On having things to say

I enjoyed Jaimee’s discussion of preparing her public talks, and realised that my approach has moved in a different way. I’ve probably talked about this before but I’ve also changed how I go about it. This is my technique, particularly where it diverges from Jaimee’s; synthesis can come later (and will undoubtedly help me!).

I start by thinking up some pithy title: previous talks including “Object-Oriented Programming in Objective-C”, “By your _cmd”, “The Principled Programmer” and “I have no idea what I’m doing” all began there. I often commit—even if only privately—to using a particular title before I have any idea what the talk will be about. I enjoy the creative exercise of fitting the rest of the talk into that constraint!

With a title in place, I brainstorm all of the things I can think of that could potentially fit into that topic. Usually I look back at that brainstorm and discover that it’s rambling, disconnected and mostly boring. Looking through, I search for two or three things that are interesting, particularly if they suggest conflicting ideas or techniques that can be explored, challenged and resolved.

Then it’s time for another outline :). This one explores the selected areas in depth, and it’s from this that I pick the main headlines for the talk, which also shape the introduction and conclusion. With those in mind I write the talk out as an essay, making sure it is consistent, complete and (to the extent I can do this myself) interesting. If it looks OK, then by this point I’ve prepared so much that I can remember the flow of the talk and give it without aids, though I still look for opportunities to support the presentation visually in the slides. In the case of my Principled Programmer talk, I realised the slides weren’t helping at all so did without them.

There are plenty of better presenters than me in the world; Jaimee is one of them. I have merely trial-and-errored my way into a situation where sometimes the same people who see me talk ask me back. I hope that by comparing my method with Jaimee’s and those of other people I can find out how to prepare a better talk.

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