[personal profile] tara_hanoi
Conferences are fun. They're a great way to share skills with other people, chew the fat, and an excellent chance to just take off your blinkers and look at the technological world outside of your job. It's also good for getting drunk and telling war stories.

Sometimes you even get employers paying for employees to go to conferences to learn stuff. Unfortunately, working in QA there aren't a lot of technical conferences geared to my profession. QA have the best, and most damaging, war stories and they'd probably count as confidential information. So, companies don't pay for us to meet and trade tales of happenings that they'd really rather not let the public, or their competitors, know about. This means I tend to just go to some local OSS conferences and mill about playing the technological magpie, and also socialising.

One group that I like is the monthly Python Ireland group (although I've not gone to a meeting in far too long), and I also attended 2011's Pycon Ireland. It's great to see a number of talks and presentations that make me aware of new technologies, or novel uses for what I already use.

These days, in lots of meetings like this, there's a tendency to record the presentations and distribute the slides and source code. This is really cool, although frequently I find myself miffed that I get a choice of one or the other (recording or slides), but generally not the one I want at the time; that's just Murphy's law at work.

Recordings make interesting presentations like 'Daemon Slaying! Or, Unix Daemons in Python for fun and profit!' available to me, and I'm able to start thinking of how I might want to use them or if I should squirrel away that information for a rainy day. Having also been involved with Toastmasters, I immediately began to write up feedback for how that presentation went, so that I could have a list of tips for what I'd do if I had anything to present (this is from the speaker's point of view, not that of the organisers/camera folk):

What went well
  • He spoke clearly - he obviously had some sort of sound check as well

  • He knew the material he was going to present - it's actually amazing how many don't, and think they can wing it. That said he did surprise himself once with his code.

  • I didn't notice any verbal crutches or audible hangtime - that means he had no 'umm's or 'ahh's. Blank space was either left blank, or he repeated a point while giving himself time to think.

What could have gone better:

He forgot he was being filmed. Normally this is a good thing in that you don't get self-conscious or talk to the camera when you really should be addressing the people in the room. However, there were occasions where it worked to the detriment of the video audience (which is potentially bigger than the people who are in the room):
  • During one slide, he pointed to elements of his slide that he thought were and were not important - he didn't bother to say what those points were, he just pointed to them, leaving the camera operator to quickly orient and focus the camera not just on the speaker but on the points he was making.

  • Question time - he didn't repeat the questions he was being asked by the audience. In fact, I'm pretty sure there was a whole bunch of audio problems as the sound didn't cut back to him until he was half-way through his answer, but it's good practice to repeat the question back on the mic so that the video audience will know what's asked rather than trying to infer it from the user's answer.

It should be noted however, that I work for a multinational where I'm not always in the same room for a presentation. Sometimes all I have is a pdf and a phone, and I have to keep up with the rest. After enough of those, you start to consider the above to be a hanging offense, and you become conscious of it FOREVER MORE!

But overall, I really enjoyed that presentation and its content. He did nearly everything right, except for ignore the video audience, and it reminded me of some basic points which still apply to pretty much every talk:
  • Speak clearly

  • If you're being recorded, be aware of what the video audience can and cannot hear, and relay anything that may be of interest back to the video audience

  • Know your material and its flow

  • Avoid verbal crutches in the main material - it never comes across well on recordings (video or audio)

Hopefully I'll remember them if I ever have to do something like that.
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September 2015


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