My friend Bill Fisher did me a big favor back in January.
Gee, thanks, Bill! Uh, I think…
At that moment my career as presenter had included a couple of CSS workshops and my fifth-grade monologue about Pre-Cambrian fossils. When I pinged Dave, it was in a state of great anxiety: I wasn’t a performer. I didn’t know how to sing, do magic tricks, impressions. I sure as heck didn’t know, really, how to give a technical presentation to a room full of developers who’d paid to see me do something besides fall into shrieking glossolalia.
My crash course in technical presenting
Adapt to your own needs:
- Read about presenting in general
- Read about technical presentation in particular
- Lynn Root: CR@P I’M SPEAKING AT [insert conference here]! How do I prepare? Start here!
- Douglas Wilhelm Harder: Guidelines for Giving Technical Presentations. Highly recommended, and not just for the Pangorda illustration.
Those starting this process today can gain from Rebecca Grenier’s How I Wrote my First Technical Presentation as well.
- Start fussing over slides
I thought I’d go all Reveal or Prezy at this, you know, HTML5 conference, but I realized that of all the burdens to assume on the way to presenting, learning new software shouldn’t be among them. I barely knew Keynote as it was. I found an appealing presentation theme with a Saul Bass-like aesthetic, and built my slides around this Jet Age motif. It helped that the theme’s graphics included a bird silhouette–great for a presentation about Twitter Bootstrap.
Now, what about the slides’ wording?
- Zach Holman: Slide Design For Developers
And how to display code samples?
- Jim Weirich: Presenting Code. How to put code text into a Keynote presentation.
- Rebecca Murphey: On Choosing a Syntax Highlighting Scheme for Your Next Presentation. Most presenters choose dark color schemes for code samples these days, so Murphey seems a contrarian. Still, I was convinced by her discussion when watching some other presenters at the same conference–I could barely see the text in the comfortably lit rooms. I’m glad I used Ben Alman’s dark text/light background theme for my own slides.
I rehearsed at least one section of my presentation every day for about a month. I had some transitions between Sublime Text, Chrome, and Keynote which I knew would be even more challenging when I was nervous, so I emphasized working on those.
One tip that intrigued me was to mirror displays when I connected to a projector, so that switching between the various applications would be a lot easier.
I rehearsed both with presenter’s notes visible and with them hidden–I wanted my patter mostly committed to memory.
When I felt really comfortable with my presentation, I rented a conference room at TechLiminal and rehearsed in front of obliging superstar Angel Inokon. If you follow only one scrap of the advice I’m listing here, do something like this. Not only did it help to have an experienced presenter like Angel critique my rehearsal, I really gained from dealing with the projector and the strange world of mirrored displays.
- Prepare the laptop for presentation
An hour or two before I got on stage, I:
- Went to iCal > Preferences > Advanced, and checked Turn off alarms
- Closed email
- Opened window groups in Chrome displaying the URLs for each section of my presentation
- Saved all Web pages locally. There was, unusually, WiFi in the hotel meeting room, but I didn’t want to rely on it.
- In Sublime Text, switched the color scheme to “Cowboy,” so that the live code would match the colors of the samples I’d put in my slides.
When I connected to the projector, I made sure to choose “Mirror displays.” One thing I didn’t do was check that my laptop display was the correct resolution! As a result, I couldn’t see scrollbars on the distorted, oversized laptop display when I was doing a code demo–not a catastrophe, but not what you need on top of everything else.
- Prepare one’s self for presentation
- Wore something fun. In my case this was a 1970s-vintage Hawaiian-print ao dai. I figured I’d complement the bold graphics in my slides.
- Brought my own dongle to connect to the projector. So glad I did this–there weren’t any at the podium when I got there.
- Remembered I’d done scarier things than give this presentation. I’d done a front walkover on the balance beam. I’d made a phone call to a curt Berlin cafe proprietor after only two semesters of German. I’d danced Argentine tango in front of one hundred people who confused the dance form with chacha. Forty minutes of word-jazz about Twitter Bootstrap? Piece of cake.