Monday, October 14, 2013

Advanced Tips for Developer Presentations

In a previous post, I wrote about the simpler things that could be done to get better at giving presentations. These were the very most basic tips that could be provided for anyone interested in honing their rhetorical abilities. Today, I'll delve into more specific tips for developers, and this will be in the form of an internet article. I hope you laugh.

Advanced tip #1: Unless it's the entire point of the presentation, do NOT show code.

This one will be met with heated debate, I'm sure. Master Debaters everywhere will attempt to justify their use of code in their presentations because they had done it and got so many compliments on the presentations.

Presenter: Here we see an thread safety issue wherein lies a serious problem. I have a framebroke that fixes it; hurr it is:

Me: what happened? I fell asleep after your ridiculous idea of showing a swatch of code that's totally irrelevant to the topic at hand.

You see, that's the problem. People think, "Ah-ha! If I show off my best code, I'll get hired by some company looking out there, and since I'm presenting, surely that makes me worth a lot of money. Suckers." Well guess what? No one really cares, jerk.

Unless code is the ONLY reason you're presenting, do not show code (and even then, you MUST be careful to explain it in detail, which gets boring). It's too easy to get lost. Provide a link to snippets from Gist if you absolutely have to, but for the love of all that is holy, do not put a bunch of code into your presentation. Hardcore devs will get it at a glance, but most people that go to these talks will just glaze over and fall out of their chair, out of a third story window and DIE. Is that what you want? You want people to die because they went to your presentation? I didn't think so.

Advanced tip #2: Know your presentation partner.

One of the things that's been happening a lot lately is partnered presentations. This is nowhere truer than at Google I/O. They've become obsessed with duo-presentations. One of the potential problems with this particular style is the lack of understanding of your partner.

If your partner jokes a lot, know and try to understand their humor, or at least smile/laugh/nod in appreciativeness when they hit the punch-line. If they don't joke, then make sure they get your sense of humor. If neither of you joke, then what happened to you?

Here's this guy. He has a perfect French accent, is totally hot, and has an amazing sense of humor. He's even named after a type of lettuce, for you vegan folk.

See this other guy - the one who looks like Patton Oswalt?

Lettuce-man finished talking and all the straight women and gay men in the audience had already removed their underwear. And most of the gay women and straight men had also gotten naked. Then Bizarro-Oswalt opened his mouth without realizing the French guy was joking and sucked all the air out of the room. This continued for the entire presentation, and it must surely go down as the best and simultaneously worst presentation in the history of all mankind. Funny, in that saddest-of-all-possible-worlds kind of ways.

Moral of the story? Know your partner's habits and presentation style, and be able to adapt. Don't let your nerves gum up the works.

Just so it's clear, Patton Jr. did do a decent job when it came to the presentation. He stuttered less, and presented better in general than did Romaine-Guy. He just seemed considerably more nervous, which is presumably what threw him off.

Advanced "tip" #3: How to enlarge your presentation in eighty-five easy steps that this homemaker found while doing her laundry! Big pharma doesn't want you to know!

What typically happens when you have a certain amount of time to give a presentation? You invariably fall short your first time. It happens to all of us the first time, trust me on that! Sometimes it happens regularly and our audience complains. Why is it that we always seem to have trouble getting the length we desire when giving presentations? Mary-Janice had these words to say:

"Be creative. Sometimes you have to dig deep and insert extra material. Insert wherever appropriate. It won't always fit at first, but you can slip it in easier by leading into it. Give examples, tell a joke, whatever, I'm just a homemaker."

This material that Mary-Janice recommends doesn't always have to fit perfectly. Sometimes it can be an anecdote, an example, or a longish joke you found that seemed vaguely relevant. Frankly, it can be whatever you want, but if the meat of your presentation isn't quite big enough, you can have a Q and A session toward the end. This is often the easiest way to handle length issues, just like it is in bed.

Advanced tip #4: Questions and answers

Many presentations have questions and answers during the presentation. This is a faux pas. Do not let people raise their hands during your presentation. It can block people behind them from viewing your pretty neckbeard, or prevent someone from watching you play with your hair incessantly like an egomaniacal Valley girl.

There are quite a few problems with having Q and A during the session. For one, it's really, really easy to field a question that is way too in-depth for the level of the presentation. In fact, I try to go out of my way to ask something that is too much work, just to see how the presenter responds. A good presenter will just brush it off as requires too much work to answer right now, but a bad one will either a) not know the answer, get flustered, and fumble the rest of the presentation, or b) know the answer and delve deep in the bowels of Hell.

Another problem is the possibility of causing you to go massively over-time with important information. It is much, much easier to pinch off the Q and A at the end than it is to leave out vital information that might happen to be near the end of your presentation, or attempting to hurry up the final, vital information.

Advanced tip #5: Alpha and omega

The beginning must grab them. The ending must leave them thinking. There can be no argument. What else is important about the beginning? It must contain most of the information you're trying to present. You should try to avoid really weighty information at the end of your presentation. For some, this is difficult, because there's just so much to present. The fact is, though, people have no attention spans these days. They're used to short-term goals that get them answers immediately; if you don't know the answer to a question in five minutes, you don't know it in thirty, right? 

This doesn't mean everything has to come at the beginning. In my experience, it's simply better to put the most important stuff first, and put stuff that's less useful/relevant toward the end. Some may argue this feels like you've lost the thread of your presentation, if they even notice, but at least for the majority of people, you will have given them the most useful stuff right away while they were capable of paying attention.

Advanced tip #6: Understand the time for your presentation, and gauge the material accordingly.

One of the hidden problems with giving conferences of the nature in discussion is having people give presentations near lunch, or near the end of the day. This is actually quite a serious problem. Typically, the only way you're going to keep someone's attention at those times (or in other words times when people are getting hungry) is to have someone who is really, really funny, or at least has good stories.

But what can you do? Know your place in time. If you're near the beginning of the day, you can't be too dense because no one has woken up yet. At the same time, you need to have it be as dense as possible, so that you can help them wake up by the end of it. At the beginning of the day, I tend to rely on little tips and tricks at the very beginning to grab their attention; for a specific example, one time it was 8 AM and I had to give a persuasive speech in college. I decided I'd do it on why women should weight lift: The topic itself is interesting, but not so deep that anyone would have trouble following. And to start it, I flexed my arms big (they were 15 inches around at the time), stretched, and let out a grunt of epic proportions. Then, I quietly said, "Good morning. How are you feeling? I can tell you I'm feeling amazing, all because I lifted this morning."

When you get closer to lunch or toward the end of the day, people can tend to get more annoyed with that type of gimmick. When they're hungry, they just want the info and fast. I typically find out if I can shorten the length of my talk so that people can have more time to eat, but sometimes they won't allow that. Incidentally, that's also a good way to boost the number of people that come to your talks on average; you'll become known as the person who lets people out early after giving a stellar knock-out of a presentation, and eventually you'll be worshiped as the god of rhetoric that you are.

With speeches at the end of the day, there's really not too much you can do except hope. With brain stress the way it works, you can't pack in nearly as much information into a speech as you'd want. It's also hard to do a gimmick or a joke to start off, because people just want to drank. My only advice to you is to make it shorter, if possible, and if that requires you putting an artificial Q and A at the end of a steaming pile of non-information, do it, because people won't ask many questions and then you can more easily justify them leaving that early to your organizers.

Here's a chart demonstrating this: It is loosely a time vs inverse length of attention span chart. This is science, folks.

That's all for now. Go forth and present! 

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