So you are a geek? And you want to present a technical topic on JUG or maybe some conference? Ok, here comes some anti-patterns that will help you to ruin your talk. 🙂

The anti-patterns presented here were gathered during many JUGs and conferences that I attended over a span of few years.
Because I see them occurring here and there, I decided to publish my thoughts. Hopefully you will find them useful.

Run before they ask!

I have seen this one so very often! It goes like this. A speaker ends his talk and switches the last slide with “Q&A” written with big letters. He says quickly “any questions?”, scans the audience, says “no question? So thank you blah blah blah” and dashes off as though he was being chased 😉
Now this is ridiculous. If you act like this you will never get any questions. You need to wait around 15 seconds after you asked for questions before some people will dare to say something.
So, start counting it in your head. Slowly.

3, slowly, don’t rush,
9, be patient they will ask

People are shy, people feel uncomfortable when they are to speak in public, they need time. Make it easier for them. Show them that you really await their questions. And if your talk had any sense someone surely will ask.

Of course, sometimes the audience does not need time nor encouragement and will ask immediately or even interrupt you with some urgent questions. Good for you!

And one more thing. Q&A session is very important and it looks really pathetic if you try to avoid it. Your talk was fully controlled by you, which means you could omit some weak points. During the Q&A part you will have to face your fears, because they will ask about real problems and probably will touch stuff that you wouldn’t like to discuss at all. This is the moment that you can gain a lot or loose a lot. But running away is not an option.

Have a private chat with first row people

A guy in the first row asks a question. you are so proud that you know the answer that you reply to him right away.
WRONG! The rest of the audience has no clue what the question was because they simply did not hear it. The guy in the first row spoke quietly so only first three rows had a chance to understand him.
Remember, you should always repeat (paraphrase) the question aloud. It will make all the people hear it so they can benefit from the discussion that will follow.
Also remember to reply loud enough so the whole audience can hear you. You are not replaying to this one person who asked – they all want to hear the response.

Talk about your mistakes

Oh, so you made a mistake. Maybe you switched slides too quickly and now you would like to go back, or maybe you forgot to show them one example, or whatever. How terrible! Now you feel that you have to tell about it, that you have to explain what you should have done, what you did, why you did it and so on.
Remember you are the only one that knew what was planned and that it didn’t go as expected (unless you show it with your face). The best thing you can do is to pretend that everything is in order

Instead of apologizing and explaining (“oh, I forgot to show you X because blah blah but now I will blah blah”) simply say “there is one more thing that I would like to show you” or “let’s go back to the previous example and discuss X and Y”. It is much better than to elaborate on your feelings.

Tell about the things you won’t do

(This anti-pattern is very similar to the previously described one.)
So for some reason you are not able to show everything you have planned. Maybe the net was down or you have less time than you prepared for or for whatever other reason. The bad thing to do is to talk about this. For some unknown reason you feel you need to explain it, to tell them what was planned and what they won’t see because of A and B and C and …. What is the result of this? Well, the audience will feel as they were robbed from the best parts of your show.
Even if this is true you should not concentrate on this. Simply go on with what you can do and what you can show. If you feel that this “missing part” is so very important then you should think about the way that you can deliver it to them on some later time. Something like “because it is an interesting aspect I will prepare and online demonstration of this feature” or something. But cut it short, don’t make them feel that they missed the best part!

Talk about yourself

Sure, they all came here to listen about your great achievements. Put at least 3 slides about yourself, your company and your hobbies. They will surely love it. 😉

Make it hard to read or boring

Some anti-patterns related to visual aspects of your presentation.

Put everything on a slide and read it

Yeah, your audience can’t read.

Make it hard to read

Some often seen anti-patterns.

  • put things on the very borders of your slides – some projectors will nicely cut off the borders,
  • use the default font setting for your command line and IDE,
  • use not very contrast color which look very nice on your LCD,
  • spent first 10 minutes configuring your desktop so it works with the overhead projector.

Ok, now for real. You should set font size before you start or at least you need to make sure that you know how to do it. For a command line it happens that white background and black fonts are better visible with overhead projector.
The best thing you can do is to present an example of command line and IDE screen before you begin your talk and ask the audience if it is readable.

As for colors they will look different on the wall than on your LCD. Use black, white, read and avoid very thin lines.

And if possible you should try your desktop settings long before your talk starts. It saved me once at Geecon 2009 – I plugged in ~3 hours before my talk and it didn’t work. Thanks God I had so much time to fix it!

P.S. If you spend some time browsing the internet you can find some valuable resources, like this one.