The Slides are NOT the Talk

If the slides are any good, and the speaker is any good, the slides aren’t your notes. They aren’t the talk. All they are is a small visual reminder to support the story that the speaker is telling you. Getting them in advance and hoarding them is as silly as when we’d obsess about requirements and refuse to test until they were carved in stone as if those were the holy unchangeable truth. Those aren’t even a basic outline! They simply do not matter when compared to the REAL THING. Stop hoarding the slides. They are one small supporting factor, unless, of course, your speaker is boring, or inexperienced. In that case, skip the talk and read the slides.

The Slides are NOT to be taken out of context

If you didn’t hear the talk, don’t take one word from the slide and fill in your own assumptions. That can be amusing, like a madlib, but I didn’t SAY that. Sometimes a person will tweet what I said, and although I did say that very phrase and mean it, in the context of a talk, when it doesn’t have the story I shared, it may take on a different meaning. Please ask the speaker if you don’t understand.

The Slides SHOULD be confusing without the Audio

If the slides are fully beautiful prose, why bother listening to the speaker? You don’t get my talk without getting the talk. Show UP! Participate. Decide to come hear me speak, or don’t. The slides and the talk are a matched pair. One is a visual support. The other is an audio story. The rest is interactive, where there are questions and answers.

Networking-Connections, NOT Contacts

When you go to a conference, look for the speaker, the attendee, the writer, or even the person you see testing or chattering in the hallway that you have a strong connection with. Who gets you excited about your profession? Who do you see that is “your people” or “Who you’d love to work with one day”? Have a meaningful connection with that person. It doesn’t matter how many cards you have. It matters how many stories you remember, and how you made other people feel. It matters what ideas, spirits, and minds connected in a memorable way.

One thing I do when I get your card at a conference, is I use it for a bookmark. Then that day I think about what we talked about. I try to remember specific things. It sounds weird, but I like to do that. Sometimes if it’s been 2 years and we haven’t talked, I just can’t remember, but I do really want to get to know people in testing. That’s why I bother. That’s why I keep working on this stuff instead of surfing cat videos during my evening. Don’t hesitate to tweet or email me if you want to follow up.

It’s about the Content

I mean, if you say, “Hey, I’m Bob. We met before.” I may not know you. Say, “We met at dinner over Ribs when we were in Las Vegas for STPCon in 2010! yeah. Remember? I was learning .net and we were both talking about struggling with Metrics? What did we talk about in common? Tell me what matters to you. Tell me what impacts you, and I’ll trust you and help you however I can. Don’t collect my card in a stack. Leave it unless I resonate with you. I’m not for everyone. I’m available for those who are my people. Those who love the part of testing I do.

How to Learn to Make Slides
This is my best advice, and it explains my path.
1. See speakers every month. The talks you like the most–what do the slides have in common?
2. Watch speakers you don’t admire. What do their slides have in common?
3. Inspect, Adapt, Improve.
4. Get feedback.
5. IGNORE the scathing and the overly flattering top 1%.
6. Inspect and adapt without the raves and rants.
7. Keep what is uniquely you, but restate it a few ways if it isn’t clear.
8. Don’t be afraid to improvise and change up your slide deck. The story matters, the slides matter less.
9. I can present without the slides, but they help me stay organized, and the pictures are fun.
10. What purpose do your slides have? If it IS to tell the story, you are doing it wrong. If it is to visually support the story you are already telling? That’s great.
11. By the time you start the slides, the presentation should be completed in your mind. Otherwise, you don’t have your story yet. Try an outline first, slides later. It might make your slides better.

My Style of Slides

1. Make Draft 1 with Notes.
2. Take out half the words, add in pictures.
3. Take out half the notes, add in pictures.
4. Shuffle the slides around.
5. Add more pictures.
6. Find new fonts.
7. Get more pictures.
8. Consider my examples. If not gender neutral, try again.
9. Consider my examples. If outside of my country, do they make sense?
10. Practice on an audience and ask for feedback.

What’s The Purpose?

When I’m at a conference
to present, and I have anywhere between 40 minutes to 1 hour and 15
minutes, my goal is to share information. At best, I hope you leave
knowing a few things, and that you can contact me for more info if you
need to learn it further or want to use the idea. Unfortunately, in that
time frame, usually you can’t teach someone a whole skill or something
very complicated in enough depth that they are ready to go back to work
the next day and start using that with no followup. Although I know that
without practice, you can’t DO that thing yet, I want to leave you with
some useful information to consider, think about, form your own opinion
on, and follow up with, including how you can learn more if it
interests you. Thus, when you go to an industry conference, consider it a
smorgasbord and not a cooking class or even a full meal. This is a
place for you, the diner, to taste a maximum variety of things that
interest you, and follow up on that information in the future.

What’s Next?
am, at this very point, still very engaged with 2012 conferences, but
now that many of my 1 hour talks are in the past, or NEXT WEEK (Yay!),
I’m going to be moving my focus on to interactive teaching! Half day
sessions, and eventually, I have a goal to do a full day session. I want
to go beyond offering an appetizer and teach hands on skills that
people can get in depth with, and learn enough to perform the task on
their own, explain it to others, and put their new skill into practice.
The more I learn about how the human mind works, the more I’m convinced
that most test conferences and presenters have their slides totally
wrong. It isn’t the fault of the presenters, as our examples are often
poor, and attendees try to collect slides as if they can somehow consume
all of that information via PowerPoint slideshow. I know that is a poor
way to present, and a worse way to attend a conference. I’m hoping that this post
explains why, as well as how and why I’ve changed my slides and how I
attend presentations as a result.