This post was migrated from Justin’s personal blog, 'Codethinked.com.' Views, opinions, and colorful expressions should be taken in context, and do not necessarily represent those of Simple Thread (and were written under the influence of dangerous levels of caffeination).

I just got back home from my talk at the Hampton Roads User Group. The group is great, and Kevin Griffin has obviously put a lot of work into it. I first want to thank the group for graciously allowing me to come down and give my talk. I do truly appreciate it.

Although the group is great, and the people were wonderful, I’m not so sure that I can say the same thing about my presentation. Sadly I really do view my presentation this evening as a failure for a number of reasons. The feeling of failure can be a fairly painful one, as if someone just cut a hole in your sail, taking the wind right out of you. I felt that tonight for a short period, but I’m not one to dwell, and so now I need to focus on what happened, why, and how to fix it.

I usually hold myself to a high standard, and so it was particularly disappointing to me. I knew I was going out on a limb with this presentation, since it was the first no-code talk I have ever given, and so I put in extra time to make sure that my presentation was polished. Unfortunately, I think I may have focused on the wrong aspects of my presentation. Since the user group was about 2 hours away I had plenty of time to let the evening roll about in my head and I came to several conclusions.

  1. I’m not a great orator. That is just a fact. I know I need to work on that, but in the meantime I need to compensate for that by leaning on my technical skills. I need to ease into presentations that don’t have a lot of technical content. Tonight was somewhat of a “trial by fire”.
  2. I need to practice in front of a hostile crowd. Went over well at work and in front of the wife. I even thought it went pretty well at work, but these crowds weren’t realistic. There was too much “preaching to the choir”.
  3. My presentation tried to cover too much. I should have focused the presentation much more on specific parts. Covering so much made it virtually useless to everyone.
  4. My presentation was too abstract. Not enough concrete examples. Too much in my head didn’t translate into my talk. A picture is worth a thousand words… and so is a diagram.
  5. I need to find a way to involve the audience more. Code samples automatically break up the talks, if all you have is slides, you will just drone on and on. Then you start getting conscious of that, and then it throws you off.
  6. In the same vein, I need to ask more questions, get more audience feedback. When you are presenting ideas to people, you need to ask questions and try to get them to think about things in the way that you need them to.
  7. The length didn’t fit the content. I felt like I was repeating myself too much. The talk would have probably been better if it was shortened and put into a 30 minute talk.
  8. I didn’t know my audience, and I made false assumptions about their situations. My topic was very conceptual, and probably didn’t go well in the .NET User Group settings which is usually very pragmatic and hands on.
  9. I get nervous when I start to feel like my audience is losing interest. Unfortunately I’m not sure what to do about this other than just practice over and over.
  10. I have a nervous tick where I rock from one foot to the other. I really need to be more conscious of this.
  11. I need to develop a strategy for pulling it together in a talk when I start to get nervous. I felt myself doing it tonight, but I was powerless to stop it.

Why Didn’t I Realize Some Of This Before My Talk?

Good question. After thinking about it for a while, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I have never given an “all talk” presentation before. I think I was focusing way too much on the content in my talk without considering how it will come across to the audience. In fact, with a technical talk, it is almost all about the information that you are trying to convey, and it becomes much less important to consider how the audience will receive the information. They are there to learn about the topic presented, and so they probably have a good idea of what to expect. It is different with conceptual talks, the delivery needs to be considered much more.

When giving presentations with code I feel as if I need to speed things up because there is so much to cover. With this talk I felt like I needed to fill the whole slot with slides and information, and so it went too fast. It was just bam, bam, bam, bam with more info. I needed to slow down, ask questions, and engage the audience.

So Where Do I Go From Here?

This one is easy, I just need to look at my conclusions from above and prepare a plan for addressing each:

  1. For now I think I am going to just stick with more technical content. I think I will ease myself into more talk and less code. Although a lot of people prefer more code. Or all code.
  2. Like I said, I need to practice in front of a hostile crowd. I did that this time, unfortunately the first real “practice” was at a .NET user group.
  3. In the future I am going to create a single concept or idea for my talk, and then carefully evaluate each part of my presentation to make sure that it supports my central focus. Unfortunately I pulled in too much this time, but in the future I am going to keep a much tighter leash on the content that sneaks in.
  4. Abstract doesn’t work in presentations. It might work on some stuff, but for technical content people just can’t visualize it in their heads. And it definitely doesn’t work for a 1.5 hour presentation. At some point you have to make the switch from abstract to concrete. In the future I will make sure that I keep things more concete.
  5. This one is a bit more tough. I think that I need to inject more questions into my notes. Either that or come up with ways in which the audience can involve themselves more. I think this one is going to have to be solved on a case by case basis.
  6. See number 5. 🙂
  7. If I want to keep things more abstract, then a shorter presentation would work much better. Without getting into details or without covering too much, you just can’t fill that much time.
  8. I need to constantly be asking myself who the audience is when I am preparing a presentation. If I feel like developers will be my biggest audience, then I need to create accordingly.
  9. Practice. Eventually I’ll figure out how to ignore my audience. 🙂
  10. Just need to focus. Focus focus focus.
  11. Hmm, not sure. Any suggestions? (See, I’m pulling in my audience)

Summary

Overall tonight wasn’t the end of the world. I don’t need to focus on it though, it has happened, and it is too late to change that. I need to now focus on how I can make my future presentations better. At this point I’m still not sure exactly what I would need to fix in my presentation in order to make it work. I’m going to have to put some serious thought into how I can change it. If I can’t really figure that out, then I might have to retire the presentation. Would be sad for it to only get a single run.

Since I’m not overly happy with the presentation I’m not going to post the files for it. If you attended the talk and want to get them, please contact me through my contact form and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

10 Comments

Jared Shields

Don’t be so hard on yourself! I thought it was great.

Pull out the SOLID portion – and just provide some concrete "Ah HA" examples for rest of it, and it’ll be plush!

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Perry Neal

I think the major issue last night was just that the presentation seemed to lack focus. Or maybe, as you’ve pointed out, that the focus was diluted with too much information or slides.

Perhaps you might want to stick with just the 5 (?) items, give an overview of each one and one or two code samples, where possible, to reinforce your point.

I agree with Jared – SOLID is a complete presentation in itself (one that I’m trying to develop myself)!

As for nerves. Yeah, the pacing and the water bottle were a tad distracting. But, presenting is just like any other skill – it just takes practice.

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Justin Etheredge

@Jared Thanks, but I honestly don’t feel like I’m being too hard on myself. 🙂 The SOLID portion was kinda thrown in last minute, and was a mistake. Not that having that material was a mistake, but if I want it in there, then I need to put more focus around it.

@Perry I agree. I think that the talk couldn’t decided whether it was about architecture or coding. It didn’t have a solid audience in mind. As far as the nerves, this was nowhere near close to being the first presentation I have ever given, I think that I felt the presentation heading downward and then freaked myself out. Which just made it worse.

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Perry Neal

@Justin I think it was just a "perfect storm" of a new and different type of presentation that probably lowered your confidence and threw you off your game. I have no doubts that you’ll make the right adjustments and the next time it’ll be MUCH better.

Maybe I’ll get to see version 2.0 at the Richmond Code Camp 2009.2!

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Ken Patrick

Justin, I thought the presentation was really well done and agree with the philosophy of keeping things clean and simple. The only recommendation I have is that I thought that you could break out the "SOLID" principle into 5 additional slides and that way the acronym might stick better. Also, since you had "The pragmatic Programmer" in your bibliography you could add some information about the "DRY" principle. I think it goes with the overall message of your presentation and it’s somthing to keep in the background as a person programs.
Keep up the good work! (I’m the guy who made the spam comment)

@kenpat
ken@kenpatrick.net

Reply
Al Tenhundfeld

I think anyone who gives presentations to a community of his peers will experience this gut-wrenching doubt occasionally. Once I lose the flow of the story I’m telling, it’s hard to pull out of the downward spiral.

I see the audience becoming distracted and I feel compelled to try to make some change to add more value. So my nervous self stupidly starts talking faster and starts skipping topics/slides/demos that seem less valuable. And of course, going faster only makes things worse.

I’ll share my mantra that calms my nerves a little: Be Informative; Be Clear.

Those words remind me that I am trying to give back to the community. I can’t control the value people get from my presentation. I can only control whether I am clearly presenting the information I intended to present.

I’m no great presenter (as you know), but I do love asking questions of the audience. I like to find the "friendlies" in the audience, watch people and see who’s nodding along. When I hit a lull or feel I’m losing people, I like to ask a question while making eye contact with one of the friendlies.

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Justin Etheredge

@Ken Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the presentation. I’m going to try and schedule another one down there, and get it more in my "sweet spot". I am glad you enjoyed the content though, makes me feel good that someone got something out of it.

@Al Thanks for the tips. I really like the idea of asking questions when you feel as if people are getting lost. I need to work on coming up with impromptu questions. I am going to try to sprinkle my next presentation’s notes with sample questions as I’m creating it. Then it will help when I am "on the spot".

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Kevin Griffin

Thanks again for coming down to speak. The material did seem like something that could have easily been broken into a series of presentations.

I definitely think that more concrete examples would have been great. Diagrams, code samples, or whatever. I learn best by seeing what I’m being taught.

Hopefully you’re getting good feedback on this presentation, because it’s a subject that we all need to talk about every now and then.

Thanks again, and you’re welcome back anytime!

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oldhick

I find that moonshine often helps grease the wheels and get a presentation going. A nip or two or three right before you get to gabbing can make a hostile crowd seem like another night out by the still!

Reply

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