Common Knowledge

Thoughts on presenting and slides

A lot of people have asked me lately about how I compose my presentations, so I figured I might as well address it here, then link back here in future discussions. I’ll start with links to four recent talks on my slideshare account. They’re all CC-BY licensed PDFs (I can’t yet upload them as keynote files).

The first is a talk I gave at Henry Chesbrough’s class at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, on the idea of a commons as the platform for open business models based on services. Then I gave a talk at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Science on the knowledge web. This week, I spoke on Monday at the SPARC Digital Repositories Meeting (liveblog notes at Caveat Lector), talking about the robustness of the scholarly communication system against disruptive processes like archiving. Then yesterday I spoke at the CrossRef annual users meeting (at last, something in BOSTON), striking similar tones to the SPARC meeting but with more of a focus on the publishers than the archives.

My throat hurts. All this in eight days, in four cities, on both coasts. I also had three other big meetings on the road in that time frame, including a fundraising one. Oooooof.

So here’s my rules of the road, in simple language.

1. No bullet points. This is the most liberating thing one can do.
2. Study other good presenters. I am influenced by Lessig, Jobs, and Godin.
3. Read Presentation Zen the book and Presentation Zen the blog. Also read Tufte (I have his poster from this above my monitor at work, as a constant reminder).
4. Get high-resolution pictures. Don’t settle for grainy.
5. Find your own voice.
6. Be relevant.

5 and 6 are the hard part. They require failure for a while. And failure in speaking is painful.

For me, I start by thinking about all the things I need to talk about. Then I draft short runs of slides for each of those things. I can re-use those runs when I need, and this allows me to rapidly compose the guts of a talk, because I’m thinking about these as elements in a story I want to tell, or an argument I want to make. All my talks are one of the two forms: entertaining story, or argument.

Then it’s a matter of adding in the stuff that’s relevant to your audience. This is the trick – it’s like assembling a setlist from your songs, then knowing how to do the intros and the outros and the transitions that make the audience of the day find something that resonates, and get them into a listening space. Scientists require different material than business critters, librarians different material from publishers. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

It takes effort and practice and care, hours of searching for the right photo, futzing with fonts, backgrounds, and lots of boring stuff.

When it’s good, it’s as good as playing music. I fade away and it’s just the talk flowing through me. That only happens one out of 40 or 50 times (i.e., once a year or so). Those are amazing moments. The rest of the time, it’s work.

I did change from thick fonts last week to thin fonts this week, after getting some nice feedback from Jillian Wallis at UCLA that the contrast between my bold italic Gill Sans and the regular Gil Sans wasn’t coming through in the room lighting. I am very happy with the new look…

Comments

  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 20, 2008

    When it’s good, it’s as good as playing music. I fade away and it’s just the talk flowing through me. That only happens one out of 40 or 50 times (i.e., once a year or so). Those are amazing moments. The rest of the time, it’s work.

    Yeah! Isn’t that feeling just fucking awesome, when the talk just passes through you as if you are just a bystander?

  2. #2 Mats Envall
    November 22, 2008

    The only tip that was lacking was making sense. I can’t understand why John is requested as a speaker at any meeting at all. What does he have to say?

  3. #3 Arikia
    November 29, 2008

    John has lots of things to say, Mats Envall. I would for sure request him to speak if I had an important meeting to conduct.

  4. #4 Mats Envall
    December 23, 2008

    Yes, you’re right Arikia, John has lots of things to say. What I’m pointing at, however, is that he confuses the tools he uses in saying, that is, concepts, with the things he talks about. His definition of the concept taxon actually refers to two concepts: monophyletic groups and holophyletic groups, which are incompatible by the first being the generic concept for the latter (like fruits are generic to apples). This his definition is thus a clear case for disambiguation between these latter two concepts, which will show it to be synonymous to holophyletic groups, contrary to what he claims. I would thus strongly advice against requesting him to speak in either important or non-important meetings, since he, in between the conventional evolutionary truths he conveys, confuses minds. His problem is that he assumes as an axiom that kinds exist, instead of the scientific axiom that things exist. It puts him in a contrary position to science. The problem with this position is that it is falsified by the fact that time is relative to space. It means that he “denies” the fact that time is relative to space, whereas the fact that time is relative to space falsifies his denial (and thus also the underlying confusion). It isn’t John’s knowledge that is the problem, but his approach.

  5. #5 Mats Envall
    December 23, 2008

    Yes, you’re right Arikia, John has lots of things to say. What I’m pointing at, however, is that he confuses the tools he uses in saying, that is, concepts, with the things he talks about. His definition of the concept taxon actually refers to two concepts: monophyletic groups and holophyletic groups, which are incompatible by the first being the generic concept for the latter (like fruits are generic to apples). This his definition is thus a clear case for disambiguation between these latter two concepts, which will show it to be synonymous to holophyletic groups, contrary to what he claims. I would thus strongly advice against requesting him to speak in either important or non-important meetings, since he, in between the conventional evolutionary truths he conveys, confuses minds. His problem is that he assumes as an axiom that kinds exist, instead of the scientific axiom that things exist. It puts him in a contrary position to science. The problem with this position is that it is falsified by the fact that time is relative to space. It means that he “denies” the fact that time is relative to space, whereas the fact that time is relative to space falsifies his denial. It isn’t John’s knowledge that is the problem, but his approach.

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