One of the joys of working for an education-focused VAR is that I get to give technical presentations. More often than not, I try to get a presentation slot at the Oklahoma Technology Association annual conference. I did one last year over IPv6 to a packed house…of six people. This year, I jumped at the chance to grab a slot and talk about something new and different.
Yes, I figured it was about time to teach the people in education about some of the basics behind cloud. When the call for presentations came out, I registered almost immediately. This year, I had 12 months worth of analysis and experience at Tech Field Day to drive me in my presentation preparations. The first think I knew I needed to do was come up with a catchy title. People get numbed to the descriptive, SEO-friendly titles that get put on conference agendas. As you can tell from the titles of my blog posts, I want something that’s going to pop. I decided to sort of theme my presentation after a weather report. Therefore, calling it “Partly Cloudy” seemed like a no-brainer. I added “Forecast For Your Technology Future” as a subtitle to ensure that people didn’t think I was talking strictly about meteorology. I spent a bit of time laying out slides and putting some thoughts down. I hate when people read their bullet points from a slide deck, so I use mine more as discussion points. They serve as a way to keep me on track and help focus me on what I want to say to my audience. I also decided to do something fun for the audience. I shamelessly stole this idea from Cisco Press author Tim Szigeti. Tim wrote a very good guide to QoS and when he gives a presentation at Cisco Live, he gives away a copy of said book to the first person to ask a question during his presentation. I loved the idea and wanted to do something similar. However, I’m not an author. I wracked my brain trying to come up with a good idea. That was where I came up with the idea of using an umbrella as a prop. You’ll see why in just a minute.
When I got to the room to do my presentation, I was astonished. There were almost 90 people in the audience! I got a little jittery from realizing how many people were there, especially the ones I didn’t know. I got everything setup and started my video camera so I could go back after the fact and not only post about it on my blog, but have a reference for what I did right and what I could have done better. Here’s me:
If you’d like to follow along with my slide deck, you can download the PDF HERE.
Compared to last year, I desperately wanted to avoid using the word “so” as much as I did. I practiced a lot to try and leave it out as a pause word or a joining word. If you’ve ever talked to me in real life, you can understand how hard that is for me. Unfortunately, I think I jumped on the word “hallmark” and used it a little more than I should. Not sure why I did that to be honest. But as far as things go, it could have been much worse. One thing that did unnerve me a little was the fact that people started walking out of my presentation about about ten minutes. Having left a few presentations early in my lifetime, I started thinking in the back of my mind what could be causing people to leave. Was I boring? Was the subject matter too elementary? Did people just hate the sound of my voice? All in all, about twenty people left before the end, although to be honest if my company hadn’t been giving away a gift card, it might have been higher than that. I caught up with several of the early departures during the conference and asked them why they decided to bail. Their response was almost universal and caught me a little off guard – “You were just talking way over our heads.” I had never even considered that approach. I’d spent so much time making sure my content touched on many areas of the cloud that I forgot most of my audience doesn’t talk to Christofer Hoff (@Beaker) about cloud regularly. My audience consisted of people that found out about cloud technology from a Microsoft commercial or on their new iPhone. These people don’t care about instantiation of vCloud Director instances or vApp deployments. They’re still amazed they can put a contact on their iPhone and have it show up on their iPad. That was my failing. I never want to be the guy that talks down to an audience. In this case, however, I think I needed to take a step back and ensure my audience was on the same ground I was on when it came to talking about the cloud. Lesson learned.
There were a number of other little things that bugged me. I didn’t like standing behind a lectern since I’m usually an animated presenter. However, the room design forced me to have a microphone. I was forced to insert a couple of things into my slides. I’ll let you guess where those were. Overall though, I was complimented by several audience members and I had lots of people come up to me afterwards and ask me questions about cloud-based software and virtualization. I think I’m going to do another one of these at the Fall OTA conference focused on something like virtual desktop infrastructure. This time I’ll have demos. And fewer weather-related jokes.
Feedback from my readers is always welcome. I value each opinion about my presentation and I always strive to get better at them. I doubt I’ll ever be the most effective public speaker out there, but I want to avoid boring most people to death.