if it was *my* conference… (or, what makes a good presentation)

Empty Conference

While I was at the recent EuroIA conference I wrote a few notes on what I’d ask people to do if they wanted to ‘present’.

I was partly inspired by my recent experience of BarCamp London, and the fact that I was surrounded by smart and creative people at EuroIA, but that it didn’t feel like this was being projected as best it could.

Here’s my list of ‘what makes a good presentation’:

  1. be specific, don’t talk in generalisations, don’t be too high level. This is really unsatisfying and ultimately frustrating – particularly if lots of other speakers are taking the same ‘top level’ approach!
  2. give real examples. Put your ideas in context, SHOW us what you mean, tell us the story that surrounds the example, the context. Help us understand how you know what you know.
  3. details people, I want details! If you don’t have time to go into detail, then your topic is too broad. Pick a narrower topic and really explore it. It’s much more interesting. Sure, it might not appeal to *everyone* in the audience, but they’ll self select and go get a coffee and do some networking if your topic is not for them. For the people who *do* stay, your talk will be so much more valuable.
  4. show me! if you’re talking about a project you’ve worked on, then show me your work! If you’re talking about something technical, then show us some code (yep, even if you’re talking to Information Architects). Be brave! Sure, this might open you up to some criticism, but that will spark interesting conversation, which is the reason we come to conferences, isn’t it?!
  5. take a position. Don’t sit on the fence, don’t take the middle ground. Talk about something you have an opinion on, and something you believe in. Be passionate about it. Again – this requires bravery because no doubt there will be people with an opposing opinion. See item 4 re: interesting conversation.
  6. be prepared and professional. If you don’t take your presentation seriously, then how are we supposed to. Don’t just wing it. Don’t just rehash something you did six months ago and trust yourself to remember it. Know what you’re going to say, prepare great materials (powerpoint, if you must) and rehearse. Present well.
  7. practice, in front of people. Find some colleagues or clients or anyone who might be vaguely interested in what you’re presenting (dogs don’t count). Present to them. Ask them for feedback. Listen. Iterate.
  8. be creative. Try something different. Don’t feel that you have to do a certain kind of talk (the academic type) to be considered credible. Think of novel ways to present your material, ways that might help convey your point more effectively. Ways that might break up the day for the audience. Take a risk. Even if it doesn’t quite come off, the audience will thank you for the variety.

Conference organisers can change they way they call for an evaluate papers by specifically requiring that presenters consider these kinds of approaches in their proposals. Or by mixing up the types of presentation structures they recruit for.

Can we come up with something beyond Presentation or Panel or Poster sessions and actually design new, more hands on, practical formats that we make presenters work to? Can we make sure that a Case Study is not just a Presentation in disguise?

Of course, there’s a place for formal academic style conference formats, but if your conferences is more about practitioners than academics, then let’s make sure the content is appropriate to the audience.

But hey, I’m no expert in conference organising or speaking. These are just a few notes I jotted down after the closing keynote of EuroIA.

What do you think?

(Also, check out Scott Berkun’s ‘how to run a great unconference session’ for the BarCamp version of this post.

Photo Credit: Arnold Pouteau @ Flickr

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Posting v Podcasting (Ideas on Privacy & Perception)

Resting Microphone

So, today I did my first ever podcast and shipped it off to Anne for the Office 2.0 Podcast Jam.

I’ve shied away from podcasting for as long as I’ve known about it for a few reasons.

Before this blog I had a few short lived experiments with websites and blogging, but none of them really stuck. Partly, I think, because they were so inauthentic. Firstly, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, but more importantly, I didn’t really want people to know who I was for security reasons. The idea of someone hunting me down somehow from my website was something that was a real fear for me at the time.

When I first start blogging it was with a mixture of excitement and fear. I was using my real name and talking about my real life and experiences, but this time I was not afraid for my personal safety, but rather scared that people would think I was talking crazy talk. Or that because I didn’t have a full and complete understanding of absolutely every topic I decided to write about, that people would think that I wasn’t very smart.

Nonetheless, by the time I started this blog, you could Google me and find out bits and pieces about me. One of the reasons for starting this blog was to have more control over what potential employers and others would discover if they started searching the internet for me. (heh. not that I have anything to hide, except for a *really* dorky assignment from my undergraduate degree that just won’t seem to go away!)

The design of my blog – until very recently – was not really personalised at all. It was like a WordPress uniform – taking seriously WordPress’s default tagline ‘just another WordPress blog’. It didn’t really give much away about who I was. My age, my gender, my nationality, who I worked for. None of these things were actually hidden – you can find them all on my About page if you really care – but they weren’t explicit in the design of the blog. I didn’t link to my Flickr account (where my *real* life was documented) from my blog for a long time.

This was quite deliberate. I felt that it wasn’t really to my advantage to make a big deal of being an Australian girl who talked about user experience and went for beers with her work mates on Friday nights. To be honest – I felt that these factors would probably create perceptions that weren’t necessarily as credible as if I was a 40-something year old guy from somewhere in the States.

Now given that, as it turns out, many more people reading this do so via RSS than by looking at my blog, then perhaps that didn’t really matter after all. Although – I guess you have to see the blog and decide to subscribe… so maybe it does make a difference.

Podcasting takes that feeling of ‘exposure’ and multiplies it exponentially. All over again, by letting people hear my voice, I feel as exposed as I ever did when I first posted a page on the internet. Not that I’ve gotten all worried about stalkers again, but I worry about what perceptions people will make of me when they hear my voice. Will I sound like I know what I’m talking about? Will people take me seriously?

This ‘exposure’ worries me much more than the other deterrants to podcasting.

For me, podcasting is much harder than writing a blog post… writing a blog post seems to happen at about the same rate as my brain is able to process things in some kind of vaguely structured and (sometimes) logical way. Podcasting moves much more quickly. When you pause to think, there’s a big gap of silence, which is all good until you realise there’s been a big gap of silence, and then it gets longer and longer,… ok, so this only happened a couple of times.

I podcast, it seems, the lazy way, that is, without doing much post production work. A podcast for me is kind of like the 8 minute opening scene of Altman’s ‘The Player’one great big long take!. It’s agility training for a blogger. You’ve got two options – work out what you’re going to say, memorise it, then recite it. OR have a structure and a point to make, and get stuck into it. I think the second approach is the only real option – but it really is an interesting exercise.

As I blog, I find my post heading off in directions that I wasn’t expecting. This is fine – sometimes it’s interesting, other times it’s a strange and tedious tangent that just gets deleted. With my one-take podcasting approach, I have to be working out how the structure is working as I go along, but still get through the argument that I’m currently making somewhat coherently!

Funny how this was so much easier when I was doing High School debating!

Perhaps I should just succumb to post production? I suspect that if I’d started editing this, my first podcast, I would have edited it all away and been left with never to contribute to the Jam!
So, there -some initial thoughts and reflections on podcasting. I’d be interested to hear your experiences and how you’ve found it or why you avoid it.
I’d also be interested to hear if you think that my overly anxious approach to both blogging and podcasting is perhaps, gender related? Anecdotally – Anne reckon’s that women seem to angst a lot more over the quality of their podcast than men do. Or perhaps they just share their angsting more?

Not that I want to make it all about gender – but it’s interesting that one of the reasons for PodCast Jam was to give more women the opportunity to have their voices heard… but we’ve still got significantly more men than women sending in the podcasts (unless things have evened up today).

photo credit: Matthew Whatley on Flickr

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but, what is Office 2.0?

So, as you know, I’ve been trying to recruit design and user experience types to participate in the Podcast Jam for Office 2.0. (hello! are you out there!). Something I’ve noticed is that your average designer on the street doesn’t necessarily know what Office 2.0 means, and what’s included.

If this sounds like you, can I recommend that you invest 5 minutes in Richard MacManus’s opening keynote podcast in which he talks about Office 2.0 as a paradigm shift that is more than just web versions of the Microsoft Office suite, and discusses a few examples of Office 2.0 services that you may or may not have heard of.

Meanwhile, an amazing thing about podcasts… I love hearing people’s voices! I particularly love people being surprised to hear that Richard has a New Zealand accent!

And, I’ve noticed that people are saying ‘two dot oh’.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s been saying ‘two point oh’…

or am I?!

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Jam On at Office 2.0 PodCast Jam!

Office 2.0 PodCastJam

The Office 2.0 Podcast Jam kicks off tomorrow – so be sure to go check it out and get involved. There’s some really interesting stuff happening from kick off including podcasts from Richard MacManus, Rosemary Stasek (talking about her experiences in Afghanistan, now that’s a perspective you don’t get at your average conference), and Eric Severson (talking about XML single-sourcing for document management, which is, for now, lost on me, but Anne tells me is very important and often overlooked!)

The online chat is open now, so that’s one very easy way to participate!

But it’s not too late to record a podcast and send it in as part of the jam!
For many of the participants, this is their first experience with podcasting, and I can tell you, it’s pretty straight forward. It’s even easier if you have someone you think is interesting and set up an interview with them! (or get them to interview you, or interview each other!). I’ll be doing some of that during the week using Skype (still investigating the best ‘recording’ option – anyone got recommendations)

One of the GREAT things about PodCastJam is that it allows all those voices who are usually absent from a conference like the Office 2.0 Conference to participate in the conversation. I’m particularly hoping to hear more women speak, more people talk from a design and user/customer experience perspective, and more people based in places other than the US.

So if any or all of those sound like you – let me encourage you to give it a go! Just a short 5-10 minute piece on whatever you think is interesting (you can really only cover one topic well in that time I reckon), and send it off for everyone to consider and talk about.

It’ll be great fun, so get involved! :)

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