Updated my talk – a little

After listening to a couple of great talks about the future of technical authoring, I knew that I wanted to update my own talk a little. Nothing grand, as the whole point of practising over the last few weeks was to get familiar with the material, so small tweaks.

I did this last night and think I’ve made a few small improvements.

I was also reading yesterday, and stepping out of your comfort zone fits with the idea that people are sometimes too happy to live to the labels they give themselves. But what about the labels our employers give us? Isn’t that constraining as well?



My task list at Remember the Milk has 87 tasks on it.
51 of those are marked as ‘Projects’, that is, more than one action is required to complete it.

I’m going to do something about this, and it doesn’t involve completing all of them, nor prioritising them.

What would happen if I just deleted the entire list and started again?


Is productivity all it's cracked up to be?

I got home tonight thinking about all the things I want to do. Most are work related; lots have nothing to do with work.

How can I fit everything in? It’s surely a matter of becoming more efficient; write faster, prioritise, get better organised. Except how can I do this and stay sane?

I should be writing something else right now; something that’s important. Instead, I’m looking for advice on how to get more and more stuff done.

Then I remembered Leo’s post on tossing productivity out, and I feel a whole lot better. No, I’m not going to follow all of this advice, but I’m going to weigh up some of the activities I’ve found myself doing in order to get more stuff done.


One down, two to go

So, that’s the first presentation done. My overall impression was that it went quite well.

I got there early enough to do another rehearsal on my own and this was time well spent. It might even have been enough to just spend some time in the room, but having some extra time to practice again, was a bonus.

I was a bit nervous but followed some advice and began to think of my nerves as anticipation instead. That definitely helped. Concentrating on work was a bit tricky but I managed to move a topic along I’d been struggling with.

Next time, I’ll need to make sure I’ve eaten properly. A couple of bananas at 4 o’clock wasn’t enough, and during the first presentation, my stomach was starting to rumble. In the interval, when I should have been trying to remain calm and focussed, I was stuffing a sausage roll into my mouth while chatting with a delegate. Yeah, that wasn’t cool.

Ankur, our presenter from Adobe, was great. He chatted to me before everyone started arriving and told me that he controls his nerves by reminding himself that during the presentation, he is SUPREME, and his audience WILL listen to him. He also said that if that doesn’t work, just imagine them all in their underwear…

One curious thing I noticed was that the audience in the main didn’t look that interested during my presentation. I found this a little off-putting but I don’t know what I was expecting. I was incredibly grateful for two members of the audience who were making a deliberate show of smiling and nodding appreciatively. I spoke to a colleague the next day and as a former trainer, used to speaking in front of groups, we agreed that a neutral expression is most people’s default setting when listening to talks. Only those who are used to presenting will make a conscious effort to put a smile on their face and show signs of interest. If I’d have known that beforehand, I would have been a bit more comfortable.

There are a few tweaks I’ll look to make in the presentation, but I’m going to give myself a week off from looking at it.

So, the big question, did I conquer my fear?

Possibly, hell yeah, you know what, I bloody got up there and spoke in front of a bunch of strangers, even got them to laugh on a couple of occasions. That’s a win in my book.

What I guess I should be just as pleased about was the networking I did, before and after the event. I’m not a natural networker but in the end I spoke to most people and acquired a couple of business cards. People were kind, and chatty. It was a good crowd.

Three weeks to the next one.


Getting ready to present

I’ve got my first presentation on Wednesday.

It’s a work-related presentation to a group of my peers, most of whom I don’t know.

A few weeks ago, I was terrified at the thought of doing this. Now, not so much.

The presentation is all about how Technical Writers can offer their businesses much more than writing a help file, and uses my own recent experience with a project to demonstrate this. So, naturally to a non-presenter, talking about myself for forty minutes was incredibly daunting but I found ways to make this less so.

  1. I did quite a bit of reading. I thought the two books I read were both excellent and would be hard-pressed to recommend one over the other. These were Presentation skills for quivering wrecks by Bob Etherington, and The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter by Graham Davies.

    You need to give yourself some time to read these and follow the advice. I had a couple of months to prepare and that seemed a good amount of time.

  2. I kept telling myself I had nothing to worry about. One of the messages from these books is that most presentations are so unbelievingly bad, that you don’t actually have to do much to get to the level of a competent presenter. And that’s what I’ve focussed on: I’m not aiming to be the best presenter, but merely a competent one.
  3. I used a mind map to structure my thoughts. Freemind is a free and simple tool to use. With a mindmap in place, the actual writing process became very clear.
  4. As a writer, it was much easier for me to write a complete script of the presentation. At this stage, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to read the script verbatim (frowned upon in the books) or produce a set of note cards.
  5. I read the whole script out aloud. This is an important step in listening for clunky language. I found a fair bit of clunkiness so edited accordingly. During this read through I timed the whole thing. I was a bit surprised that it came to the required forty minutes.
  6. I prepared slides that supported the presentation. If you remember little else about making a good presentation, it’s that you, the speaker, are the presentation, not your powerpoint slides. My slides were drawings I’d made using an iPad app and would help illustrate what I was saying. There is no chance I could turn my back to the audience and read the powerpoint slides to them. There simply isn’t the information on them.

    Incidentally, I did use Google Docs to make the presentation and loved it. For me, it was a piece of cake to create the presentation using these. However, because I’m not confident the locations I’m presenting at are going to have web access for me, I’ve downloaded these as Powerpoint slides.

  7. I did a full run through with slides and script in front of my line-manager. I got a lot of good feedback and incorporated this as soon as I could.
  8. I recorded the script and put it onto my iPhone so I could listen to it a couple of times on the drive in to work. My hope was that familiarity with the material would help when it came to making note cards.
  9. Note cards – I was wanting to produce a set of note cards that I could use as prompts to drive the presentation. But, I struggled with this. It was taking too long, and I just didn’t feel comfortable. So, what I’ve done is a bit of a compromise. I’ve taken my script, and made the point size 18, so it’s very clear to read. I’ve underlined all important words to help my emphasis, and I’ve inserted breaks to pause and show slides. I’ve PDFed this and have it on adobe reader on my iPad. And this is how I’m going to present – with iPad in hand.

    I’ve practised a couple of times and it works really well. I’m not a slave to the script because I know it pretty well. There are few places where I read directly from the script at all, most of it is paraphrased, which is what I’d intended to do with note cards anyway.

    And it’s large enough that if I lose my place I can find it again easily. The manual breaks are great because they’re forcing me to slow down.

On the day, I’m hoping to get into the room for the presentation an hour early so I can practice again in the room I’m presenting in.
I’m surprisingly calm about the whole thing. I trust this is a good sign. 
By single take-away from this is that if you need to do a decent presentation, you need to give yourself time. I think I’ve spent maybe thirty hours on this so far (and finding this time when you’ve a young family and a busy job is a challenge all of its own).
I’ll report back and let you know how it went.