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

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!]

BarCamb 3: Bringing Cambridge together with geekery

BarCamb 3 in Cambridge

On Monday morning, my arms, legs and brain felt like jelly. There was a sleeping bag and some schwag strewn across the living room. And I couldn’t stop smiling. Must’ve been the morning after a BarCamp!

For those who don’t know, the past few months have been spent organising BarCamb with a few other volunteers. The aim of BarCamp events is to bring people from a variety of fields of interests together to do short talks, exchange experiences and generally geek about. For more on this, I’ve written a BarCamp Virgin’s guide last year.

Since this weekend, I’ve recovered so I thought I’d gather my thoughts and write a wrap-up post before my goldfish brain forgets all the best bits.

This weekend included:

  • 54 presentations
  • 10 sponsors
  • 26 trays of sandwiches
  • 45 litres of fizzy drinks
  • 30 pizzas
  • 100 BarCamb mugs & tshirts
  • 1 episode of Doctor Who on the big screen
  • 2 knackered organisers & some sleepy volunteers
  • half a dozen games of Werewolf
  • a few months of preparation
  • 80 or so people who hopefully had a great time!

As an organiser, I attended more sessions this time than with the previous two BarCamps I organised. Probably mainly due to having a fantastic co-organiser, Lee, and a brilliant venue provided by Red Gate in the Cambridge Business Park.

When we kicked off the event, I asked for a show of hands to see how many newbies we had – I was both thrilled and worried that we had nearly 50% newbies. Why worried? Because usually newbies are a bit nervous of presenting and leave the board looking a bit bare for the first day. I couldn’t have been any more wrong because as soon as I invited people to put their topics up on the board, it was like the IKEA stampede and I had to flee the area!

Saturday went by like a blur, attending a few good sessions, feeding over 70 ravenous BarCampers at lunch, more sessions in the afternoon including my own on baked-in virality. As we stretched into the evening, it was comedy to see a group huddle into one of the rooms to religiously watch Doctor Who over pizza and beer.

As all good BarCamps must do, the evening turned into a night of Werewolves, Settlers and the occasional snorer in the corner…

On Sunday, the turnout was smaller but the sessions were still great. We finished mid-afternoon, cleared up the Red Gate office and many of the survivors headed to the pub. (I was pooped, I went straight home!)

You can find a few of the presentations of the weekend on Slideshare, with more coming soon, I’m sure. Some of the presentations topics are listed here, and we’ll aim to add the full list in the near future. There are also some great (and some not so great) photos in the BarCamb Flickr group.

A few attendees asked whether Cambridge Geek Nights were being revived and, in the light of how much interest there is, I suppose we might just have to do that! Beers, geekery and chatting coming soon to a Cambridge pub near you.

[Photo credit: Networking through the day, photo by Martin88, All rights reserved]

The hardest thing about an idea is to get it started

Ryan Sarver from Twitter presenting during LeWeb 09

Last week, I was kindly invited to attend LeWeb 09 as official blogger. LeWeb is a yearly, two-day conference in Paris, which takes a deep look at the web now and in the future. It’s a frenzied opportunity to meet new people, see old faces and hear great talks.

While watching the world go by at Ebbsfleet Eurostar station, (the best kept secret of European travel) before heading to Paris, it hit me that we nearly halfway through December. I started thinking back on 2009, the successes and failures I’ve experienced or witnessed others experience. It’s been an interesting year, with a few victories, but a few scraped knees also.

Then yesterday morning, in one of the first talks of LeWeb, Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder said:

“The hardest thing about an idea is to get it started”

I’ll tell you a secret: I used to really hate being rubbish at something, to the point where, when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t even rehearse for my vocal music classes in front of people for fear they’d hear me do something wrong. Yet I’d happily sing in concert in front of a huge crowd at the end of the year! And I didn’t speak English til I was in my teens, not because I couldn’t, but because I was embarrassed by my accent.

It doesn’t take much to realise that nearly everyone feels that way to a varying degree; the fear of failure can paralyse us and stop us from doing things we REALLY want to do.

LeWeb is filled with people who’ve taken that jump, who’ve conquered their fears, their peers’ fears, or at least sidelined them long enough to give their ideas a go. Whether it’s launching a startup instead of staying in a cushy-but-boring megacorp job, launching a new wacky iPhone idea or creating and manufacturing a small-run Psion-revival pocket computer.

These people and startups risk money, energy and years of their life for something they’re passionate about or think might change the world (or at least make a dent of difference). They use events and conferences as an opportunity to gain visibility, get feedback on what they’ve created and meet existing and potential users. Needless to say, they also leave with a few bruises from those who don’t “get” their idea and either say it bluntly or tweet it publicly.

Of course, only one out of five* will break even, and only a handful will become rockstars. But some of those who failed will get back up, try something else and one day, succeed.

So as we hurtle towards 2010, why not let ourselves get inspired by brave startups and self-employed ppl who’ve flown the nest of safety and try doing something awesome?

Hopefully, some attendees (or some of the thousands of online viewers of the LeWeb video stream) will be inspired to do something for the greater good in the process. Whether it’s organising a BarCamp event, running a charity-focused event in support of 1GOAL (as presented by Queen Rania) or providing charitable organisations with free coaching, share your wisdom with others.

As Gary Vaynerchuk said, in his usual blunt way, “Everybody’s got a shot, I don’t care if you are in Sillicon Valley or in France” (See his talk here) As Gary has done, from being co-owner of a New Jersey wine shop to becoming a web celeb, he’s shown us that with enough passion and drive, we can achieve just about anything.

Talking about driving… Heading down to Ebbsfleet station, I couldn’t help but be amused that it was a fairly leisurely drive, albeit one involving some of the busiest motorways in the country. Two years ago, the thought of having to drive down the M25 gave me cold sweats. I could have gone on to avoid driving like I had done until I was 25, but I reluctantly went through the scary challenge of driving lessons (it was scary in my eyes, alright!?) A few years on, I couldn’t be happier that I’m on the other side of it all. In hindsight, the hardest thing was to get started.

We all need to occasionally tackle a few fears or go above what we believe we can achieve right here and right now. It takes a while, trudging through how frustratingly bad we are at something at first, but then… oh THEN we feel like we’ve really achieved something great!

What will YOU do with 2010?

To read more from other LeWeb official bloggers, visit the aggregated posts page – with most of them doing a far better job summarising the event than I have done!

[* Stat entirely pulled out of thin air to be representative, don’t quote me on that one and see the experts for real stats]
[Photo credit: LeWeb 09 by Blogowski on Flickr, Creative Commons license]

Bruges, Barcelona, Paris: On the road again

As you might know, I’m Canadian. You knew that, right?

So while I’ve been living in the UK for nearing onto 8 years (minus a few months pottering back and forth to finish University in Canada), it still blows my little mind that I can get from London to Paris in just over 2 hours, or fly to Barcelona in even less.

While my travel schedule doesn’t rival the travel calendars of most of my esteemed industry colleagues, it makes me smile that in the course of a month, my Canadian passport will be stamped with Belgian, French and Spanish stamps.

In Bruges (with a detour via Brussels)

Last weekend was the Bruges trip; a hectic two-day trip to Brussels, where we visited the Cantillon brewery home to Lambic, Gueuze, Faro and Kriek beers. I was lucky enough to try an elder blossom lambic, which was rather unusual and flowery but worth a try. We then moved on to Bruges for the evening, wandering the streets and trying more Belgian beers from Edric’s 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die list. The next morning, we did the classic boat tour, ate more mussels and fries, then slowly (very slowly, thanks to National Express useless train services) made our way home.

Next, Barcelona

In just under two weeks, I’ll be popping over to sunny (I hope) Barcelona for a spot of brainstorming with a brilliant client’s team. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a few hours to pop by Las Ramblas and soak in some Spanish vibes (and Spanish wine).

Last stop, Paris

logoMy last stop before Christmas will be Paris, for the LeWeb ’09 conference, where they’ve kindly invited me as official blogger. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new faces and seeing new startups and entrepreneurs get passionate about the web.

For those who aren’t familiar with Le Web, it’s a yearly conference with over 1800 attendees with themes relating to the web, technology, but with a broad appeal that will tickle the curiosity of non-geeks as well. Some of the speakers this year include Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, productivity geek Tim Ferriss, TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington (who will undoubtedly get into mudslinging as he does every year), an unusually sober Paul Carr and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. A rather varied bunch then!

If you’re also attending, drop me a line or leave a comment, as I’d love to meet some new people!

[As a complete aside, titling this post “On the road again” caused me to start singing Richard Séguin’s “L’Ange Vagabond”, which contains the lyrics “On the road again”. I ended up downloading the album from iTunes – gobsmacked iTunes UK has a French-Canadian album from 1993 in its catalogue! Time for a trip down memory lane…]

Calling all geeks: Win a free ticket to Being-Digital in London, 10th June

South by SouthWest, Future of Web Apps, Future of Mobile, Fuel Conference, Mobile World Congress… Yes, I love conferences and, most of all, I love meeting new people.

Coming up soon is Being-Digital, a conference organised by the Mashup* events crowd, and I’m going along with Bob Last, from Taptu, who’s going to be speaking alongside with some other great speakers and entrepreneurs.

Being cheeky as I am, I asked the organisers whether I could extend the invitation to attend the conference to the Taptu blog readers. I now hold one precious ticket, worth £325, and I can’t wait to give it out!

So take part in the competition to win the ticket by creating a video, showing off some pics or leaving a blog comment telling us about the most unputdownable gadget ever.

I’ve got a goooooooolden ticket, come and get it! And see you at Being-Digital on the 10th of June, right?

SXSWi 2008: "The Future of Corporate Blogs" panel notes

These aren’t the tidiest notes, and I even failed on jotting down exactly who was speaking but there are a few useful points in there… Thanks to Lionel for the insight on how Dell dealt with feedback in the early days.

The Future of Corporate Blogs
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SXSWi 2008: "Creative Collaboration: Designers and Developers working together"

I wasn’t so hot on this panel, found there was a lot of navel-gazing and not enough direction. Also, I don’t know what world these guys live in but do they not also have to contend with marketing, business dev, crazy bosses with wild ideas? There was no discussion about how to integrate the real-life demands into collaborative processes. Nice people, but rubbish panel.

Creative Collaboration: Designers and Developers working together
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SXSWi 2008: "Self-Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing" panel notes

For this panel, I ditched the laptop and only used pen and paper so my notes are less than clear. In fact, I’m lucky if I can read my own handwriting, but the highlights for me were finally meeting the lovely Tara Hunt, a fellow Canadian expat and inspirational blogger.

My notes might be a bit garbled but sue me, I was too busy listening.

“Self-Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing” panel notes
Panel: Deborah Schultz, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Tara Hunt, Hugh McLeod, David Parmet
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SXSWi 2008: "What teens want online and on their phones" panel notes

The notes from this panel are pretty thorough – it was one of the first panels I attended and I was pretty enthusiastic with the typing. Interesting findings, but the main takeaway for me is that these kids are clever and pretty discerning, we need to give them a whole lot more credit than we (or I) currently do!

“What teens like online and on their phones”
Panel of teens from age 11-17, based in the Austin area and of different levels of interest in technology, music, etc…
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SXSWi 2008: "Cognitive Seduction 4.0: 20 ways to woo our users" panel notes

Cognitive Seduction 4.0: 20 ways to woo our users
Kathy Sierra, Creating Passionate Users

For this panel, I’ll admit my notes were a bit patchy and I relied on a few other ppl’s notes to improve them. I was too mesmerised by Kathy’s talk to worry so much about notes. But read on anyways…

I’ve also borrowed a few of Kathy’s images to illustrate for those who weren’t so lucky as to attend. They’re completely her copyright, ownership and what not. (They rock!)
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I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

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