Talk Prep: Grids and Concertinas

This year, I prepped one talk. Next year, I feel more confident and plan to prep 3 (working titles: Mobile is a Systems Problem, The Myth of The Intersection of Energy, Creativity, and Time, and a Series of Unfortunate Statistics).

This year’s talk – Distractedly Intimate – has been given in timeframes ranging from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. And though I tweak and personalise it each time (especially when it was the final talk of the conference!) it has remained substantially the same.

That is because it is built on a grid.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 9.26.07 am

This means that there are different adjustments that can be made. E.g. including a section – Application is for longer talks only.

Cutting points, so if I wanted to cut to 15 minutes I might remove a point from each section.

Shortening stories. The close contains a video, which is nice because it gives me a short break and I can come back for a strong finish, but the difference between 25 and 20 minutes is removing the video, and cutting some details of the stories in sections 1, 2 and 3.

The above is the maximum time example – in this case, 40 minutes.

25 minutes is as follows:

25 min

20 minutes:

20 min

15 minutes:

15 min

One thing to keep in mind is having the right amount of content for the time. I hate those talks where I feel like someone talked for 40 minutes and only made 2 real points, and I never want to give one. But I also hate it when the presenter tries to pack too much in and loses the audience because they’ve missed out key things, or the content is too complicated for the timeframe.

I don’t think this talk is really suited for the 15 minute version, so I probably wouldn’t give it in that time. I think the base content is right for 20 minutes, and so every longer session I should increase the information content. My favourite version is the 25 minute version, because I love the video and the time frame is less tight. 40 minutes is a long time to listen to anyone, which is why I mix it up a bit and take a different approach to add that extra ~10 minutes of content and focus on application, rather than ideas (this section gets the least laughs, but I hope people find it useful!)

This approach might seem overly structured, but the purpose of each point is to have a takeaway, and weave a story around it. So, the grid is the concept which in one transformation becomes the (heavily visual) slide deck, and in another transformation it’s the structure I weave my narrative around. I don’t need a slide for each point, but I do need slides (because video!) and I think showing my twitter handle on each slide encourages the audience to tweet about it so I create one for each item in the grid, and it works for me.

There are few things more impressive to me than an excellent presentation, without slides, but often I find speakers without slides become a little unstructured and lose their way. For me the change of slide says “here is a new point” which audience member, or speaker, I appreciate, and I’ll keep them for longer talks – for now.

Preparing one talk, really well, and delivering it multiple times (being careful about not to the same people!) has been great for building my confidence, and has made the investment of time in creating the talk much more worthwhile. Now each conference is 1-2 hours of prep time, rather than 20+. This makes the 5 I will speak at between September and November much more manageable.

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