Heaps of public speaking

February 13, 2015

An embedded.fm podcast listener posed a question:

What tips do you have for preparing for an event that you’re speaking/presenting at? Tips for first time presenters (like me)?

Tips for when you’re speaking about something that’s a bit technical, but you don’t want to spend too long explaining everything. ( Do you just assume people are following along, and let them ask questions later?)

Let the pictures in the presentation do the talking?

I wrote Stuart back but I was typing on my phone, delaying getting out of bed, so I did a somewhat terrible job. It is a good question, one I’m pondering since my Intro to Inertial talk was accepted at Solid (June 23-25, SF, CA).  (ESC won’t be returning results until the end of the month though I have it on good authority that I’m in.)

Speaking tips: I can tell you what I do. I can’t tell you if it is the best thing for you. There are different speaking styles and that’s a good thing.

I once suggested a person not read word-for-word off their slides, trying to be, you know, helpful. That person became very argumentative and explained that was the best, perhaps the only good, speaking style as it was how people retained information: visual and audio together. Uhhhh, hmmm, uhhhh. Yeah, sure. Seriously, I thought we might one day be friends, that was the only reason I worked up the courage to gave unsolicited advice. I see that’s not going to be and I will back away slowly. (I hate, hate, hate being read to. Unless it is a bed time story.)

(I had a bad, unrestful night with a sick dog and then a bad morning with the IRS whose operators won’t even let me wait the two hours they did last time to talk to them, this time they just say no one is available and I should call back some other time. I’m not coherent. I’d be working if I was coherent.)

Ok, so first, I can tell you about my style. I can point to other styles I like. TED talk videos are good styles. I saw Simon Wardley speak at OSCON 09 and it changed my speaking style. He does a constant barrage of somewhat-related visuals along with his talk. His slides are relatively word free. The whole thing feels a bit like drinking from a firehose. I dig it. It is a heck of a lot of work to put together so I tend to only go halfway there.

I have my slides and talk from the Embedded Systems Conference 2014 on Element 14. It is about consumers and the internet of things. It isn’t as rapid fire as Wardley but I hope it has the same visuals are another channel of information, supporting the verbal (text) but providing more dimension as well.

I’m slightly addicted to clip art and visual eye candy (stupid but pretty tables! marginally related charts!). I’d prefer they look at the slides than me. You can see this in the (not very technical) talk I gave at Silicon Chef last fall.

Don’t put together a presentation for idiots. For book writing, O’Reilly says to assume your reader is a smart person, just not well versed in your topic. I think that is good advice for all audiences. To consider an audience member, consider yourself before you learned this topic (you minus a year).

Slides should be visible to average vision from 20-60 feet away (depending on size of speaking room). Stick to big fonts and simple diagrams. Colors with some differentiation. If it gets too detailed, break it into multiple slides (and/or take off the words and say them instead of putting them on the slides). So squint at your slide while it is on your screen and take off (or enlarge) the pieces you can’t make out.

Some slide decks are documents unto themselves. Mine are not. If yours are intended to be, you probably will have your visuals and audio match more. (Or you can use the speaker notes section in your slide prep program in case people ask for your slide deck.)

Have cues for yourself on your slide deck for whatever will keep you amused/cogent. For example, consider putting in one or three that tell you (in a non-obvious to the audience way) to take a drink of water. This lets the audience catch up and keeps you hydrated.

My cues are usually small, marginally related icons, reminding me to slow down / breathe / smile. (I once gave a talk at full speed and it was very fun but I gave it to a very small, very smart group.) If you put something that makes you less nervous (a picture of your kid on slide 3; secret, hidden cats on every slide; etc.), do so. It will make you enjoy the presentation more and that will make your audience enjoy it more.

I’d like to say “have fun” but that is so hypocritical I can’t even. And yet, a few jokes to yourself are worth it. I once made bullet points on every slide have haiku form. No one noticed but it made me happy: slightly more relaxed. A happy speaker makes for a happier audience.

I strongly suggest watching this TED talk from Amy Cuddy about posture. It is because of this talk that I can be found doing superman poses before the talk starts. (Ok, usually found in the ladies room.) Whether it is meditating or breathing or putting a pencil in your mouth (forcing you to smile), do something before talking other than thinking yourself into a dither. I do a few voice exercises (most saying “red leather, yellow leather”) to get it so I don’t stutter and so my voice doesn’t crack when I say hello. (If I can just get through slide one, I can settle into the rest.)

Stuart asked about questions. At the start of the talk, I usually request folks ask clarifying questions as we go along. But then when someone asks a discussion or argumentative question, I’ll say “That’s a good point, let’s hold it for the discussion at the end.” Don’t hesitate to push back if a question isn’t at a good time (“If I haven’t answered in 3 slides, please ask again.”). You probably want to think about likely clarifying questions as you do your slides. There is some nice satisfaction when someone asks a question and you flip to the next slide and there is the answer.

If you can get them mentally asking questions and then you, as though reading their minds!!, answer the question, well, all the points to you. They will really remember this stuff and they’ll think you are clairvoyant. Feel free to set them up for this. You have to spend some time thinking about how your audience will think but it is worth it.

One way to get started on a talk/slide deck is to pretend interview yourself about the topic. Then you get a nice rhythm of questions and answers. If you can also build in a beginning, middle, and end, that is better. Jokes are a good way to let your audience mentally breathe.

You will forget an important point during your presentation. Accept that. It is ok. If you have 20 important points, forget to cover one, that’s a 5% loss which is pretty good. (Your audience only got 80% if they were really interested and paying attention, the one your forgot is not worth agonizing over.) It is also ok to have 30 points and give yourself permission to only cover 20, the talk ends up being more fluid and variable (depending on the audience and your mood).

If you have 100 important points, your talk is a Wagnerian opera: consider splitting it into multiple. Your audience will get too tired and tune out. This is why talks are usually under 60 minutes.

I write out my talk. Wait. I write an outline, usually bullet points in Powerpoint. Then I write the talk. Then I redo the powerpoint to not have many words, adding pics and clip art. Then I practice my talk 3-4 times, editing the talk and the slides, not worrying too much about total time. Then I cut the written talk down to an outline and practice 3-4 times, checking to make sure I’m in the right time range. I do the final outline form so I don’t read my talk (which tends to be more monotone and tough to listen to). See notes above about being ok to forget things.

Expect to give the talk aloud 7 times (magic number learned in Mr. De Graf’s public speaking class in high school). This makes 60 minutes talks take at least 10 hours to prepare, usually double that. (Urk! Why do I sign up to speak at conferences? They are such time sucks.) Also, with talks longer than 20 minutes, sometimes in practice I start with the second half (or third third) so I don’t always work on that section when I’m tired.

I said this about pop science books recently: “The key to a good pop science book is > 40% good science, ~30% good explanation & metaphors, ~15% personable-ness, and < 10% politics.” That’s not a bad ratio for prepping a technical talk. Yes, do have a large portion of material but you need to budgt time and space for explanations. And your audience will like it better if you toss in an anecdote or two. Finally, you probably do need some bit about what you want them to do with this information (politics). Brain dumps are great but if you can add some encouragement or next step, even better.

Whelp, that’s all I can think of and my mind is clear enough to go play with some electronics.



In case you hadn’t noticed…

February 3, 2015

An older engineer said to me that she’d recently come out as a woman. She’s avoided all women-in-tech things, all women-only evens, even diversity boards at major companies in an effort to avoid rocking the boat. I get that though I’ve always been pretty upfront with my femininity.

That is why I will not meet you in a hotel bar to discuss your start up. That is always true but even more so if you’ve already been the sort of person who refuses to take hints, who doesn’t seem to notice when I consistently don’t respond to emails and messages. It may not be that I’m busy; it may be that you are creeping me out with too much contact from too many channels.

I understand that you may not get this. It is definitely a girl thing. On the other hand, I do know many guys who get it. There was that business trip where my electrical engineer put a chair in the hotel room door before it could close, even before I could. There was that other business trip when the guy invited me to watch TV with him in his room and then immediately explained three others would be there.

I’m a grown up, even sometimes a professional. I’m happy to meet you at a Starbucks. I’m ok having lunch if I’m not busy (and I want to). I’m a bit leery about meeting you in a hotel lobby but can see the necessities given conferences and business trips. But I won’t meet you in a bar. I won’t have a candlelight dinner with you. And I won’t be alone with you in your hotel room with the door closed.

How would that look to my husband? How would it look to your wife? These sorts of appearances matter. I won’t give my husband reason to doubt me, I wouldn’t hurt my husband for anything, especially to listen to you pitch your start up.

Ok, forget appearances. I won’t meet you in a non-public, not-well-let place because it isn’t safe for me. I won’t get in a he-said/she-said argument because there will always be witnesses. This is for both of our sakes: do you know how much such an argument can hurt your reputation?

And now, I’d like to apologize to the podcast listener that I met for coffee but refused to go back to his car to get the gift he sweetly brought me. I was ok in the busy cafe but I didn’t know him well enough to leave with him. I think he understood but was a little hurt.

So, no, I don’t want to get in your car either. Not until I know you a lot better than this.


So many posts, so little time

February 2, 2015

I have been BUSY lately. And social. I’ve got so many posts in my head but not quite enough time to get them all down. So I’m going to write teasers in hopes that will force me to finish a few.

  • Design Con: fun or just connectors
  • Tindie meetup: I feel like I’m never going to catch up with all the nifty hardware out there
  • Being a Unicorn (my notes and reflections on this session)
  • Doing Self Evaluations (also from She’s Geeky)
  • She’s Geeky accidental session on asking a recruiter for money without seeming greedy (aka apologies to Twilio for what I did)
  • Snow White Introduction to Stock Options (part of previous, turned out to be pretty funny)
  • (On creeping:) Why I won’t meet you in a hotel bar to discuss business
  • Grading clients: why these clients get a C- while those get a D- and those others get a B+
  • Ideas for monetizing the podcast (well, one idea… which I really should discuss with Christopher…)
  • Thoughts about disagreements with guests on the podcast
  • Getting interviewed by a ten year old (Arduino Alarm blog)

Ok, I’ll finish my to-do list (and my paying work) then start writing one or more of these.


Tinkering for dummies

January 24, 2015

I received an email:

I’ve listened to a few podcasts and now am officially a fan. I’m curious about “tinkering” for dummies

I realize that I like to tinker but always run into the reality that my technical skills don’t match up with my creativity.

I am wondering if you would suggest a pathway of least resistance for someone who is interested in tinkering. 

Time is always a constraint but I am serious about learning how to code and also learning about embedded systems but not sure if learning python for example is the best way to start.

This seems like a great question, one I’m sure other people have.

However, I’m a terrible person to answer it because I come at the problem of tinkering from exactly the opposite direction. Since programming is my job, tinkering can be difficult because it feels like work instead of play.

Still, I want to encourage the writer so I’ll try to answer. I invite you to suggest other things in comments.

I think the the very short answer is buy a kit. A kit means you’ll get something that probably works and some instructions. Then you can tweak it to be more along the lines of what you want.

And, in general, I think the path of least resistance is Arduino. Their community and system is set up to teach you things (and to hide the tricky details). It started out as a way for educators and artists to approach technology so they don’t expect you to know a lot of coding. There are many Arduinos (the UNO is my fav) so the next question is what do you want to tinker?

Learning by doing is great but difficult to maintain if you don’t have a direction. Self motivation is much easier if you have a goal, ideally an achievable, amusing, and share-able goal.

Say you want to make a watch or small desk display, start with the MicroView (and programmer). If you want to go all out (or you really have no idea where to start), get the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit. With the MicroView, you get more tutorials with hardware in the inventor’s kit. Without the MicroView, you still get a wonderful grouping of sensors and lots of tutorials (and an Arduino board).

On the other hand, robots are awesome and seeing something move is deeply satisfying. The Parallax BOEBot (“Board of Education” Bot) is educational (and fun). It was designed for high schoolers so you’ll likely feel brilliant and idiotic in turns (c’mon, you remember being a sophomore, right?). You can get it from Parallax more cheaply but you have to build more of it yourself. (Also, you may need an Arudino UNO for those kits to add smarts to your robot.)

As you start to tinker, decide what you want to do with your limited time. Building from the ground up is an advanced exercise, often leading to frustration. Toddling, baby steps are more fun.

But what if you want light up shoes (or bike helmet)? Lights are an awesome way to get hooked on tinkering,* there are so many beautiful blinking patterns. For that, you probably want to look into the Flora system (oh! they also have a budget pack). It is designed to be wearable which is pretty neat.

Do you have annoyances in your house? Something that would be better if you could assure yourself from work or phone? Maybe knowing that the garage was down, the stove off, or the door locked? For this, I’d suggest Electric Imp (and you’ll need the breakout board as well). It connects to WiFi well and is straightforward to program. It isn’t quite Arduino easy but there are lots of tutorials.**

Finally, do you want to make a big system? Like a balloon that can take pictures and use a GPS and then connect to your home network? While I like BeagleBone Black for engineering use, I’d suggest starting with a Raspberry Pi. These are both little computers, cheap enough that you can blow one up without feeling too guilty. The Pi is designed to be a learning environment and there are many excellent tutorials. The Beagle has an excellent community as well so it may be a toss up between them. And if you’ve already started to learn Python, well, these are the boards for you. They’ll let you use Python, explore Linux, and get some hardware experience without ever worrying you’ll run out of RAM or processing power. If you get a touchscreen (like this one for BBB), these small computer feel like, well, small computers: infinitely flexible.

Which brings me to my next point, once you have a direction, look for  a tutorial for something similar. Even if you aren’t building something exactly the same. For example, if you like the look of MicroView and want to try making a watch, even though Wordy is a ring, my tutorial on building it may give you ideas.  Look at the “Learn” sections on Adafruit and Sparkfun for ideas if you don’t have a project in mind. These companies (as you may have noticed from the above links) sell tinkering hardware. They write tutorials to keep you engaged (so then you buy more hardware). You may also find inspiration from Hackaday and Make. You can document your project on Hackaday.io, I’ve been pleased at the niceness of the community there.

Tinkering from scratch without a guide is a like baking cookies without a recipe. If you are experienced, it is completely possible to start with a blank slate. I know from experience and reading cookbooks that cookies should usually have between 1 part butter, 2 parts sugar, and 3 parts flour to 2-3-4 (b-s-f). I can make almost any cookie I can think up. But as you start out, some guidance to success is hugely important. Otherwise you end up with Strawberry-Mint cookies*** and everyone is very disappointed that the lovely promise turned into, um, that.

My final word on getting started tinkering: don’t feel guilty when you stop for a weekend or two. This is for you, it is your hobby. It might be educational but it isn’t required for life. The less guilt you feel, the more likely you are to come back to it when you get interested again.

*  My first tinkering project involved lightup high heels. The second involved halloween pumpkins lights (blue to purple flickering “candles”).

**  Heehee, I wrote that tutorial so total bias there.

*** Yes, that happened, ok? It was an accident with the mint and vanilla bottles looking similar. Quit laughing. Aw, to heck with it.



Too many podcasts

January 15, 2015

We didn’t record the movies show for Christmas and that put us off. Instead, we recorded two shows the next weekend. Isn’t it lovely to be ahead?

No, no it is not.

Yesterday, we posted the show on Bluestamp Engineering, a neat summer program for high school students. I feel like it was a month ago since we talked to them, I know I had some things I wanted to tweet. And I really should be posting that to Facebook and other places so it gets a few more listens.

For a week from yesterday, last weekend we recorded a show about hula hoops (it is awesome). I really should write the show notes before I forget the relevant links. Last weekend, I also wrote the guest outline for a show about words (yes!) that will got up two weeks from yesterday.

Today, in an apparent effort to get very little work done this afternoon, we recorded the show about words (also awesome). Once I finish writing show notes for hula hoops, I should do notes for words.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a gatekeeper to have Famous Person on the show. Today, I wrote the email that the gatekeeper suggested (Dear Zuul). We are booked out to April (I think there may be one slot in Feb and one in Mar but those were offered to people and I’m waiting to see who accepts) so you’d think it would be one less thing to worry about. Except the wheels need to keep turning on guests so I have two emails received today that I need to respond to in order to schedule future guests.

Also, I should start thinking about the outline for the next show. I think it is about processors but I’m not sure that’s the next one or the one after.

Oh, and if I’m doing an at-conference recording for DesignCon or She’s Geeky, I should start playing with the new recorder. And how in the world am I to do a mash up between those two very different conferences? Two episodes? That seems like a lot of editing and since I only left one slot, that puts us even further ahead.

All of this isn’t to say podcasting is too stressful. My problem is really the intermingling. Being ten days ahead sounded nice: if someone cancels, it is much easier to find another guest. But Chris and I do ok when it is just us.

I think that if I do at-cons, they will be bonus episodes and we’ll remove our buffer. My brain will feel better when we go back to recording 3-4 days before we post. I still have the same amount of work but it will spent less time on the stack.