Many conferences don’t record sessions or share videos promptly, so I was delighted to find that the Emacs Conference 2013 was not only going to be recorded but also livestreamed. Jon (the venue contact) even brought a small camera for recording close-ups. Since the zero-budget conference didn’t have a professional videographer, I volunteered to process the videos and get them out there. I also took sketchnotes and shared them during the conference itself.
It’s important to me that people who weren’t able to make it to the conference can still learn from it. So much knowledge evaporates into nothingness if not shared. Besides, it would be wonderful for people to get a sense of the people in the Emacs community, and that’s something that’s hard to pick up from just slides or transcripts. I had selfish reasons, too. I wanted to be able to go back and remember what being around a hundred Emacs geeks is like. (It was awesome!)
It took me 8.5 hours spread over a week to process and upload the videos from the conference. It was an excellent use of that time, and people have been super-appreciative. I’m planning to transcribe John Wiegley’s talk on Emacs Lisp development because it was full of great tips. I may transcribe the other talks (or coordinate with other people?) if that’s something people would find really, really useful too.
There’s a lot of good stuff in people’s heads, and most people are really bad at getting things out there where other people can learn from them. There’s the fear of writing or public speaking, of being wrong, of not being an expert, of embarrassing yourself. I write a ton, and I’m comfortable giving presentations. (Both skills are really useful introvert hacks.) It’s easy for me to share what I know, and I’m learning even more each day. So that’s good – but it might be even more interesting to pick other people’s brains and help them get their thoughts out there. I suspect that even if I spend the rest of my life sharing just what other people know, that would still be a great way to make life better.
I’m getting the hang of amplifying the good ideas that people have, helping them reach more people. Sketchnotes, videos, transcription, writing, podcasts and video chats, screencasts, blogging, visual book reviews… I get to indulge my curiosity, help other people learn, get conversations going.
This is good. This means I don’t have to stress out about being original or being an expert. I can be a conduit for other people’s ideas and lessons, while inevitably creating something of my own along the way. I’m sometimes divided on this. Shouldn’t I use my 5-year experiment time to pursue my own ideas instead of just channeling other people’s thoughts? But I learn so much by helping people share, and I get to see the interconnections among so many different things. And then ideas bubble up – things I haven’t read or heard, things that I do differently that I notice only when people ask – and these ideas demand to be created and shared. The choice isn’t one or the other. By helping people share what they know, I can get even better at making new things. =)
Anyway, on to lessons learned:
What worked well?
What would make this even better in terms of sharing knowledge from conferences?
I love it when evolving skills and interests come together coherently and become a platform for going from strength to strength. I started blogging almost eleven years ago as a way to learn more effectively, and now I see how I can scale that up even further. I wonder what this will look like in a decade.
Here are a few ways you can help me get even better at sharing what you and other people know:
This is fun!
People often want to sit beside me to see how I’m drawing my sketchnotes, so I thought I’d record one session and put together a short video. Here's how I drew yesterday's sketchnote. In this video, I zoomed in so that you're not distracted by all the other controls I have open. =)
Most of the sketchnote artists I know work on paper – sketchbooks, large sheets of paper, whatever. A few use iPads or Android tablets. Few people use tablet PCs, possibly because most designers like using Macs and Apple’s not keen on the tablet PC / stylus combination. I love how I can use my Lenovo X220 Tablet PC to sketchnote, and I want to share what I’ve been learning along the way.
Working on the computer, it’s easy to:
I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. If I want to record my sketches while I’m doing them, I turn on Camtasia Studio as well. I used to use ArtRage for drawing and animation, and I’ve produced 1-minute animated sketchnotes using that, but it’s not as responsive and pen-friendly as Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is.
Working on a tablet PC is so different from working on paper or on a digitizing tablet like those small Wacom ones. On paper, you can use your peripheral vision to keep the big picture in mind as you’re working on some detail. With digital sketchnoting, I zoom in so that I can draw legible letters, so I don’t have that sense of space – but I can work at various zoom levels using very similar motions, so I can be more consistent. The ability to sketchnote an event in person without needing a special table or access to a power outlet allows me to put the spotlight on all sorts of events, while a digital workflow lets me publish things right away and spread the ideas even further.
Some organizational tips if you’re heading down this path as well:
Invest the time in developing your templates. I’ve been experimenting with different aspect ratios. Lately, I’ve been using a 7.5”x10” template at 300dpi, which means that I can print my sketchnotes on letter-sized paper, and they still look decent at 11x17”. I also have templates for a square grid and for credits so that I don’t spend time lining up my name, Twitter handle, and URL just so.
Save the colours and your favourite brushes to your palette. Make it easy to switch between colours by adding them to your palette. Experiment with the right brush widths too, and save those.
Pay attention to how you name your files and save your images. Exporting files with descriptive names saves me lots of time when it comes to filing and searching them afterwards. I sketchnoted more than a hundred 1-hour talks last year, and I often find myself using Evernote to dig up a specific sketch.
Lots of people tell me they’d love to learn how to do things like this. I want to help people improve their visual communication skills. What kinds of questions do you need answered? What would help you get started?
I’m giving up on getting the organizers to update the incorrect abstract and bio on the page, but anyway, here’s the 5-minute video from my “Shy Presenter” talk at IgniteToronto:
Minor miscalculation: shy or introverted presenters-to-be are not actually likely to come out to a bar with 200 people to watch an Ignite talk. Ah well. ;) Here's to fellow introverts who would rather catch the replay!
The Shy Presenter If you've ever struggled with small talk, felt overwhelmed in crowds, or wondered how to speak up at work, this talk's for you. In five minutes, you'll pick up quick tips about discovering what you have to say, how to say it, and why it's worth braving the spotlight.
Bio: Sacha Chua spent grade school to grad school hiding in computer labs and libraries. She prefers bookstores over bars, close friends instead of crowds, and silence over small talk. Blogging and public speaking turned out to be excellent ways to learn, though. Today, tens of thousands of people have viewed Sacha Chua's presentations, attended her keynotes, and read her blog (LivingAnAwesomeLife.com).