While going thru the process of putting the presentation for my China trip (and describing it to a friend part way through the process), it occurred to me that I have a specific method that I seem to follow each time.
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that I seem to find myself presenting over and over on subjects in the same specific topic area for roughly 9 to 24 months before I move on to something newer and different. Those phases, unsurprisingly, coincide with my role at work at the time.
Past phases were roughly:
- MySQL, Perl, and Open Source in general
- Search/Yahoo and Social Media
- RSS, Blogging, and Corporate Blogging
As you might expect, this time around it's about Developer Networks, APIs, Web Services, and Platforms.
I should also point out that this isn't exactly a pre-meditated strategy or even a good way to work. But it is what I find myself doing each time.
When I transition from speaking about one area to another, I end up thrashing about quite a bit because I haven't really wrapped my head around what exactly I'm trying to get across, how to do it, what examples to use, the necessary context and bigger picture issues, and what other relationships I can draw.
Though I've been back in the Yahoo! Developer Network for about nine months now (how time flies!), I haven't had to do any big formal slide shows yet. Instead I've been doing a lot of demos and a few panel discussions that require far less preparation.
So what happens is I end up putting it off until the deadline is fairly close. Close enough than I can feel the pressure. I just avoid doing anything until I can't wait much longer. Then I sit down with a pen and paper to write out ideas in a fairly free-form bullet list. Then I annotate and expand the ideas until the paper is unreadable to anyone but me. And I usually bounce a few ideas off people at this point too.
With that done, I fire up PowerPoint in outline mode (never start by looking at what the slides will look like) and try to transfer those thoughts to digital form, organizing them along the way. I then end up with either far too many proto-slides or not nearly enough. That's when I have to figure out what needs to be expanded with more detail or glossed over and summarized at a higher level. This takes a lot of time.
Depending on the topic and audience, I use a rule of thumb for slides: 3-7 minutes per slide when it comes time to present, not including the title slide and the traditional "Questions?" slide I stick at the end. This gives me a good target to work toward. I'll spend a few hours trying to really mold things into the right shape and size.
The second to last thing I do is worry about the appearance of the slides. I'll look for illustrations, photos, and screen shots I can include to lighten things up and distract from the text. Sometimes they're even relevant to the topic at hand.
Finally, on the way to the talk (if there's air travel involved), I'll sit down with a printed copy of my slides and make lots of little notes about points I'd like to mention on each slides. I don't always end up using the notes, but the exercise alone is very worthwhile anyway. It helps me to step back and see the whole presentation, including any holes or weird assumptions it may contain.
The second time I have to speak about something that I've spoke about before, I can often recycle a fair amount of the time, energy, and sometimes even the content from the first one. Even if I end up reusing a very small amount of the material, the mental stress I endured to create the first one resulted in much clearer thinking and distilled ideas.
The derived presentations come much faster but follow a very similar pattern. I start with the paper and finish by dropping pictures on slides that I'll eventually annotate with a pen right before the talk.
In both cases, I find it incredibly difficult to practice a talk before giving it. I don't know quite why, but without standing in front the actual audience it just doesn't work. Maybe it's because I know it doesn't really count. It's fake. Or maybe it's just that I need the feedback and pressure involved in a room full of people looking at you expectantly (or staring at the laptop screens, pretending you're not there).
Anyway, that's my story...
If you end up speaking in front of audiences on a semi-regular basis, is your preparation experience anything like mine?
Posted by jzawodn at May 14, 2007 11:58 AM