This year we had a new item at the 2014 PASS Summit: Speaker Idol. Run by Denny Cherry ( blogs | @mrdenny ), this is a contest where people who have never been selected to speak at Summit get the opportunity to win a golden ticket (an automatic speaking slot) at Summit 2015. To win, speakers must put together a 5 minute lightning talk, then impress the judges more than any other speaker in the competition.
I competed in a similar contest at TechEd two years ago. The difficult part about this is there are no criteria for which you can prepare. You don’t know what the judges think are good habits or what topics they might enjoy. They might even give conflicting advice. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of a crowd, give your presentation, then be critiqued by others in front of a crowd.
A few of us judges are blogging today about the things we commented on to the presenters:
Denny Cherry discusses the overall process used to put it all together
Joey D’Antoni focused mostly on physical presence while speaking
If others blog, I’ll update this post with links.
Today I’m going to continue on with Joey’s theme of physical presence.
Move, But Don’t Wander
It’s really difficult when you are stressed or nervous to get the timing and location of moving around right. Some people hug the lectern as if they are on flight experiencing extreme turbulence. Others pace back and forth like a caged animal hungry for fresh meat. At some conferences at Summit, this is compounded by a speaker set up where there’s a table, a lectern and several chairs. The AV equipment is often taped or strapped down so that your laptop must be located on the lectern. I find this annoying because presenting isn’t the same as giving a speech. Presenting and training involve more discussions with the audience and need more engagement than just speaking at a group of people.
The raised podium effect also means that moving around can lead to falling off the stage. Not a good thing.
Joey gave advice to stand with your feet together. I usually give other advice: stand with your feet shoulder’s width apart, then move your feet about 3 inches further apart. This sort of forces you to stay put for a while because it feels slightly off, but not enough to make it feel awkward. It’s harder to move out of that stance and it tends to be a more powerful, competent looking to the audience. Move around to ensure you aren’t blocking the same audience members for your whole presentation. Move to show that you and the audience are working together to learn.
Remember: pacing back and forth is bad, but taking a few steps in a variety of directions can help you engage different members of the audience. Have a purpose when you move.
A Mic Changes Everything
Most speakers would prefer not to use a microphone. A hand mic plus a remote means both our hands are tied up. A lavaliere mic (one that clips on your shirt and has a pack that has to be stuck in a pocket or worn in the back) means everything you do or say is being amplified. But when sessions are recorded, broadcast or in large rooms, audio equipment is mandatory.
One of the more common mistakes the speakers made was leaning forward then turning their heads to read the slides on the screen. This meant that as they were talking, they were talking away from the mic. We judges were in the front row and I had a hard time hearing what was said.
The trick is to turn your whole body when you are mic-ed up. Do this even when you are turning to speak to an audience member and to highlight something on the screen.
Remember: The audio portion of your presentation is just as important as the visuals. Probably even more important.
Don’t Read Your Slides to the Audience
This is a tough habit to break, especially if you are running short on time. It’s the most common feedback I hear from people who are attending sessions and are frustrated by the speaker. This is especially common with lightning talks because time is so limited. If you read your slides to the audience, you are basically showing them that you don’t really need to be there speaking. You could just email blast out your slides and be sitting in the bar enjoying a conference-themed beverage.
One of the ways to break this habit is to have fewer words on your slides. More on this later.
Another way is to have speaker notes that you can see when you are presenting. These should have different words/bullet points and that will force you to explain things in different words. PowerPoint shows these notes when you are in presentation mode.
The best way to break this habit, though, is to not look at your slides when you speak. Look at the audience. Engage with them. Offer insights into what is on the slides, but do that while having a conversation with the audience.
Remember: You are there to give insights and to engage with the audience. Your slides are there to support that, not the other way around.
One of the more interesting things about being a judge is that we all talked about how we are also guilty of many of these speaker vices. We recognized that while we were giving all this advice, we all needed to take care when we presented, too. I’m sure it was difficult for the contestants to be judged in public. It was difficult for us doing that as well.
I’ve blogged about what to do when something goes wrong during your presentation, but I’ll be blogging about those things and more as part of this series. I’ll be talking about equipment, preparation and delivery. Plus being judge-y .
shared some of these on Twitter, but I decided to pull them all together in one place. There’s be a lot of tips shared prior to these events, but I think these haven’t been covered nearly enough.
- Laptop Power cord
- Spare batteries
- USB charger ends
- VGA adapter/dongle
- Presentation clicker
- Presentation on thumb drive
- Compassion for those with difficulties
- Bravery to meet people in person
- Spirit to lift others up
- Daring to try something new
- Firmness to speak up
- Care for not insulting others
- Humility to ask real questions
- Talent to discourage Strutters
- Expertise to think of audience, not self
- Restraint not to sell from the podium
- Civility to be nice to everyone, not just the celebs
- Class not to spam the crowd
- Excellence to understand that not everyone speaks English well.
- Integrity to disclose your biases and affiliations
- Professionalism not to cuss
- Readiness to help others
- Genuineness to show your real self
- Trust that others want you to succeed
- Diligence to keep your promises
- Concern for others who have less experience than you
- Coolness to get through tough discussions
- Kindness for others
- Goofiness to have fun
- Self-discipline to take care of your body
- Prudence to take care of your mind
- Sincerity to admit your mistakes
- Preparedness for your presentation.
- Openness to constructive feedback
- Honesty to admit “I do not know”
- Expertise to answer questions
- Mindfulness to know when you are not helping
- Charity for others who disagree with you
- Expertise to know when to not try to answer questions
- Empathy for others
- Respect for self
- Wisdom to know that you can’t have self respect without empathy for others
- Forethought to pack well
- Vigilance to call out bullying and disrespect
- Courage to meet others who are different than you
- Strength to deal
- Moderation to get to tomorrow
- Stamina for long days
- Thankfulness for volunteers and staff
- Joy for cheering on others
What did I forget on this list?
I’ve seen this a few times. I’d like to think it just a cut-and-paste error, or someone doing alcohol-driven job postings, but I’m guessing these sorts of things are used to, let’s say, target certain candidates.
Here’s a blurb from another posting, courtesy of a government contractor:
But if you think Business Analysts have it bad, look to see what this upstate NY retailer thinks they need in a Data Analyst
And don’t get me started on someone looking to hire a Data Analyst to be a a “Data Cop” for $35k a year. I don’t care how “generous” the benefits are.
Here are the rest of those Data Analyst job requirements:
I don’t see anything in the job description that requires the ability to lift 70 pounds frequently. I can only guess is helping move the bodies.
When recruiters issue silly job postings, this is a major sign that they aren’t serious about the posting. Just give them a pass.
And ladies, start doing bicep curls and push ups. You are going to have a difficult time meeting that requirement without weight training. But perhaps that’s the point after all. All that data stuff is really hard work.
Rant Level: High. It’s Friday.
I was reading an ACM blog post by Judy Robertson about strutting, a tactic used by audience members at event. Robertson discusses a specific type of this behaviour, done by IT people: nerd strutting.
Garvin-Doxas and Barker (2004) refer to "strutting" as a style of interaction where people show off their knowledge by asking questions carefully designed to demonstrate that they know a lot about the topic, and quite possibly that they know more than everyone else around them. The problem with this in a learning situation is that students who lack confidence assume that they are the only person who doesn’t understand, and quickly feel even more demoralised.
The full paper is available if you’d like to read about the study these researchers did on Defensive Climate in the Computer Science Classroom.
I’m betting you’ve seen this behaviour before. In fact, I’d bet that if you attend enough events, you could name the people most likely to nerd strut before the speaker has even gotten 15 minutes into her presentation. They ask questions, often sprinkled with references to product codenames, Greek philosophers, small startups and archaic error numbers. They use highly jargonized terms. They use insider terms. They want you to feel outside the inner circle. They want you to know just how freaking smart they are. But you know what’s funny? The vast majority of the people in the room can see what they are doing and silently smirk.
I’m interested in hearing just what sorts of people fall for this bravado. Everyone else in the room talks about how insanely annoying the behaviour is, but no one wants to do anything about it. I’m not even sure what we can do about it, other than to ask audience members to stop.
Insults R Us
Another tactic that nerd strutters do is sit in the audience and stage whisper criticisms of the speaker and the topics. I find this incredibly annoying as an audience member. It doesn’t impress me, nor does it make me feel as if the strutmaster is actually convincing anyone he is superior. A variation of this is a group of people, chatting with each other and loudly snickering about the speaker or the topic.
If you are sitting in a presentation and you find it too "level 100” for your tastes, you should just get up and find a presentation more fitting for your enormous brain…or whatever body part is keeping you from learning anything.
Why it Matters
I know, some of you are saying “But Karen, just ignore the @$$#@+s that do this stuff”. I do, mostly. However, Garvin-Doxas and Barker found that the effect of many types of negative communication, even when it was not intended, has a negative impact on many students, especially women. Yes, women should suck it up and learn to play the game of competition. But we don’t do it that well. In general, women prefer a collaborative environment. We love a bit of friendly competition. But one where team members insult others in public? Not so much.
The authors point to the fact that IT work is highly collaborative. Supporting and enabling a culture of jabs, insults, mockery and distain works against that goal. I hear people constantly ranting that topic X should not be on a conference agenda because it is isn’t what *they* want learn. I say “choose another session – there are several other tracks”. When I see someone nerd strut in front of an entire audience, I want to call them out – tell them they are showing off. We can all tell when a question isn’t really a question. I don’t call people out on this, though, because no one else does.
What to Do
Robertson gives 3 tips in her blog post on dealing with nerd strutting. Go read them. I’d love to see the community deal with this in a consistent, collaborative way.
I’d like to add to them:
1. Encourage others to ask questions during presentations. One of the reasons why many nerd strutters can do what they do, often several times in the same session, is that very few people ask questions or give commentary. If enough people are asking legitimate questions, then the strutters get less show time.
2. Ask the Insult R Us people to take their conversation elsewhere. It’s annoying enough to hear anyone ramble on while you are trying to listen to the speaker. It’s not rude or unfair to ask people, no matter what they are talking about, to either be quiet or to wander somewhere else.
3. Stand up to people who insult the work of others. This one is the biggest pet peeve of mine. It’s fine for people to be proud of their own work. It’s not cool for them to insult the work of others just because they think it’s easy or low-level stuff. I don’t just draw boxes and lines all day. BI professionals don’t just draw bar charts all day. Developers don’t just type all day. We all have difficult jobs. I don’t need to step on someone else to raise myself up. I will continue to speak out to the people who need to insult others. I’m hoping you can, too.
From the paper:
Finally, when people communicate certainty in a dogmatic fashion, they also tend to communicate a low tolerance for disagreement. When defensive communication becomes habitual in a social context, it engenders a "defensive climate." Distrust of others becomes the norm, resulting in a social environment privileging competition over cooperation.
We all need to recognize that this negative behaviour hurts everyone. It poisons the community. It drives people away, especially new community members and those who want to work together to solve problems and build the community. And we all need to work together to keep people focused on making the community an inclusive, inviting environment.
Garvin-Doxas, K. and Barker, L. J. 2004. Communication in computer science classrooms: understanding defensive climates as a means of creating supportive behaviors. J. Educ. Resour. Comput. 4, 1 (Mar. 2004), 2. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1060071.1060073
Many Toronto User Group members will be attending the PASS Summit in November in Seattle Washington, including me. If you work with SQL Server, this is the only community-driven event for SQL Server training, presentations, workshops and networking.
Would you like to join us? Use our PASS Summit Discount code / Coupon / promo code:
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