A law of presentations: leave it out

Some quick thoughts from a presentation about software testing given today... a presentation that I was really unqualified to give, but the following slide I created has been making the rounds and I got the invitation based solely on that. (Life is a meritocracy. When it works in your favor.)

The complicating factor: time. Initially I thought I was sharing 30 minutes with another presenter, but I didn't hear anything more so I assumed all 30 minutes were mine. Then Monday I learned we were together, and integrated into one show. Then as the meeting started today at 13:00, we were second in line to the main meeting, and it became clear that 30 minutes total would be more like 20.

No problem. It's more fun to improvise.

My presentation (shadowy for now, but I'll be giving a clean, external, 40-minute version in the summer) consisted of ten slides and ten points to make, with a little bit on the front and back. (Note: minimum slide content for maximum presentation flavor.) So, at 30 minutes it could be 2.5 minutes per slide, at 15 minutes it could be 1.25 minutes per slide. But at less than 10 minutes? About 40 seconds per slide. What should the adjustment be?

I opted for speed [1].

Here's how I keep myself on track for a presentation with equally-sized and -paced slides: I use a workout interval timer app [2]. Set a repeating timer to go off every 40 seconds 10 times, put the phone next to the slides, and—hey presto—you've got a rhythm to run with. I tried it once before, it went poorly. (I put the phone in my pocket, thinking I could feel it vibrate on the repeats...).

Ten slides every 40 seconds was a bust. 40 seconds is a finger snap. There's enough time to either warm up to a point before hearing the gong to move on, or to toss out the main point cold at the open and dance around it until the gong. Neither method worked well. It was the information-delivering effectiveness of a squirrel on amphetamines explaining how to change the transmission fluid of your car. The only upside was proving the interval timer method could work if done well. (The unconsidered downside of using a phone app: I had to give the presentation through my headset instead of the phone as planned, which became a comedy of oversaturating the mic by huffing into it while I paced the room, and fiddling with the way it fit.)

There's Got To Be A Better Way™.

Here's what I might do if I could do it over again:

  1. Pick five and skip the other five outright.
  2. Pick five, but read the title of the other five and move on immediately.
  3. In a situation with a live audience, I'd be able to feel which points were having the most impact on the room. Have links to each of the ten slides like a navbar on each of the ten slides. Based on the feel of that one, I'd jump to the next one I think would work, then again and again and again. But that's not really an option online. Maybe I could have fed out a survey at the beginning to ask which topics were going to be most anticipated.

I prefer the third method because it leaves some slack in the system for serendipity, though it could fail back to the first two if it didn't work. I'm too pretty for these online presentations but, for good or ill, it looks like there will still be ample time left to practice them. This one was a bust but I think I know which knobs to turn for the next one.



[2] Interval Timer - HIIT Workouts app. A free app with a version that I happily pay for to keep them going. It's something I use every day.

[3] Unnecessary references in the presentation: Shakespeare, Macbeth; Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear ("Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed."); David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest ("The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.")

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