Talking is teaching! That’s all it is!

October 25, 2009 – 2:42 am

I’ll cover the actual conference in a later post (coming very, very soon). Right now I’m going to ramble on two semi-related thoughts just to get this out of my brain.

The first is that I now have a baseline for pre-talk nervousness, and it runs as follows.

  1. indecisive nervousness upon submitting each of: talk abstract, speaker bio, picture (“am I doing this right?” “are there even pictures of me out there that don’t show me diving away from the camera in panic?”)
  2. stay up late the night before going “AAH! SPEAKING IN THE MORNING!” until you force yourself to conk out
  3. arrive at conference venue, spend a good 10 minutes staring at talk slides in the bathroom (laptop perched on the table-ledge-thing in front of the mirror) trying to psych self up enough to be able to stop worrying and listen to the keynote. I’m not actually hyperventilating, but I’m coming reasonably close.
  4. repeat step #3 for first presentation block
  5. repeat step #3 for my presentation block
  6. ZOMG a crowd
  7. ZOMG a microphone
  8. HYPERACTIVE MODE ON GO!
  9. (speaking)
  10. AAAAA they’re clapping why are they clapping let me go repeat step #3 and calm down

After much thought, I have concluded that the vast majority of worrying displayed in this baseline measurement is utterly useless. Therefore, I will stop.

Well.

That’s easier said than done. But now I know exactly what bits of panic I have to eliminate. I’m pretty sure I can cut out 2, 7, and all but one of 3-5 next time, and diminish most of 1, since I now have a picture and a bio and a rough idea of what a talk proposal looks like. I’m not sure about 6 or 10; those might take longer. I need to learn how to ramp up and down my WHEE! HYPER! levels instead of slamming the switch from one side to the other. (Replace switch with potentiometer. Turn digital to analog. Whatever. More fine-grained control. Will take a while. Been working on it for a while already.)

But it was fun. Like… really fun. I need to write my slides up – I deliberately made it so the presentation materials were cocreated by the audience as we went along, so the “final version” of the slides don’t actually exist yet. And I managed to get people to ignore me, which is awesome, because then they talked with their neighbors to plan how they were going to do things in their project, which would not have happened if I had stood up and went on for an uninterrupted 40 minute spiel, which I don’t think I could have done anyway; I’m really uncomfortable being the center of attention for more than a millisecond, so I have gotten Very Very Good at deflecting it. (Should build up my tolerance, though. Working on it.)

I think the single most effective mindhack that I used to simmer down the “WAIT WHAT AM I DOING?” terror was to think of it as teaching a class. I’ve done that hundreds of times; it’s what I do. I teach. How do I teach? I get people to think and do things on their own – it’s more like an exploratory lab than a lecture. Is there any reason I can’t do that here? Nope. Just because most folks stand up and talk for the entire time does not mean that I have to; it’s about what’s going to be the best use of their (the audience’s) time, and I think the best use of their time is to Not Be An Audience. My usual teaching goal is getting as many people using as much of their brains as possible on something interesting to them – and… from a single sample, the thing that works for 18 year olds learning about feedback systems seems to work just as well for conference attendees. Interesting!

That’s how I’m going to think of talks in the future; as classrooms. Weird-looking classrooms with really fancy A/V. They are bundles of time for which I am tasked with the creation of an environment within which people can explore and do things. Because the important thing is not the words that come out of my mouth – and I said this at the start of my talk – but the things that happen inside their heads, and the things they do afterwards as a result of what happened in their heads. So… talking, teaching, same thing. Incredibly helpful reframing for me. Wish I’d thought of that last week.

That’s the first thing.

The second is that family is wonderful; I haven’t had a chance to really hang out with the Toronto branch of my extended family (very extended – the cousins of my mother) before, and I am related to geeks! The world is wonderful right now. Wow. There are people in my family that I need to meet. They work on submarines. And datacenter-planning software. And… wow. Wow, this is cool.

There we go. I think I am actually sleepy enough to become unconscious now. Toronto… is cold.

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  1. 3 Responses to “Talking is teaching! That’s all it is!”

  2. As I mentioned at Ontario Linux Fest: your talk was BRILLIANT, Mel. Congratulations on engaging your audience and giving them useful and relevant take-away skills. It was an inspiration to be at your talk.

    By emmajane on Oct 25, 2009

  3. I’ve never given a presentation nearly that large – only to small groups within my company – but I definitely prefer both giving and attending talks that are interactive on some level. I think of any presentation I give in terms of a round table or discussion; your classroom approach also makes a lot of sense. When you’re interactive, it allows information to flow both ways, which can allow you to better target the audience’s needs or even allow you to leave with some new ideas of your own, like how your system is being used in ways you’d never anticipated.

    Just about the worst presentation format is when someone stands at the front of the room and talks and clicks for an hour without any audience participation. So I usually force the issue and ask lots of leading questions =)

    By monique on Oct 26, 2009

  4. Your talk was pretty awesome. I thought the use of two sets of slides was really effective.

    By Paul N on Oct 28, 2009

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