TEDx Brum – Power of Us

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Last Saturday (11th June) Birmingham held its very own TED conference, TEDx Brum – Power of Us, at its Town Hall in Victoria Square. To say this was one of the most incredibly well organised events I have ever attended is a major, major understatement. Everything about TEDx Brum was just superbly well designed; from the beautifully laid out and printed program of events (below) to the military like precision of the event itself where a continuous stream of speakers and performers came out on stage and wow’ed the audience with their passion and the power of their messages.

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Lauren Currie, one of the speakers at this years conference, has summarised why this event was so different and greater than its #PowerOfUs hashtag here. For me, her point ‘no painting-by-numbers’ really sums up why this was such a different conference from ones I, and I’m sure many others at the event, have attended before.

“It was a conference that wasn’t about ‘meeting new people’ or ‘learning new things’ – which are very middle-class objectives for actions. Nobody had an objective of getting new business cards. No speaker had slides full of ‘tweetable wisdom’. These weren’t presentations that had been done a thousand times before to a thousand different conference halls – this was new and real. There was no existing structures justifying themselves. Only the new, the vibrant and the experimental – at a stage where we can start to test and adjust and adapt and copy.”

Anyone who has watched a TED talk at ted.com will know that the presentation skills of the speakers are absolutely top-notch and something any of us that does public speaking, no matter how small or large the audience, aspires too. I can honestly say that every single one of the speakers and performers at TEDx Brum could easily have presented at a full blown TED and exceeded the very considerable speaking skills of those presenters. Whether it was @AdnanSharif1979 telling us about the horrors of forced organ donation (and why we should all sign up to be organ donors), @AnisaHaghdadi, founder of @beatfreeks telling us we needed to “build the thing that builds more things” or the heartfelt and incredibly brave talk by @JayneHardy, founder of Blurt who got a standing ovation for speaking about her own struggles with depression, everyone spoke with total and absolute passion and dedication to their own cause as well as the wider one of unleashing the #PowerOfUs.

As @ImmyKaur the curator of TEDx Brum says in her introduction to this years conference:

“Birmingham is an archetype of the future many cities face. This future will not come without hard work, disruption and genuine collaboration. We will need to come together across our traditional sectors and divides to create, imagine and build the future together. We must unleash the true #PowerOfUs to catalyse this transformation.”

There are lots of truly amazing things happening in Birmingham right now. I was part of an event a few weeks ago whose aim is to pull together the tech community in Birmingham and its wider surrounds. All of these strands need to come together to make the change that this great city deserves and which is long overdue. Here’s to the #PowerOfUs and all the great people in Birmingham that are making this happen.

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“I’ll Send You the Deck”

Warning, this is a rant!

I’m sure we’ve all been here. You’re in a meeting or on a conference call or just having a conversation with a colleague discussing some interesting idea or proposal which he or she has previous experience of and at some point they issue the immortal words “I’ll send you the deck”. The “deck” in question is usually a (at least) 20 page presentation, maybe with lots of diagrams so quite large, of material some of which may, if you’re lucky, relate to what you were actually talking about but most of which won’t. Now, I’m not sure about you but I find this hugely annoying for several reasons. Here are some:

  1. A presentation is for, well presenting. It’s not for relaying information after the event with no speaker to justify its existence. That’s what documents are for. We need to make careful decisions about the tools we use for conveying information recognising that the choice of tool can equally well enhance as well as detract from the information being presented.
  2. Sending a presentation in an email just clogs up your inbox with useless megabytes of data. Not only that but you are then left with the dilemma of what to do with the presentation. Do you detach it and store it somewhere in the hope you will find it later or just leave it in the email to ultimately get lost or forgotten?
  3. Chances are that only a small part of the presentation is actually relevant to what was been discussed so you are left trying to find out what part of the presentation is important and what is largely irrelevant.

So, what is the alternative to “sending a deck”? In this age of social the alternatives are almost too overwhelming but here are a few.

  • If your presentation contains just a few core ideas then take the time to extract the relevant ones and place in the email itself.
  • If the information is actually elsewhere on the internet (or your company intranet) then send a link. If it’s not commercially sensitive and available externally to your organisation why not use Twitter? That way you can also socialize the message more widely.
  • Maybe the content you need to send is actually worth creating as a blog post for a wider, and more permanent distribution (I actually create a lot of my posts like that).
  • Many large organisations are now investing in enterprise social software. Technology such as IBM Connections provides on premise, hybrid and in the cloud based software that not only seamlessly integrates email, instant messaging, blogs, wikis and files but also delivers the information to virtually any mobile device. Enterprise social software allows people to share content and collaborate in new and more creative ways and avoids the loss of information in the ‘tar pits‘ of our hard drives and mail inboxes.

Finally, here’s the last word from Dilbert, who is spot on the money as usual.

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(c) 2010 Scott Adams Inc

How to Deal with the TED Effect

Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design and author of the books Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences and slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations has written a great blog post about what she refers to as the TED effect. The TED effect refers to the impact that the TED conferences have had on all of us who need to present as part of our daily lives.

Nancy’s basic assertion is that “in public speaking it’s no longer okay to be boring”. In the years BT (before TED) it was okay to deliver boring presentations because actually no one knew if you were being boring or not because most people’s bar for what constituted a good presentation was pretty low anyway. In the dark years of BT we would all just sit stoically through those presentations that bored us to death and missed the point completely because bad presentations were just an occupational hazard we all had to learn to deal with. If nothing else it gave us time to catch up on our email or quietly chatter away to a colleague in the back row.

Now though everything has changed! For anyone that has seen more than half a dozen TED talks we know that if we are not engaged within the first 30 seconds we are ready to walk. Not only that if we felt you were wasting our time we go onto Twitter or Facebook and tell the rest of the world how boring you were. If however you did engage us and managed to get across your idea in 18 minutes or under (the maximum time of a TED talk) then we will reward you by spreading your ideas and help you get them adopted and funded.

As technical people software architects often struggle with presentations simply because they are communicating technology so, by definition, that must be complicated and take loads of time with lots of slides containing densely populated text or diagrams that cannot be read unless you are sitting less than a metre from the screen. But, as Nancy Duarte has explained countless times in her books and her blog, it needn’t be like that, even for a die-hard techno-geek.

Here’s my take on on how to deal with the TED effect:

  1. Just because you are given an hour to present, don’t think you have to actually spend that amount of time talking. Use the TED 18 minute rule and try and condense your key points into that time. Use the rest of the time for discussion and exchange of ideas.
  2. Use handouts for providing more detail. Handouts don’t just have to be documents given out during the presentation. Consider writing up the detail in a blog post or similar and provide a link to this at the end of your talk.
  3. Never, ever present slides someone else has created. If a presentation is worth doing then it’s worth investing the time to make it your presentation.
  4. Remember the audience is there to see you speak and hear your ideas. Slides are an aid to get those ideas across and are not an end in their own right. If you’re just reading what’s on the presentation then so can the audience so you may as well not be there.
  5. The best talks are laid out like a book or a movie. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. It often helps to think of the end first (what is the basic idea or point you want to get across) and work backwards from there. As Steven Pressfield says in the book Do the Work, “figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there”.
  6. Finally, watch as many TED talks as you can to see to see how they engage with the audience and get their ideas across. One of the key attributes you will see all the great speakers have is they are passionate about their subject and this really shines through in their talk. Maybe, just maybe, if you are not really passionate about what your subject you should not be talking about it in the first place?

It’s Only Television But I Like It

Yes I know it’s a television program and yes I know they are playing up to the camera and yes I know we only see the ‘edited highlights’ but Jamie’s Dream School on Channel 4 last night was an exemplar on how to deliver motivational talks to a disinterested audience. As I discussed last time the ‘teachers’ (actually people at the leading edge in their field) are truly inspirational, passionate individuals who use every trick in the book to engage with and inspire their students. Not only that they are incredibly humble, as typified by one of the pupils asking Robert Winston if he “had ever cured anything” to which he replied he “thought they had helped with some advances, yes”. As well as all this inspirational and motivational teaching you will see there is not a single PowerPoint slide in sight. It’s all about naked presenting (well, apart from the odd prop or two) and story telling.I’ve recently been reading Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate which looks at how storytelling as done by great writers and film-makers can be used by presenters to really engage with their audience. If you want a book that helps you with presentations that is something other than the boring ‘how to’ guides on structuring PowerPoint presentations then it’s definitely worth a read.

So what’s this got to do with IT architecture? Nothing and everything! At one level architecture is just a pile of models and diagrams describing ways for solving business problems. However architecture also needs to be ‘bought alive’ if the ideas it encompasses are to be explained and the costs of implementing it justified to non-technical people. Explaining and presenting architecture is probably one of the most important aspects of the architects role and communication skills should definitely be up their as one of the key competencies possessed by architects. Without these architectures will just remain a bunch of ideas gathering virtual dust in a modeling tool.