Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My next Ignite Phoenix presentation will be better

Fuse album coverImage via Wikipedia

Ignite Phoenix the Third was last night. And by all accounts, it was far and above the best event so far. The Tempe Center for the Arts was a great venue. A packed venue that quickly setup video screens outside the room for those who couldn't get in. 300+ extremely appreciative people. Wait, don't forget the beer and wine. That tends to help!

And yet, I walked away disappointed. Not in any of the things I mentioned above. Not in the organizers who did a fabulous job as usual. And not at my fellow presenters, some of which knocked it out of the park.

No, my disappointment comes as I reflect upon my own presentation. I screwed up. In three ways:

  • Overconfidence: I spoke on a topic I'm well-versed in. I spent at least four hours assembling my 20 slides. I rehearsed it several times until I had the timing pat. I did all of that over a week ago. And then I didn't look at the presentation again until it started showing on the big screen.

    I've heard it said that airline pilots work the hardest at takeoff and landing -- the plane pretty much flies itself in between those points. Turns out it's the same for me and presenting. Once I got rolling, it went pretty well. Even the ending was OK (since the Ignite format doesn't leave a lot of room for long "In conclusion..." slides). But I totally boffed the opening. Which threw me off for the rest of the presentation.

    Had I spent 60 seconds flipping through the slides an hour before I went on, I would have nailed it. But I didn't. Cocksure doesn't go far enough to describe me at times.

  • No outside editor: Simple mistakes get made. It's easy for our eyes to overlook them, especially when they are the same eyes that are connected to the brain that made the mistake in the first place. In my case, I had a unit of measurement wrong. The number that came from the calculations was right, but a transposing error threw the whole thing off. Sometimes these tiny mistakes crash presentations. Sometimes satellites. In hindsight, I should have sent the whole presentation -- a whopping five minutes -- to Phil Plait for vetting. He helped me with some of the math anyhow, and I'm sure he would have caught my gaff in an instant.

  • No notes: I'm not much of a note-taking person. I craft my slides in such a way that they contain clues about what I want to say. And since I'm good at memorizing my points, it hasn't been much of an issue in the past. But the two prior errors caused me to be a bit flustered as I progressed, compounding errors. I forgot words. I transposed names. I started shooting from the hip. Granted, I've got decent aim from there. But it would have been better to have an anchor to draw me back in.

But don't get the impression that I bombed. I doubt I'll be banned from future talks. Everyone in the audience seemed to appreciate what I had to say. And all in all, the intent of my talk was successfully conveyed to the audience. Though I'm sure at least one person caught an error and wrote me off on principle. I say this because I do this.

The good news: I can fix it in post. I'll get some time to record myself giving the talk here in my own domain. Where I won't screw up. And that's the one I'll post for you.

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  1. Great tips on preparation, and I'm here to say I was one of the people in attendance who thought you did great. I really enjoyed your presentation. In fact it gave me an idea on a passionate topic of mine. I hope to submit it for the next Ignite event!

  2. The only gaffe I noticed was Saturn != Venus. And that wasn't a big deal (most probably thought you were joking, keeping the audience on their toes). It also gave us a chance to joke with each other, "No wonder it takes you so long to get there.. You're going the wrong way!!"

  3. Glad I could help and inspire, Shailesh.

    Brian: glad I could add levity to your evening. :)


  4. Primarily the Saturn one... that's when Clint and I looked at each other and started laughing.
    Either way the premise of your talk was interesting.... at least interesting enough that a bunch of us were paying enough attention to realize you made a mistake ;)

  5. Whenever I think I have not done a good job, I always think about research into competency:

    "On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dr. Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well."

    So, the fact that you are reflective about this presentation and it's weaknesses, and are focused on making it better probably actually means you did a good job!

    Hope to see it live someday.

  6.'re being harsh on yourself. You gave a great talk on a compelling topic. The beauty of the format is that there's little time to project the direction of your talk, so the audience has no idea what's "from the hip" and what's scripted. Regarding your airline pilot analogy: same thing happened to me. I think that we became so focused on pacing that we freaked out a little bit at the beginning...didn't want to get behind in the first few sentences, so we rushed and fumbled our words. Instead of saying "interpret intentions," I said "intuit intuitions." WTF? Anyway, great work!

  7. Thanks, Tony. I know I'm being harsh on myself. But it inspires me to improve, much as Drew states. I was fascinated by your talk and am looking forward to the video so I can pay closer attention. It was during yours (only one more and then I was up) that I started questioning my lack of preparation. So needless to say; I totally missed your "intuit intuitions" gaffe. I doubt that Chuck even noticed yours! :P

  8. I loved your presentation. I didn't catch the error you later pointed out (I think it was a unit of measure thing?) and I'm usually pretty anal about noting things like that. I did catch the Saturn between us and the Sun comment, but just thought to myself, "That silly Evo" and laughed.

    You make a *great* point about how easy it is to miss something on slides you prepare. I once did a presentation that had my last name typo'ed in the footer of every slide. I never noticed it until the first slide in the presentation came up on the screen. Threw me off for the whole thing too.

    And no one I talked to afterward even noticed the typo...

  9. [...] was a lot happier with my presentation this time than last. Why? Because this time, I pushed my arrogance aside (try and picture that) and actually rehearsed. [...]

  10. [...] had looked at @evo_terra’s post on lessons learned from presenting at Ignite 3 and then watched his Ignite 4 preso. While I didn’t share any of the overconfidence, it was [...]


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