[Government] Lights and Magic

This week I was at a conference, for the first time in a while. That’s not quite true, I did a conference the other day by accident – I showed up to watch and the keynote speaker didn’t show up at all, so I was asked to step in which I was happy to do. There was quite a contrast between the events and, drawn by a blog on getting the most out of powerpoint, I thought it would be worth outlining the reasons (from my view) here. Next time I’m doing a conference, I may just use this as my checklist to make sure that things have a chance of going okay. I didn’t enjoy this week’s session much at all and, if I’m not enjoying it, god only knows what it’s like for the audience.

1.Always do you own slides. It’s not that the slides I was using weren’t ok – they were better than that: clear, lucid and to the point with a couple of simple graphics. They just weren’t mine. When I draw up slides for a conference, as I’m working through them I’m planning what I’m going to say. I never rehearse a script (in fact, I never even write a script), but just putting the slides together seems to be enough for me to marshall my thoughts. In this case, I hadn’t done that so, before the session, I was having to think through what my key points were. And it didn’t work well.

2. Always have a roving microphone. At this conference, I was pinned to a small space between two fixed microphones attached to a lectern. A move 6 inches to the left took me out of range and the same on the right. I like to move around when I talk to people, partly because I’m probably a fidget and partly because I like to get a sense of the whole audience and whether what I’m saying is engaging them. If I can see it isn’t, then I can change it. Don’t have a lectern; they remind me of days at school with people preaching to me, I didn’t like it then and I imagine people don’t like it now.

3. Ensure that you can see the audience. When I looked out over the folks there, all I could see was the front row, where one or two guys were diligently taking notes (I’m pretty sure that they didn’t work for me, so what were they doing that for?). The rest was blocked from my view because of half a dozen intensely bright lights shining right in my eyes. Rows beyond the second were a sea of blackness. So much for figuring out what the audience think.

4. Make sure you can see your own slides. Sometimes I like to point at a slide so that what I’m saying makes sense in context of it. But, mainly, I want to know that when I’ve pressed the button to change slide, it actually has changed. Many people worry that, if the presenter has a remote mouse, they’ll go bananas and press it too many times, advancing and regressing through the deck with abandon. This is not often the case – I’ve used remote mice for years and haven’t seen that problem. But here, I was given a remote mouse that had a human interface – i.e. I pressed it and, somewhere in the back room, a light went off and a human pressed the real button. So, I thought I was pressing the button, but the slide wasn’t changing. In front of me, on the lectern was a small screen, all of about 3 inches by 2 inches. It seemed out of focus and, anyway, the print was too small. So I couldn’t see what was on the slides and, most of the time, couldn’t even tell which slide I was on. That meant I had to look over my shoulder, and when I did that, I was out of range of the microphone, so people couldn’t hear me.

5. If you’re on stage with other people, at least try and see their slides before. I was on stage with two others and didn’t see either set of slides. So much for joined up presenting let alone joined up government. This was my mistake – I probably had the chance to see them but didn’t.

6. Stick to the topic requested. When all three of us came down from our 15 minute session, the chairman remarked that none of us had actually addressed the title of the brief, which was “authentication”. That was true – we hadn’t – we’d all talked about aspects of the Government Gateway that were (I hope) interesting and useful, but not actually about the perils of authentication. I have a few ready-made slide decks on that topic, so if there’s anyone out there that still wants to know, drop me a mail (a.m@e-envoy etc) and I will ship you what I have.

Finally, for me though, the highlight of the session was a French guy, Etienne, walking the floor of the exhibition centre outside the conference hall, doing magic tricks. I love tricks and this guy was a master. Cards would appear and disappear, coins would come from nowhere, notes would transform from one currency to another. Great stuff. Now if I could just work some of that into a presentation on authentication, I think I’d really be onto something.

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