"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!]

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.

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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!

SocialMediaCamp London: A Look Back At The Many Themes

Do you ever look back at past achievements and feel yourself swell with pride because, with hindsight, you now realise how well you and others did?

This morning, poking around Flickr, I came across Tom’s photo of the schedule board at SocialMediaCamp London, which was back in October. We gathered 100 attendees, many of which chose to present on a topic of their choice, kicking off interesting conversations and collaborations amongst participants. Since I didn’t get to attend every presentation, some titles still puzzle me, but here is the full list of panel/presentation/discussion topics:

socialmediacamplondon_schedule

  • How to write awesome headlines – Tom Whitwell, The Times
  • Social Media as Community Activism: From International Networks to a local perspective – Salford Social Media Centre
  • Love is in the air – Jonny & Jayme, Glue
  • How/Why Moderate Masses (180,000 users) – The Sun Online
  • Social Media: How Not To Get Fucked – Girl With a One Track Mind
  • How to Replace CNN with Something Nicer: IPTV
  • How Hedgehogs can Inspire Social Media – Carl @Fellowcreative
  • Entreprise Microblogging is More Than Twitter: A First Look at Brand New Microblogging System – Communote.com
  • Lifestreaming your Life Online – Ande Gregson & Paul Kane, Sky
  • Buzz Management For Startups: How to Build Workflow so Everyone Knows What’s Going On – Jure C
  • Relationship Counselling for PRs and Bloggers – Paul Borge
  • Legal Aspects of Social Media – Victoria McEvedy
  • Digital Yoga & The New Religion of the Web – Rohan
  • One (wo)man Social Media Empire-Life! – Lloyd Davis
  • Twitter for the Environment – Carmen
  • Man Boobs, Incest, Sarah Palin and The Times: How We Do SEO @ Times Online – Mariana Bettio
  • The Social Graph: Who Owns It? What Is It?
  • DIY PR: How to Get PR For Your Startup (Please Fire your PR Firm/Agency)
  • Native To a Web of Dudes – David Thompson
  • How to Present to Big Scary Companies (And Look Like You Know What You’re Doing) – Terence Eden, Vodafone
  • Alternate Reality Games
  • Social Media For Good: Respite For Carers, A Project in Development (Discussion)
  • We’re All Chemicals: Social Objects on the Social Web, Socialising – Dan Donald
  • 6 Degrees of Separation Now – Benjamin Ellis
  • Programmer-Journalists or Journalist-Programmers (Group Discussion) – Mark Ng
  • How to Use LinkedIn To Get a Better Job
  • TV III Branding: The Management Of Television Brands in The Digital Age – Will Prestes
  • Staying Pseudonymous On & Offline
  • Scrumping 2.0: A Model for Wider Community Involvement?
  • Digital Footprint
  • If you Work in Marketing or Advertising, Kill Yourself Now – Chris Applegate
  • Data Portability – Ben Godfrey
  • The Web of Babel: Managing Languages on the Web – Chrys
  • Akoha: The Social Reality Game – Emma Persky
  • Online Reputation Management: It’s Not All Bad
  • Ideas Into Action: Developing a Toolkit for Collaborative & Community Projects – Alison
  • Print & Online Social Media: Can You Make It Work? – The London Paper
  • Measuring Engagement of Social Media Websites in the Web 2.0 World
  • Managing Online Identity & Personal Brand – Vero Pepperrell
  • 7 Secrets to Facebook Fundraising
  • Blogging Breakdown & How to Avoid It – Annie Mole
  • Social Media Bingo Session

A few presentation notes made their way on the SMCLondon blog and quite a few have been posted to Slideshare under the tag “smclondon08” so, if like me you want to reminisce, or didn’t have the chance to attend, have a look!

I can’t help but wonder what trend similarities and changes we’ll see at SocialMediaCamp London v.2.0… Want to get involved in the second SMCLondon? Drop me a line as the planning is only just beginning and we always welcome an extra pair of hands!

Oh hello there!

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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