"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!]

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]

SocialMediaCamp London 09: A Few Lessons Learned

New mothers apparently say that after they hold their newborn in their arms, they forget almost all the pain of the laborious process (literally!) that preceded. I think this week, I can see what they mean.

On Saturday, April 25th, the second SocialMediaCamp London was held at Wallacespace St Pancras after a long gestation period. The event itself is fairly simple; BarCamps are “unconferences” and therefore there are no speakers to book and manage. smcstart-1The venue is fabulous and the team there make my life incredibly easy by being such a well-oiled machine. The only pain was the sponsorship issues I encountered, which was resolved by making the event a single day instead of the original intended two days.

In general, the event was fantastic; there were some stellar presentations, on topics ranging from “What to do with a corporate Twitter account?” to “Porn & social media: A practical guide to working with ‘adult’ content” and a discussion on LARP to one on how to help PR agencies collaborate better with bloggers (“PR agencies want your soul”). The weirdness of presentations can pretty much be summed up in a single photo by Neil Crosby.

The day was topped off by what I hear was a comedy Scavenger Photo Hunt, organised by Kat Neville. “I hear” because by that point, my knees had turned to Jell-O and so had my brain, so I had to skip on the photohunt, as brilliant as it seemed.

A few days from the event now, and I’m still basking in the glow of a great day, filled with new and known faces, creative ideas & suggestions. I’ve pretty much forgotten about the faff of the weeks leading up to the event and am already thinking about doing it again.

As  far as the homepage of my blog is concerned, this is where the post ends. If you’re interested in a few contentious aspects of the event, then read on.

Read More

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!

South by Southwest 2009: Surviving a Week of Geekery

I landed back in the UK two days ago, and I can already feel the most vivid memories of the week slipping away. Before any more memories disappear, better put pen to paper (figuratively, you know I rarely use paper) and note the salient points of South by Southwest 2009.

I arrived a day early to Austin on Wednesday night after a reasonably uneventful flight – just how I like them. The city was preparing for two weeks where everything changed; First, a week where geeks descend upon the city, then a week of musicians taking over every club, bar and hole in the wall.

On Thursday, once settled in, I met with the lovely Kara, an Austin local I met last year, who drove David, Rebecca & myself down to San Antonio for the day. We visited the Alamo and walked along the river, stopping by for our first Tex Mex lunch of the week (certainly not the last).

Friday, panels started slowly, but there was truly only one I wanted to see – Clearleft‘s Paul Annett’s presentation entitled “Oooh that’s Clever! Unnatural Web Design” focused on the small delights designers can add when creating a site. He bravely invited volunteers onto the stage to reenact the Silverback App site’s parallax effect alongside a gorilla costume-clad Elliot Jay Stocks. A surreal start to what was going to be a surreal week.

The evening was just as memorable; The Boiling Pot on 6th is rather unique, in the sense that the crab, sea bugs & meat gets unceremoniously dumped on the table, everyone gets a bib and a hammer and the fun begins.

Sophie and Steve eating at the Boiling Pot, Austin

Saturday, panel topics ranged from “Tips for Making Ideas Happen” with Scott Belsky, “First year as a freelancer” with Thomas Myer to “Mobilizing your Online Community” (the worst panel I attended all week, I left promptly) and “Building your Brand with Web 2.0 Tools”. The latter had an excellent panel composed of Saul Colt (Freshbooks), Chris Brogan, Loic LeMeur (Seesmic), CC Chapman & Dave Delaney, but the excitement of SXSW caused them to behave like fratboys rather than an intelligent, knowledgeable panel for a good part of the hour. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Brogan!)

The evening was a whirlwind of events: Brief visit by the Diggnation party where Alex Albrecht was seen throwing (Adidas-sponsored) shoes at the audience, followed by a few hours at the Frog Design Party, ending up at the Belmont Lounge for a cocktail before bed.

Sunday morning started well with “Ditch the Valley, Run for the Hills”, moderated by the lovely John Erik Metcalf, on running a successful business outside of the San Francisco area. Opinions were divided, with Scoble suggesting a strong link with the Valley is essential to get a business off the ground, and others proving otherwise. (Louis Gray’s notes)

Next session was “Making Whuffie: Raising Social Capital in Online Communities” by Tara Hunt, which realistically I should have skipped on. It’s a great presentation, but one I had seen twice already.

In the afternoon, the “From Flickr and Beyond: Lessons in Community Management” and “Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed?” panels were enlightening, with more detailed notes to be blogged soon.

Monday‘s first panel was “Beyond Aggregation — Finding the Web’s Best Content” with ReadWriteWeb ‘s Marshall Kirkpatrick, Louis Gray, Gabe Rivera (TechMeme), Melanie Baker (AideRSS) & Micah Baldwin (Lijit) I’ll be blogging this one in more details too but here are Louis’ notes for an early look.

“Enough To Be Dangerous: Managing ‘Expert’ Clients” looked promising but somewhere along the way, I got bored by the duh-that’s-obvious statements and the misinformed observations about the use of Flash in business sites, and walked out to get some Austin sunshine onto my pasty skin and spend some time with new and old friends.

Tuesday, last day of the event, I went to the Great British Breakfast to shmooze a little with the Digital Mission brits. Returning to the Convention Centre, I’d had enough of the fluffy community and social media panels (How many of them? Simon counted) and thought I’d dive into a few topics I knew nothing about; Get Satisfaction’s Thor Muller’s “Welcome to Your Posthuman Future” provided just that. It was like jumping head first into Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” book.

After lunch, I attempted to get in the Kawasaki & Anderson keynote, but it was so crowded that I gave up and wandered the halls one last time. Hoping to finish the week on another unexpected-and-interesting note, I headed to the “DRM: The Fight Isn’t Over Yet” Core Conversation by Fred Benenson of Creative Commons, but Core Conversations are always very hit-or-miss and again, it wasn’t worth staying for.

The Media Temple Closing Party provided a great opportunity to meet new people, where I couldn’t help wondering where they/I’d been all week! It’s always that way,

Wednesday, the long trek home began, flying at 11am from Austin, spending a few hours around Charlotte airport and meeting Glenn Jones for a beer, followed by an overnight flight.

And now, I’m home. The South By Lurgy’s hit me and is holding one of my lungs ransom. But I’ve had a great week, I already miss many of the great people I’ve met and I’m ready to do it again next year.

If I were to make three recommendations to SXSW organisers for next year:

1. Identify the level of the panel more clearly:

Mark panels as Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced on the pocket schedule and ask speakers to stick to that level. The vast majority of panels I attended were far too Beginner level, which sometimes felt like a waste of time. The panelists aren’t necessarily to blame, as they aimed to be as inclusive as possible, but when every panel is lowest-common-denominator, it can be tricky to learn new things.

When I did find a slightly more advanced panel, I reacted just as Simon Willison did “For the record, the asychronous scaling panel is exactly the kind of meaty technical content I want to see more of at #sxsw” When I did find those panels, however, they made my day.

2. Don’t get greedy:

This year, there was a rumoured 12,000 attendees at the Interactive festival. To put it simply, that’s too many. Being refused from entering panels or made to watch a keynote from a second or third re-broadcast room is disappointing, having made the 9,000 miles round-trip to Austin. Having to trek over to the Hilton in the short break between panels was also less than convenient.

It’s great to see the event get more popular and I certainly don’t want it to be reserved for some sort of technical/social elite of the web, but the Convention Centre was creaking at the seams this year.

3. Keep the team in charge of wifi:

I must tip my hat to the team in charge of the wifi at the event. While it wasn’t completely flawless, it was a marked improvement on last year. I hear the AT&T network was a bit more spotty (my roaming mobile picked T-Mobile) and that mobile AT&T vans were brought into the area to boost the service levels for everyone. Someone clearly went out of their way to keep the wifi running smoothly – my bank account will thank you greatly when my data roaming bill comes through.

Finally, to all the wonderful geeks I met for the first time, or had the pleasure of seeing again: See you all next year!

Heading to Texas next week for SXSWi

I get the impression that a very large British contingent is heading to Austin, Texas for SXSW this year, based on the few conversations I’ve seen floating around Twitter. I’ll be amongst the masses, heading to my favourite event of the year.

sxsw-logoSouth by Southwest Interactive is “Spring Break for Geeks”, with around 7,500 attendees; developers, designers, marketing people, social media folks like me, hippy dippy creatives… All there to learn, exchange ideas and have a lot of fun in the meantime. Not sure it’s much of a break, considering how much there is to do in only a few days.

I’ll be blogging whenever I can and twittering as usual, so if you’re attending, drop me a line to say hi. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to meet face to face at the conference center, or over a drink at one of the many evening events.

Texas, this time don’t disappoint me, I don’t want any snow. I want 25 degrees Celcius, sunny weather, a light breeze, oh and a cocktail umbrella on my drink too please!