Friday, November 27, 2009

Planes, trains and automobiles 3

Day two of the conference, and I'm scheduled to speak as the final speaker before lunch. This being a congregation of academics, the other two speakers spend way more than their allotted time. Don't matter though - I'm focused, and as the speaker before me finishes up his Q&A, I do my mental equivalent of putting on the chain mail and sunglasses, skip in place, rotate my shoulders and loosen my neck. The my music hits - the sirens go off, "Holla...if ya hear me"..and I walk towards the podium.

At least I WISH I'd had intro music. 'Cause the lame reality of it all - and if you've ever been to a conference, symposium or workshop you'll recognize this - is that the appointed chair of the session says something along the lines of "Our next speaker is (your name here), with a talk titled (title of your talk here)".

What possible purpose does this serve? The sequence of speakers is given in the program, so simply reading aloud the name of the speaker and the title of your talk holds little magic. Moreover, as some poor PhD student who "volunteered" to do the technical assistance for the conference (i.e., making sure the presentations appear on screen and running around in the audience with a microphone for the Q&A sessions) already has out the title slide of your talk on the screen, this serves no purpose whatsoever. Unless you assume that your audience can't read, which would be odd, considering that you ask the audience to submit abstracts for posters and oral presentations. If playing some entrance music plus accompanying video ever becomes an option, I'm first in line.

Especially if the chair of your session manages to introduce you first by mispronouncing your name and then screw up the definition of the award that landed you the coveted spot as invited speaker. Which coincidentally was what happened to me. Luckily, I was well enough prepared not to be affected by this, and I started my talk. I linked my story to presentations given before me whenever possible, I connected with the audience and made sure to make eye contact (to the extent this is possible throughout the venue with 150+ participants) and get nods, I was enthusiastic and I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my work. When I was done, I waited for any questions, but none came. At this point, I stated that this could be a good thing...or not, which elicited some laughter, and then the session broke off.

As we went to lunch, I wondered whether I'd bombed worse than a post-Y2K Van Damme movie. Then people started approaching me and asking me how they could use my methods on their systems and I got all sorts of collaboration offers, at which point I figures out that the reason I got no questions was because they'd not only understood what I presented, but also that I'd managed to get the audience to see that this was something they could use in their research.

I can't deny that this was a pretty good feeling. This also marks the second time I use Presentation Zen to prepare a talk, and I'm getting better at it. Not to blindly plug Garr Reynolds and his book, but it really helps to free up slide real estate and focus the attention where it should be - on the speaker.


Anders said...

Hey, good for you chief! Since there is a slim to none chance that we would attend the same conference in the near future, I don't have the opportunity to check out a presentation of yours, it would be cool to see how your slides have developed.

Wilhelm said...

Thanks, broski.

I guess you could always catch my next talk in B-town, whenever that's gonna be?

You've seen the "Before", so you should be able to tell the difference :-)

Anders said...

Yeah, maybe I'll sneak in to your next lecture here. And maybe do a little heckling, so you'll not feel out of place in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. I'll even laugh at loud at your Cracker Barrel joke. ;)

Wilhelm said...


Yeah; I don't know whether I'm EVER gonna be able to use that joke again.