On Talks

July 31st, 2008

The feedback on the Beyond REST talk has been immensely gratifying, the overwhelming positive response, and the engaged critiques. I’ve wanted to take some more time to participate in the conversation this week, but it’s one of my limited weeks actually in the office face-to-face with my lovely co-workers, and the blogosphere will have to wait.

It has, however, been fodder for some ideas on the nature of conference talks I’ve been mulling.

The conference presentation is an interesting format — a highly ritualized performance art. Distinguished largely by the “talking over a slide deck” style, the slides it turns out are largely sleight of hand with good slides conveying nearly nothing, mere visual hints of a concept.

Damien Conway gave a talk on the Monday night of the conference week on how to give better talks. It was unsurprisingly excellent. He also confirmed a few of my own deep held suspicions about the best way to approach talks.

1.) You are not the primary source of data.

Your audience not only has the InterWebs, they can be cross checking your ass on the InterWebs as you speak. Your job is to intrigue, and inspire, and to shade the subtleties that the written word misses or can not be written down.

2.) Given a choice between being educational and entertaining, be entertaining.

Humans crave intimacy. And they respond to story telling. Your job is to give it to them.

3.) Limit your talk to 5 concepts. Thats all your audience can learn.

You’ve got about 45 minutes, with introductions and questions that gives you about 6-7 minutes to cover each of your 5 concepts. But you should be able to talk for 2-3 hours about each and every concept.

4.) Be passionate and energetic.

5.) Be an expert, even if your expertise is being an outsider, or not knowing the technology presented down pat.

A presentation is performance piece, where in you excite an audience about your topic by sharing your own excitement through a trust rapport based on a largely illusory experience of “learning from an expert.”

Confusing the slides for the presentation is like confusing the scenery for the play.

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