-based demos much more fluid. You don’t have that awkward full-screen to desktop transition flicker. On the downside, generating PDFs, which you often need to do for sharing your deck with conferences afterwards, can be tricky.
Finally, take a look at Prezi. You’ll either love it or hate it, and it might make you and your audience seasick if you overcook it, but Prezi can be a wonderful way to talk about subject matter that has a natural conceptual hierarchy. The speaker profile video below shows you an excellent and measured use of Prezi.
Words are tools. I don’t mean your speaking voice and projection. That’s a separate thing we’ll talk about many times in this newsletter. Here, I’m talking about the actual words you choose to use, especially when giving a talk in English. Because English is a creole we have lots of substitute words. I can see or I can observe, I can hide or I can conceal. You can choose to use the shorter, punchier Anglo-Saxon variants, or the more considered intellectual terms derived from French, Latin, and Greek. Although some writers encourage a preference for Anglo-Saxon, you should not take that as a guiding principle. Words are tools, to be carefully chosen. You should take some time to read up on them, where they came from, and how they can be used to evoke different mental states in your audience. Awareness of this power, and choice, is the first step to using this tool effectively.
And since this is the tenth newsletter, what better way to celebrate than to include a truly great speech. You knew I was going to get to it eventually! Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches”. Wonderful in so many ways. For now, just pay close attention to the choice of words in the peroration (“We shall not flag or fail…”) – the only word that is not of Anglo-Saxon origin is “surrender”.
By the way, if you want to know the real Churchill, you won’t regret readingNo More Champagne: Churchill and His Money, which is far more entertaining and enlightening than you’d expect.
Fail to prepare, and you should prepare to fail. Cheesy, but true. Giving a conference talk is not just about you and your slides and your performance. If you don’t understand the wider context of the conference, the incentives of the conference organizer, the pressures the conference staff are under, and how truly, utterly awful it is to run events, you’ll get into trouble, one way or another. Yes, you should prepare your talk with practice, but you also need to prepare by building understanding and empathy for event professionals. Their world is very different to yours. The book recommendation this week will help you build understanding here.
I screwed up last week and the Dublin is … Tech conference did not get the right description text – I felt it was only fair to include it again in the conference list below.
Can I ask you for a favor? If you enjoy this newsletter, and if you find it useful, please consider recommending it to a friend who is learning to give technical talks, or who aspires to do so. I meet so many cool programmers who have brilliant things to share with the world—that’s you!
A special thanks and shout out to Tammy for helping to make this newsletter even better!
David is an excellent speaker, and this talk has great logical structure. But the take-away today is to observe closely how Prezi can be used as a presentation tool. The navigational movement that Prezi enables is used here to great effect to reinforce the message, and reduce its level of abstraction to make it more understandable.
I’ve used Prezi particularly where I need to give the audience an understanding of the technical details of something in the context of a wider picture.
Learn from the best
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
… The speech called for simple words, and the simplest words in English – those that are known to everyone from a young age – are mostly Old English in origin. Old English is the core of English after all (that’s why it’s called Old English). Even a speech that made heavy use of Latinate words, would have much that came from Anglo-Saxon (all the articles and pronouns for a start).
Even if he was aware he was using Old English words heavily (and as the historian whose works included the four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, it’s quite likely that he would have been conscious of it), his primary concern was more likely this simplicity. He was not going to make an intellectual argument in favour of continuing the war, he was going to drill in a series of similar emotive assertions that would encourage the hearts of his fellow politicians, his fighting men, those otherwise involved in the war-effort, and the general populace, alike …
Propose, Prepare, Present: How to become a successful, effective, and popular speaker at industry conferences
They say you should know your enemy. This book is a good place to start. Conference organizers aren’t literally your enemy, and you should always engage in a collaborative frame of mind, but incentives matter, and sometimes those incentives look different depending on where you are sitting. Alistair Croll has written a useful, short (always good!) book on how to engage professionally as a conference speaker. This book prepares you for pitching the larger conferences, which is where you want to end up, right?
But this book is most useful for understanding the pressures that a conference organizer is subjected to. They’re not really your enemy, but when you’re item 213 on a 749 item to-do list, it can feel that way. The most useful tool you can have is understanding other people’s perspectives—this book will give you that.
“The weekend before a TED conference, each speaker rehearses their talk in the TED theater. It’s a chance for the speakers to get to know the space, for our curators to give last-minute suggestions on talk content, and for our speaker coaches to give advice to help each speaker feel their absolute best the day of their talk. During this time, we overheard speaker coaches Gina Barnett, Michael Weitz and Abigail Tenenbaum give some helpful tips that we’d never heard before.”
- Devopsdays NYC
- New York, USA
- Thu 18 Jan 2018 to Fri 19 Jan 2018
- Microsoft Technology Center
- Standard ticket: $125
If IT improvement is your thing, you might want to think about heading to New York City in January. Devopsdays NYC is part of a series of worldwide community conferences, with 14 cities being covered in 2018 alone. If New York doesn’t work for you, take a look at their site for other cities such as Los Angeles, Zurich, Tel Aviv, and Seattle, just to name a few.
- Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
- Sat 17 Feb 2018 to Sun 18 Feb 2018
- Pabellon de la Fama del Deporte Dominicano
- Standard ticket: $100
Santo Domingo is the gorgeous backdrop for THE premiere Python conference of the Caribbean. PyCaribbean is the first Python conference of its kind, designed to connect the North American and European developer communities with the Hispanic and Caribbean communities. They are in their third year and promise to make it the best yet, so pack your island wear and flip flops and get ready to mingle with other Py-rates! See what we did there? 😉
- Dublin Is…Tech
- Dublin, Ireland
- Thu 8 Mar 2018 to Fri 9 Mar 2018
- Convention Centre Dublin
- Standard ticket: €125
Take a look at Ireland’s contribution to global tech – past, present and future. This two day community conference brings together the brilliant minds behind some of the best technologies, initiatives, companies and communities in Ireland. It’s about coming together to learn, teach, and collaborate! At the end of each day, you’ll head to the Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair on the first level of the convention centre for some great beer, food and networking!
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.
- Fri 15 Dec 2017, ElixerDaze 2018, Denver, Colorado USA
- Wed 31 Jan 2018, AFCEA Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
- Mon 15 Jan 2018, JeffConf, Hamburg, Germany
- Mon 15 Jan 2018, Salt Lake City DevOps Days, Salt Lake City, Utah USA
- Thu 30 Nov 2017, PowerShell Conference EU 2018, Hanover, Germany