Oisín Hurley's Weblog

old dog, new tricks

Some Opinions About EclipseCon Talks That Will No Doubt Be Unpopular

with 6 comments

In watching the presentations this year, it has come to my attention that some of them are boring. Yes, I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I was startled enough by it that I thought I had to share.

I have always asserted that as a presenter, your primary role is to entertain. That is, you want to ensure that the arses stay on the seats until you get your point across, and when you do get that point across you want people to be engaged, with their brains on.

Remember, presenter – I have Twitter now. I can amuse myself if you are not amusing me. But haven’t I come for content? Sure, but if I enjoyed the presentation, then I’ll be happy with a bunch of recommended links.

Now unfortunately, there are some topics that are inherently dull and uninteresting in their own right, although this does vary with personal taste. For example, even the merest mention of BPEL gets me right into that day-dream about being out on the golf course on a sunny day.

Or, come to think of it, the one about chainsaws, which I won’t elucidate here.

You are kind of doomed with those type of topics – you had better hope that the attendance contains a cadre of narrow-niche hardcore heads who love it from their own particular perspective. But it will – unless you get the conference wrong.

Ok, so you have a topic thats intrinsic novelty has not put you at a disadvantage. Hypothetical example, Editing Tools for SmoochML Documents. The first mistake to make would be to say “First I will introduce the SmoochML standard”. Dude, if I didn’t know what it was, I wouldn’t be in your talk. You are a developer, so I understand your need to do obsessive corner-case coverage, but, you know, you’re actually off-topic. And then you might complain that you are running out of time at the end. Sympathy, I know thee not.

This is why I like short talks (although ten minutes is too short) – there’s no time for a gentle introduction, it’s off the cliff, into the sea, down as deep as you can go, and then pop out of the water panting and hollering. Forget beach entry.

If you are doing a fifty-minute talk, then I recommend you get in there with a good narrative. Set up a dramatic situation – what was the problem? What would be the consequence of failure? You must create several thousand SmoochML documents in 24 hours, or the Joker is going to blow up a hospital. And, all you have is three dozen red pandas that the programmers inadvertently left behind over the weekend. Yikes!

Next step is to resolve the conflict, tell the story, how did you deliver using the Editing Tools for SmoochML project? Just tell it. Then once it’s all over, go back over a few things and drill into them a little more. People will be more engaged – they may even ask some questions rather than sitting there breathing shallowly with glossy little eyes.

Good luck.

Oh, and go check out the stats for the talks and see if you can spot the ones where people weren’t engaged.


Written by oisinhurley

March 25, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Posted in conferences, eclipse

6 Responses

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  1. +1

    Awesome post. I’ve heard common sentiments from a few people. Technically interesting but the presenter is boring. I try to be entertaining, probably a far cry from your skills :), but a must for those presenting no matter what the content is.

    Doug Schaefer

    March 26, 2009 at 9:40 am

  2. A few techies are not good speakers. But what you said are very valid points.

    Madhu Samuel

    March 26, 2009 at 4:21 pm

  3. @Madhu — you are absolutely correct. I got a bit of a ragging on the #eclipse-stp IRC channel with people making the same point. It is true that techies are good at being techies, and not necessarily good at presenting. It’s not fair to expect them to be good at presenting by default. But, my reply is that if they are going to do a talk, they should take some time to learn some of the basics, and practice. Think of it as another challenge, rather than a chore.


    March 31, 2009 at 12:30 am

  4. @Doug — well I think I have put a bit of pressure on myself for the next talk I do! Doh!


    March 31, 2009 at 12:31 am

  5. great post — one thing which really puts me off tech presentations is a demo walkthrough, with code, from scratch. Honing the skills of presenting is tough, but maybe we should arm the audience with rotten veg to enourage the presenters to stay interesting and on topic.

    i look forward to reading more about smoochml.

    aman kohli

    March 31, 2009 at 2:21 pm

  6. […] where things get a bit more interesting. I made a post at EclipseCon 2009 where I blew the lid off the story that I had been at some boring talks. Yikes! I got a bit of […]

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