Speaking is overrated

Lukas pointed me to the Signs short movie by Patrick Hughes. It’s not a mute movie, but it is one of few words.

Slides can be useful when you use large fonts. But of course, they are almost useless by themselves.

Posted by Tudor Girba at 11 March 2009, 11:05 pm with tags slides, delivery comment link

Meaningless roadmap


This is how most talks held at computer science conferences start:

First, I will give you an introduction. I will present the problem and then I will introduce our approach. I will then show the case study we performed. In the end I will finish a discussion and with concluding remarks.

People do that because it is a known fact that any talk should start with a roadmap so that the audience is informed about how the next minutes will be spent.

The problem is that the typical roadmap, like the one presented above, is so generic that it tells nothing. It can be about anything, from solving the software crisis to solving the climate crisis.

Instead of such a roadmap, better none at all. In fact, I argue that many time you actually do not need a roadmap at all, and that it is only rarely that you would want to start with one.

Roadmaps are good when the journey is long and complicated. When your journey is short and straight, you do not need a roadmap, you merely need a direction. Thus, when your talk is short and is about one main point, you do not need a roadmap.

When your talk is longer and hits several bases, it can be beneficial to have one. Even then, it’s rarely useful to present it as the first thing because the audience does not have the necessary background to understand it. In most cases, it is much better to introduce the topic, and only afterwards to talk about the roadmap.

If you do use a roadmap, make it useful. After all, a roadmap is useful only when it provides the map of the road.

Posted by Tudor Girba at 6 October 2008, 12:15 pm with tags slides, delivery comment link

Storytelling at ESUG 2008

I had the privilege and pleasure to open the International Smalltalk Conference (or ESUG how it used to be called) with a presentation about delivering presentations. James Robertson kindly posted the recording online. You can see both the movie and the slides below.

I actually dislike watching myself present, but it is always a good lesson. Bert Decker argues in his You’ve got to be believed to be heard book that this is the most enlightening experience for a speaker. I cannot agree more.

The talk was received well. People laughed, in particular in the beginning when I played nervous, and after the talk I was congratulated several times. People particularly remembered the "one message" message. One attendees was so enthusiastic that he asked me if I were a designer.

Of course, I was glad people liked it. But, after looking at the presentation from outside I would give it at most a 7 out of 10. Maybe a 7+, but not more, because there were plenty of problems with it.

First, there were a number of English mistakes. Not that many, but enough to get noticed. If that was not bad enough, the "a’s" and "Ok’s" were just annoying. And, as Oana put it, considering the number of "so’s", most of my talk was just a long conclusion.

Perhaps most disturbing, at least for me, was the movement after the first 3-4 minutes. At times I walked way too fast for the size of the available space. This movement was not caused be nervousness, it was caused by my habit of walking while talking. In general, it’s not that bad, but in this case the space was indeed narrow, and this caused me to move back an forth like a ping-pong ball. I knew that the space was not large enough from when I checked the environment one hour before I started, so I should have been better prepared and move less. I actually got aware of this awkward movement during the presentation and I did try to slow down, but this somehow made my hands move in a windmill-like fashion, in particular towards the end.

I stop here because I do want to go home with a 7, and I will say something positive too for my morale. I do like the story structure (disclaimer I was highly involved in coming up with it), and the slides were Ok and they synchronized with my words quite seamlessly. Also, not all movement was bad. For example, when I asked people who attended ESUG before I raised my right hand to make people raise theirs. And when I asked who did not attend ESUG before I raised my left hand. This worked well and there are a couple of other similar moments, but because much of my body language was meaningless the overall value added was way less than it should have been.

The bottom line is that watching yourself present is the best feedback you can get, and next time you know what to tackle. In my case, I will focus on two things in the near future: no unnecessary "so’s", and slower movements. It will probably take a while to get these out of my habits, but with enough feedback I am optimistic I will manage.

You can watch both the video and the slides below.

slides from slideshare

Posted by Tudor Girba at 11 September 2008, 5:52 pm with tags presentation, delivery, design, slides 1 comment link

How much time

"€œHow much time do I have?" asks the presenter and 5 seconds are wasted. An unintelligible response comes from somewhere in the audience. He then follows "€Let’€™s see, what else I can show you ..."

You do not have time to start with. Time is a resource. In fact these days, time is a scarce resource, and when you deliver a presentation you consume this resource. People do not give you their time as a blank check. They give it to you for a purpose, and you should make the most of it.

There used to be a time when information was hard to get, and hence spreading this information was more valuable than the form of presentation. Today, this is no longer the case. We are bombarded with information, and hence value shifted towards its presentation.

Asking about how much time there is left shows lack of consideration for your audience. Filling this time with whatever you can find on the spot, mostly shows arrogance because you assume that you have the prerogative to use the time of the audience as you see fit.

Never feel compelled to fill up time. Better be as concise as you can, and stop when you are done. You will receive gratitude.

p.s. When it comes to points of view about time and presentations, the first thing that comes to mind is a quote from Garr Reynolds:

I’€™m not after saving my time, but after saving the time of my audience.
Garr Reynolds

The second thing that comes to mind is the computation of the price of scientific presentations proposed by Mircea a while ago.

Posted by Tudor Girba at 8 July 2008, 12:58 pm with tags delivery, presentation comment link

Mark your ending

Always mark the end of the talk explicitly. If you do not do that, the audience will not know whether you finished or whether you just make a pause, and this will lead to a slightly awkward moment.

The ending can be very simple. For example, you can say: “That is what I had for you today. Thank you very much.” If you expect questions at the end, you can also add: “Are there questions?”

Posted by Tudor Girba at 28 May 2008, 10:23 pm with tags delivery, presentation comment link
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