I gave a little presentation or lecture at work last week (on pair-wise testing and higher-level test planning) and I was reminded of one of the great tragedies of my life. I really love to help people learn new things, but actually standing up in front of a crowd and talking makes me physically ill. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember, and I’ve learned to work around it in the work context, but if I had to do this every day I’d be pretty miserable.
Since I knew other people would want to read about it later, especially given that I gave the presentation on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I put my notes up on our Wiki. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Wiki. While I love the idea of a single place to look for information, the usability of Wiki markup languages really stinks. It’s a bit like Blogger’s “plain text” format, in that if you don’t care about what things come out looking like, it’s alright, but I always spend more effort trying to work around the limitations of the format than I do actually writing the content.
I’ve learned over the years that there are about three major methods of preparing for giving a presentation. Some people actually go to the effort of writing out everything that they want to say, similar to a speech as given by politician. Some people write nothing down, and ad-lib the whole thing, and then there’s the approach I’ve always used. I usually write an outline that contains all the topics I want to cover, and then I ad-lib the presentation around the outline, making whatever mid-course corrections might seem necessary based on the audience’s reactions.
Because I wanted people to be able to get something out of my notes without having to be at the presentation, I filled in the outline with some additional explanatory text. That’s very similar to the process I usually use when I write other things (for example, blog posts). I start with an outline, then I replace items in the outline with paragraphs and sentences. Even when I do something more free-form like this post, I have the outline in my head, at least. Revising an outline on the iPhone would have pretty painful…
When I finished the presentation, I got some very positive feedback from the audience, including at least one actual pat on the back, something I had thought of as a metaphor before. Afterwards, I thought a little bit about what I thought was good about that presentation, especially compared to other presentations I’ve seen lately, and I think it’s all about not over-planning or under-planning it. The worst presentations I’ve been subjected to are of the “guy reading directly from his Powerpoint slides” style. Second worst are the “guy who is totally not prepared or sure what he wants to say” variety. Once again, the happy medium wins out.