"Look Ma, no slides!": The Art of Speaking Without Slides

Bored cat

Bored cat

Last night, I gave a talk at Cambridge Mobile Apps Group (yeah, it’s a mouthful, I know!) about marketing your own app with no budget.

When I arrived at the venue, Tony, the event host, shot over to say hi. With a slightly concerned look on his face, he told me that the room our event was meant to be hosted in was mid-renovation so I had no projector or screen for my talk.

After mentally skimming through my slides, I reared up for the challenge and decided to see how my talk would go without my 45 carefully crafted slides. Sure, I’d avoided death by Powerpoint by following every Presentation Zen recommendation and the slides were bright, colourful and even contained the requisite kitten picture. Would they be missed?

The outcome was better than I could’ve hoped for. I had more fun than I’ve ever had giving this talk to a crowded room of 30 or so curious geeks*. Rather than giving a presentation, I could become a storyteller.

By only glancing at my computer every so often to check I was still on track, I could actually connect with the audience and have a conversation. The questions at the end were great and the feedback confirmed that the informal style had suited the occasion.

So what’s the moral of this story?

If you can, try to give talks with little or no slides when you’re telling a story you know well. I was talking about the growth of Alfred over the past 18 months, which is something I’ve lived; blood, sweat and tears.

By spending more time looking at your audience, you can gauge whether they’re enthralled or bored out of their mind. Embrace the lack of technology for a change, take a deep breath and have fun.

It takes practice and it’s important to learn not to get lost in waffle and anecdotes (I’m still working on that one…) It certainly doesn’t mean that you should “wing it” and not prepare your presentation; your talk should have structure and a storyline, but the slides no longer become a crutch you rely on to get through your points.

Last week, I attended Ampersand conference in Brighton and some of the talks were downright fantastic. In particular, Jason Santa Maria and Mark Boulton, two speakers who used slides, but were also enthusiastic, passionate storytellers who pulled us right in.

Storytelling is a skill worth developing so next time, try dropping the slides.

[* I use geek in the nicest, most friendly sense as I consider myself one too, of course!]

Events Galore: SMCLondon & Cambridge Geek Nights

Since organising the first SocialMediaCamp London in October, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t have the event planning bug. No no no, I don’t need to spend time organising events. Must focus on running my new business. Right?

Well… it’s not working, I’m finding myself daydreaming about hearing more people’s views on the weird and wonderful industry we spend our days (and nights, and weekends) immersed in. And somehow, I’ve found myself leading two upcoming events:

First, a second SocialMediaCamp London, which we’ll be holding at the same gorgeous Wallacespace St-Pancras venue as last time on 25-26th April. The first round of tickets went out on Thursday morning, disappearing in all of 9 minutes. I feel like a mother who has to choose between her children, being contacted left, right and centre by people who didn’t manage to get a ticket but want in! Thankfully, there’s another round of tickets on Monday. I simply can’t wait for our two-day event, as last time, not only were presentations great, but the people I met were also brilliant. The challenge is to survive two days!

The second event is only just beginning to take shape; Cambridge Geek Nights. There have been Geek Nights in Oxford for some years now, and replicating the evening gathering concept here in Cambridge seems to have some potential. No venue or date has been decided yet, but it will hopefully become an opportunity for geeks, entrepreneurs and freelancers to get together to exchange ideas, meet potential new connections and people to work with. I view it as an opportunity to get together, without suits or sales pitches. Plus it involves drinking beer. Geeks are always up for beer.

In fact, if you’re interested in CGN, leave a comment or @vero me and I’ll ensure we keep you updated when we pick a date for the first one!

I suppose it’s a bug I can’t fight – I love getting people together, whether it’s for dinner parties or social events, so hopefully you’ll join me at either of the above. But for now, I need some sleep!

Cory Doctorow talk for Cambridge Business Lectures

In July, Cory Doctorow gave a talk on the Information Economy here in Cambridge, which was enlightening and very interesting. But so many ideas were being thrown at me all at once, I was looking forward to being able to watch the talk again, at my own pace, and share it around.

And now, here it is!

I hope many more clever speakers are invited to speak on issues like this here in Cambridge. Have a look at the Cambridge Business Lectures site for more info and future speakers.

Cory Doctorow speaking in Cambridge, UK on 22nd July

Quick post to tell readers that things do happen up here in Cambridge, interesting things!

Cory Doctorow is a blogger, science fiction writer and journalist. He is an editor of Boing Boing, the 11th best blog in the world (according to Time Magazine). He was the 2006-2007 Canadian Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. He founded the software company Opencola which was later sold to the Open Text Corporation. He also writes regularly for The Guardian newspaper

Cory will be speaking for one hour at 5:30pm on July 22nd 2008 at ARM, 110 Fulbourn Road, Cambridge CB1 9NJ. Robinson College, Grange Road, Cambridge, CB3 9AN.

If you’re thinking of coming to Cambridge for this, get in touch and we’ll make an evening of it.

Ford Marshall Service: Don't let them wash your car

I’m really miffed with Ford in Cambridge. This week, I took my fab little red Ford Ka, which is about to turn one year old (7,000 miles on the clock, running like a dream) for its first yearly service.

I bought it last year, got a great deal (literally, 25% off the original showroom price) on a brand new 5-miles-on-the-clock Ka, just weeks before I passed my driving test. We’ve taken great care of it, Andrew’s been the only person cleaning it – both because I’m a lazy cow and because he puts such love and care into it. He uses these fancy shmancy cleaning products acquired through a friend who’s a professional detailer (really high class valeting) and it always looks amazingly shiny.

As a rule of thumb, when he gets his car serviced at BMW, he always asks them not to wash it. I didn’t do the same when I went to Ford, which was a stupid move, because they cleaned it. The paint finish now looks like a bunch of children cleaned it with dish soap and gritty sponges. In the space of 3 hours, my car went from looking brand new to looking pretty averagely scratched.

Trying to discuss with the car valeting service manager, Brian, at Ford was pretty pointless. He wasn’t having any of it, “my boys didn’t do this. We clean 200 cars a day and they don’t do it that way.” Well… if you clean 200 cars a day, you probably don’t give each one much attention or carefully rinse your washing mitts in between, do you? He offered to polish it “as a good will gesture”, but still didn’t admit he was in the wrong.

Andrew’s taking on the job of polishing as much of it out as possible, and I’m in two minds about getting his detailing friend to come and machine polish it properly. But one thing that’s for sure is that I’ll get Ford Marshall in Cambridge to annotate my file to say never to wash it when it goes in for a service, thank you very much, we’ll do it ourselves.

I know a lot of people will roll their eyes at this and say “well, your car still runs, doesn’t it? What’s the big fuss?” but I care. I like my belongings to still look good over the years, especially when it doesn’t require huge amounts of extra time and it means it lasts that much longer without needing to be replaced. My iPod is scratched to high heavens after living in my handbag, and that’s fine, it’s so disposable. But my iPhone has a nice red case to avoid it getting damaged. And my car doesn’t go through Tesco carwash.

So if you’re in the Cambridge area and get your car serviced at Ford, think twice before letting them give it a clean while you’re there. And if you’re that Nissan 350Z owner who also complained about scratched paintwork a few weeks ago, I’m sorry, we still haven’t got through to them.

Now, I hope this post gets right up there in search engines when someone looks for Ford Marshall. Not because the rest of the service is poor, it’s great in fact! But it’ll be a word of warning for those who like their paintwork scratch-free!

Cambridge copper thieves

“Thousands of homes face losing phone lines after cable thieves struck. Police were alerted today at 9.30am to the theft of high-value cables near Cambourne. […] A mobile police station has been sent to the area and high-profile police patrols have been mounted in a bid to reassure residents.

BT engineers are working on restoring the lines but it is not known how long this will take. DS Chris Balmer said: “We do not yet know the exact number of homes which have been left without phone lines however we believe it could be a few thousand.

“BT are working as quickly as possible to restore the phone lines. If you area aware of any elderly or vulnerable residents please check on their welfare. If anyone saw any suspicious activity around manhole covers please contact me. Scrap metal thieves who rip up telephone cables were warned by police they are putting lives at risk”, reported in the Cambridge News.”

Seriously, what’s that all about? No phones? No internet?

However, to lighten the tone, I thought I’d accompany the news with some interesting archeological findings, also reported recently.

“After digging to a depth of 100 meters last year, Russian scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 1000 years, and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network one thousand years ago.

Not to be outdone, in the weeks that followed, American scientists dug 200 meters and headlines in the US papers read: “US scientists have found traces of 2000 year old optical fibers, and have concluded that their ancestors already had advanced high-tech digital telephone 1000 years earlier than the Russians.”

One week later, the Kenyan newspapers proudly reported the following: “After digging as deep as 500 meters, Kenyan scientists have found absolutely nothing. They have concluded that 5000 years ago, their ancestors were already using wireless technology.”

Cambridge Congestion Charge: Your chance to speak!

Below, I’ve copied an email I received from the administrator of the Cambridge Congestion Charge forum. I haven’t had the time to edit it or summarise it for my readers, but if you live in or work in Cambridge, please read this, go fill in the survey and let your councilors know that before they smack us with a charge, they’ll need to come up with some solutions.

In my eyes, the first changes they should make are:
1. Encourage carpooling by improving routes reserved to buses and cars with two or more people in it;
2. Improve bus service so that it doesn’t take 3 times longer to get from A to B on the bus than in your own car (see Ottawa’s OC Transpo bus service for an example of a well thought-out plan);
3. Do not include Science Parks in the areas covered, because that’s just money grabbing rather than problem-solving and makes the city look like a bunch of greedy idiots.

Without further ado, here’s the email… Share this information far and wide!



Firstly may I thank you for registering on the Cambridge Congestion Charge website. Secondly may I take this immediate opportunity to say that this will not be sending out regular emails to you.

The Cambridge City Council has launched its public consultation. This basically seems to consist of an online web questionaire and a series of public roadshows around the Cambridgeshire region. I would urge you to take the online questionaire if you haven’t already done so, and visit one of the roadshows as well as contact your local Councillor (easy to use contact details are at the bottom of this email). In the run up to Christmas and New year this important issue may slip your mind and then it may be too late for you to get your point of view across.

As you may know one of the main driving points behind introducing a congestion charge in Cambridge is the investment of a substantial amount of central government money into Cambridge’s transport infrastructure. This money has been offered in return for introducing a congestion charge.

The full proposal document which will form the basis of the City councils bid to get the central government money has been written and is available for download from http://www.cambridgecongestioncharge.co.uk/cambridgecongestioncharge/cambridgecongestioncharge.pdf (copy and paste this link if you need to). The document gives insight into the extensive planning that the council has already made and pinpoints the locations of cameras that would catch motorists that don’t pay, along with plans for mobile vans operating at random locations. I strongly urge you to read this document as either way it will change your way of life in the near future. It is quite long and you have to read it closely to establish exactly what they want to do (such as make Huntingdon Road a one way street for cars going out of the city) but it really is worth it. If you don’t find out about it now and make your views known you may regret it in just a couple of years time.

It also seems that normal “Joe Public” will have to pay a charge of £5 per day at current pricing which doesn’t take into account inflationary increases.

Some useful links and information for you:

City Council Proposal Download
City Council Online Survey (watch out for closed and / or misleading questions & note that this is very difficult to find on the City Council website)

City Council Road Show Locations (watch out for odd opening times)

  • The small hall, Guildhall, Cambridge – December 11 – 3-9pm
  • The recreation ground, Histon and Impington – December 12 – 3-9pm
  • The dining hall, Chatteris Community College – January 10 – 4-9pm
  • King Edward VII Memorial Hall, High Street, Newmarket – January 21 – 3-9pm
  • Sawston Village College, Sawston – January 23 – 3-9pm
  • Commemoration Hall, Huntingdon – January 24 – 3-9pm
  • The Grafton centre, Cambridge – January 26 – 9am-5pm
  • The Grafton centre, Cambridge – January 27 – 11am-4pm
  • Trumpington park and ride, Cambridge – January 30 – 6.30-8.30am and 5-8pm
  • Madingley Road park and ride, Cambridge – January 31 – 6.30-8.30am and 5-8pm
  • The Maltings, Ship Lane, Ely – February 5 – 3-9pm
  • Haverhill Arts Centre, Haverhill – February 6 – 3-9pm
  • The Free Church, Market Hill, St Ives – February 13 – 4-9pm

Link to Contact details for all Cambridge City Councillors including email addresses, postal address and phone numbers: http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/about-the-council/councillors/

Please remember to make your view known, especially directly to the council, and please feel free to come back to the cambridgecongestioncharge.co.uk website and continue contributing.

If I can be of any assistance to you regarding this matter or using the website please do not hesitate to ask.

Best Wishes,

Cambridge Congestion Charge Website Administrator

Further thoughts on the Cambridge Congestion Charge plan

Last week, I let a bit of steam out about the ridiculous Congestion Charge plans in Cambridge. But, unfortunately for Shona Johnstone, I’m not done with her case. The logic in her radio interview with Andie Harper is like Swiss cheese.

First, “I don’t think many people have appointments at Addenbrooke’s before 9:30am”. I’ve only looked at a few clinics’ opening hours and, while this is far from an exhaustive or scientific attempt at research, the first one, physiotherapy, opens at 8:15am. Shona: 0, The Rest Of Us: 1

Second, Councillor Johnstone seems to have an issue with London commuters. There’s no questioning that Cambridge, also known as the Silicon Fen, is full of life, brimming with successful and exciting businesses, startups in the Science Park and promising students, who often stay to work locally. There’s no brain drain conspiracy, and Cambridge is far from a commuter town. So Shona, take off the tin foil hat, it’s cute but you’re wrong. Shona: 0, The Rest Of Us: 2

This nicely brings me on to my suggested solutions…

Do not include Science Park and Park & Rides into the affected areas: I suspect the P&Rs aren’t going to be included, but based on the zoning map that’s been circulating, they’re not yet excluded clearly enough for my liking. As far as the Science Park goes, it would be completely and utterly bonkers to include it. The businesses settled there have selected it specifically for being on the edge of town, away from the city centre traffic. Staff won’t want to pay a fiver a day to get to work, and employers won’t want to cover the cost of roughly a thousand pounds per staff member. They’ll simply bugger off to Milton, taking their business out of Cambridge. That doesn’t strike me as a positive move for the city.

Improve transportation FIRST to see whether the situation alleviates
: Currently, taking the P&R is a pain in the @$$; at peak hours, it’s so packed that you have to wait for the next one, which might not come for another half hour, for all you know! At other times, the entire P&R parking is full, forcing you to change your plans altogether and drive into town. So the logical first step is to invest in public transportation improvements, and make people more aware of the great service available. If it IS better than driving into Cambridge, dodging cyclists and swearing at the price of parking, we’ll do it. We won’t need to be coerced into it.

Finally, if the Congestion Charge must go ahead for the centre of town, give carpoolers an exemption. Anyone who makes an effort to reduce the number of cars on the road by sharing the journey to work, that should be recognised. In Ottawa, certain lanes are reserved for taxis and vehicles containing more than two people, giving carpoolers a valuable advantage over everyone else. That’s a far more positive way of encouraging public transportation and carpooling.

So hopefully, the councillors will see sense and reconsider the Congestion Charge plan, opting for positive reinforcement rather than ripping off the local community. If they don’t, I’ll get my protest hat on, and we’ll go have a little party on Shona’s doorstep, how about that?

Cambridge Congestion Charge

If you live in the Cambridge area like I do, you’ve probably also had a heated discussion about the congestion charge which could soon come into place across Cambridge.

Looking at the Congestion Charge map (Downloadable PDF, source article), it’s like someone gave an idiot a big black Sharpie and told them to go nuts on a map of the city – the whole of Cambridge within A14 and M11 boundaries is included in the congestion charge area! That’s inclusive of all the Park & Ride stations, the Science Park and the Addenbrooke’s hospital.

Of course, it’s for the good of the city, since “Cambridge is a medieval city and it simply wasn’t designed for motor cars”, says Shona Johnstone, Sharpie-armed village idiot council leader.

Sure, I appreciate that the center of Cambridge – in my eyes defined as the Grafton Centre and Lion Yard area – isn’t made for high traffic density. I also appreciates that this only applies to the hours between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning.

But the Science Park? The Park & Ride areas? You’ve got to be kidding me! Isn’t the whole point of those being on the edge of town keeping cars outside of city centre and encouraging the use of such services?

I’m reasonably convinced that the owners of buildings in the Science Park will come out with pick axes against Johnstone, and that these areas will be excluded from the final ruling, but someone still thought it was worth putting forward the suggestion to include ALL of Cambridge in the Congestion Charge area. This leaves me with that niggling feeling you get when you sense that idiocy might still prevail over simple common sense, and that a repeated headdesk motion may be the only thing you’ll be left with.

Cambridge Council is wasting its breath on me trying to tell me it isn’t doing it for the revenue they can get from the thousands of people who enter the boundaries of the city every morning. Why else would it include high density, yet city-fringe areas? We’re not the ones wrecking havoc amongst the pretty stone streets of town centre. The only bloody benefit I see is that they might get cyclists off Mill Road.

So if you’re as convinced as I am that Cambridge needs to look at alternatives before dipping into our collective wallet, take action! You’ll find the petition against the Congestion Charge here and the Facebook group dedicated to discussing the issue here. The “official” Cambridge Congestion Charge discussion group is also a good place to go vent your frustration and find out what actions can be taken.

I would suggest that Cambridge look at the OC Transpo bus system in Ottawa, Canada – my hometown – amongst some, for tips on how to do a better job at offering us a more suitable public transportation service. I never appreciated OC Transpo until I came to the UK and realised that most towns have completely disjointed, technologically-incompetent companies running the show, leaving us standing in the cold rain – literally. Even in bloody mid-July!

Oh no, now I’m getting started on the weather, I really better stop here.