Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wrong About Presentations

But first- this series is a bit off-the-cuff and lacking in polish, but I’ve been meaning to do it for ages and if I wait, well, this blog continues to look abandoned.  So please forgive the rambling and read on.

Today let’s start talking about presentations.

I have heard and read that they are all too long, except the ones that are too short.  That talks are simultaneously too technical and too high-level.  Oh, and all panels suck.  Ted-style talks are the best, except that they are hollow, empty, and don’t work for highly technical content.  And you should never let vendors speak because we’re all just sales weasels, except for the events where only “sponsors” get to speak.

Let me once again venture into crazy talk: it really depends on who you are and what you want.  I don’t like vendor sales pitches, but apparently some folks find them a good use of their time.  I’d rather avoid those kind of talks, but that’s me (and probably you, too, but whatever).  If sales presentations are a good use of your time, that’s OK with me.  I do hope you do some homework before whipping out the old purchase orders, though.

I will say that a lot of presentations I’ve seen could have been delivered better in a shorter timeframe- but that’s as much on the events as the speakers.  If the only choice is an hour slot, people do an hour talk.  I do think the quality of things like Shmoocon Firetalks is in part because people often pare down what they planned to be a longer talk, leaving only the key points and deliver them in a short time.  Scheduling talks of different lengths does pose real logistical challenges for conference organizers, but I think it would be good to make it easy for people to do shorter talks.  Of course, speaker ego can be an issue, we need to make it clear that the quality of the talk is not tied to the length of the talk.  I also thing that shorter talks make it easier to get new things in front of an audience.

Presentation style, there’s a topic sure to inflame absolutists.  The style has to match the speaker and the topic.  You will never do a good Ted-style talk that walks through the code of your new project or steps through disassembly of malware.  Conversely, a code walk isn’t the way to explain big picture issues.  Lately my presentations weave the ideas and information together via storytelling, in a style that sometimes borders on stand-up comedy.  And it works for me and the less technical topics I’ve covered in the past few years, but it certainly won’t work for everyone or every topic.  I know there are disciples of some books and styles such as Presentation Zen and Slide:ology, I think they are great resources but as always there is no One True Way.  Do what works for your audience and for you.

As far as panels, many are indeed often a lazy attempt at getting on the schedule, they’re frequently poorly moderated and wander off topic into incoherent ramblings.  It is also true that well-run panels can showcase display a diverse set of opinions and experiences and add nuance to complicated topics.  Panels do not suck, bad panels suck.

And no, this series isn’t over, I’m just getting warmed up.