March 26, 2010

Bulk view

Missing something I love about presentations

While preparing for PresentationCampToronto, I found myself thinking about how I turn what I learn into presentations, the different kinds of presentations I’ve given, and what was missing from Ignite and other short presentation forms that have grown in popularity.

My presentations come from life: book and blog insights filtered through the lens of my experience, experiments summarized and shared. I share these thoughts on my blog as a way of exploring the topic and getting things out there. I’ve tried recording podcasts based on that, but never persisted. I find it hard enough to listen to other people’s lectures.

If I find myself writing about a topic again and again, it’s usually a good sign that there’s a presentation lurking in there. Sometimes I get swayed by invitations or calls for papers, and I’ll write something specifically for them, too.

When I have an audience and a venue in mind, I’ll make storyboards – quick, simple illustrations of the key points. These turn into slides with minimal text. If I feel particularly diligent, I may prepare more detailed stand-alone slides for viewing on Slideshare, but I usually don’t do that if I’m planning a live presentation.

The next step is usually dictated by the venue. Sometimes I’ll invest the time in recording a stand-alone video, like the afternoon I spent recording Remote Presentations That Rock in my kitchen. Most of the time, I prefer to deliver the presentation as a webinar, getting my key points across in 7-20 minutes, leaving plenty of time for Q&A, and building in lots of interaction opportunities. Sometimes I need to give the presentation in person. Ignite-style presentations use strict time constraints. Camp-style presentations are short and followed by a brief Q&A period. Keynotes need to be more showy and they tend to not have interaction , although this depends on the size of the audience. I can sometimes play with this. Conference-style presentations have plenty of time for Q&A. Oh, and there are panels, too, which are an interesting case of conference-style – presentations need to be short conversation-starters, and the flow of conversation can be very interesting.

I was thinking about this because I realized that although Ignite-style presentations are becoming more popular (more ideas squeezed into a shorter timeslot; more focused talks; more variety), I felt like I was missing something important, something I love about presentations, something that makes the hassle of preparing a presentation all worthwhile.

My favourite way of delivering a presentation is to give it over the Web. My second favourite—if I must travel, which I don’t enjoy as much as other people do—is to give it as a conference-style presentation with as much Q&A as I can manage. And I’m perfectly happy to skip the presentation entirely, sharing what I know in a blog post or stand-alone set of slides instead.

I think it’s because the other forms feel one-way and presenter-centric. It feels a little like, “Look at me! I’m an expert! I’m clever!” And I don’t want to be like that at all. I don’t want audiences, I want participants. I love learning from the other people participating in the session. I love the questions that make me think and teach me about what people want to learn. I love the answers that surprise me as I give them, and the insights we draw from people in the room. I love the chaos of a lively backchannel during a webinar, when dozens of conversations might begin. I love the worldwide reach of blogs and webinars.

I love the intimacy of a web conference or a blog post. In person, the bright lights on a stage hide people’s faces anyway, and people forget to follow up on ideas or URLs. At least online, people can see my facial expressions, immediately check out resources, and send me e-mail or a note. It’s nice to shake people’s hands and see them, true, but details blur in the din of crowds. Online—oddly!—I feel more connected with people.

What does this mean for me? Fewer in-person appearances, more web-based ones; fewer presentations, more blog posts; fewer words, more questions and answers. And it would be nice to spread the presentations a little further apart again.

There’s been something missing in the in-person presentations I’ve been giving – that sense of interaction and connection. I wonder if it’s worth pushing the in-person presentation formats to give me that sense back, or if I should focus on deepening the presentation formats I love.