Ignite Waterloo 9 – Zen of Gardening – Preparing for my talk and thoughts about Ignite/Tedx

I gave a talk at Tuesday Night’s (June 12, 2012) Ignite Waterloo event (#IW9 on Twitter).

I had watched the Ignite Talks online, but never attended in person. Many familiar faces had given talks in the past, so it kind of compelled me to try as well. I also enjoy public speaking, so I decided I would give it a shot, submit a topic, and see what happens. I was lucky enough to be accepted.

I started off preparing by basically writing a speech, took me a couple days (I must note, when I do creative writing it happens in fits and bursts, it was probably all of two hour’s effort, but spread out over two days), and once I got it to ‘good enough’, I read it through. With any talk I have given in the past, preparation has been key, but at the same time, a speech always sounds better on paper/in your head than it does when you read it aloud, so at some point you need to stop and try reading it to yourself [Word file]. First time through reading it I spoke for 15 minutes. Apparently I can talk a lot about things I am passionate about. I remember thinking/tweeting that hour-long talks with props seemed easier to prepare for at this point. It was then it dawned upon me how the 20-slide, five-minute format was going to be difficult.

I then switched gears and tried to find 20 slides that lined up with the key points I was going to make. This proved equally difficult, trying to find a visual format that worked with the rest of the presentation and still conveyed/carried the narrative. As well, I had to ensure I was using slides that were also timed to the points I was trying to make.

I also had to throw some humor in there. I felt it was a necessity for an Ignite event. I actually felt that there were several key components to a successful Ignite talk (in order of what I perceive to be most to least important):

  • Passion/knowledge of your topic
  • Humor
  • Personal component with some humility
  • Emotion (just a little)

In the end, the talk development process was a very back-and-forth process. Work on my points, find slides, evolve the talk some more. Repeat. I ended up with two lines of scripted material maximum for each slide with some room for ad-libbing (more on that in a moment).

I rehearsed it about 3 dozen times total. Most of the practice came from the day before the slides were due to the Ignite folks. By that point I knew my material well from all the effort I put into preparation, it was just the timing that needed to be rehearsed. I set up my slides to do the 15-second auto-forward thing and just read it through repeatedly. During this process there were points where I kept stumbling over, and about 3 of the 20 slides and their corresponding points ended up being changed completely.

The final talk looked like nothing I had written initially. This turned out to be extremely beneficial, by this point I more or less had my talk memorized and timed well, and the extra unused content would make it easy for me to ad-lib things so once I got a feel for the room and the flow of the talk during the presentation I was able to adapt and change it up quite easily.

The talk itself flew by. I actually have very little recollection of what I said. I was hoping the live stream would be available to review immediately after the event, but alas, it was not, I shall have to wait for the final, edited content to be posted online. My favorite part was talking with all the presenters after the fact, it was an amazing array of people and I was genuinely enthusiastic about trying to meet each one.

My favorite presentation was the My Little Ponies one. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Although I do feel an opportunity for some big laughs was missed by not mentioning the Clop Clop subreddit. (Google it, but not while at work)

Now, about Ignite and TedxWaterloo.

I tweeted that I thought Ignite Waterloo is what TedxWaterloo should aspire to be. Don’t get me wrong, both are fantastic events, and I love my experiences with both dearly, and I definitely do not think one event is better than the other.

Upon more reflection I think I may have been a little wrong in some aspects of that statement, but I do see a need for some cross-pollination of ideas and themes, and possibly for a new event to form.

From my perspective, Tedx is supposed to bring in great speakers with great ideas that you may not have exposure to locally, while Ignite is local speakers passionate about specific topics, with someĀ irreverence thrown in. Now, I feel as though many of the speakers at Ignite were treating it like a Tedx audition, basically drying up some of the humor. Not that that is a bad thing, but there does seem to be a bit of a cultural shift in the presentation styles when you look at the individual Ignite events chronologically. This is a huge compliment to the Tedx phenomenon, but I feel there is still room for different styles of talks and presentations outside of Tedx. Tedx does have a monopoly on big ideas right now, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on fun.

The one area I do still feel Ignite does better than Tedx is in its overall event format. Tedx does seem to drag on over the course of the day, and I think it’s noticeable when you see the theatre packed at the start of the day and by the third session it is obviously starting to empty. With Ignite, I felt it’s machine-gun approach definitely got my creative juices flowing and inspired me to do more.

Overall, there seems to be a void developing for humorous talks. That is my way of observing that Ignite used to be funnier and Tedx is a little dry. During coffee one day with Ramy Nassar he threw out the idea (and I’ve helped to spread it since) of Ignite Roulette. Preselected speakers are paired with slide decks they’ve never seen before and try to make up a talk of it on the spot. This may be the type of event we need.

June 19, 2012 Edit:

Talks from #IW9 are now online!

I am also including a link to my original draft that took me 15 minutes to read through [Word file]. Compared to the video of my presentation embedded below, it’s a pretty different talk from what I ended up giving.

Some photos of the event courtesy of James Bastow (@jamesbastow on Twitter)

Oh, and here I am:

2011 Staff Conference – My Experince

Suffice to say, I felt that my presentation at the 2011 Waterloo Staff Conference (#ohdconf and #uwaterloo hashtags for those who twitter) went well. Not that I had any doubt it wouldn’t go well; public speaking is usually one of my strengths. Links to the presentation and other random content discussed are available here.

Looking back, it is ironic I was over prepared for my presentation. I spoke highly about pulling a MacGyver, but I thought about my presentation way too much and had way too many demonstrations packed up that I never ended up using. But there is always next time.

I spoke for about 45 mins and did 30 minutes of activities, and if anything I should have flipped that; less talking and more action. I felt the audience got more out of the demonstrations rather than the talk (although I do feel the talk did generate a lot of interest and laughs). I am looking forward to getting more specific feedback once I have an opportunity to read the feedback forms.

One of the things that shocked me was how few people had heard of the term phreaking. I figured that being a university-based audience at a school known for its technical programs there would be a good chunk of people aware, if not openly involved with, this sort of activity. Only three hands went up when asked if they knew the term, out of a group of about 75. I have always known that I am a knowledgeable guy; I have destroyed many opponents in trivial pursuit, and I can get very aggressive during scrabble games, but I still find that I take it for granted other people spend as much time as me reading about… everything.

After introducing the audience to the world of hackers, I picked a volunteer who had never programmed before (April, thank-you again for braving the stage with me) and demonstrated just how super easy it was to program (and modify programs with) a micro controller. She even hooked up an LED to the board as well. Thank-you Arduino.

My next volunteer was Carmen, my co-op student, who helped me to put the Arduino to practical use, setting it up with a garden watering valve, and a pair of nails, in order to monitor soil moisture and automatically water the ground when its too dry.

With time running short, we quickly moved into making LED throwies with the entire audience, and fortunately a few were left in some interesting places around the new accounting wing on campus.

Urinal Throwie
Urinal Throwie

… and that was it for the presentation.

Like I mentioned, there was a lot we didn’t get to do. I had made a MIDI drum set (based upon the ardrumo project) and was going to show how it easy it was to duplicate that project. I really wanted to do that one because the new lecture rooms in the new accounting wing are awesome, with great speakers and acoustics. I was also going to show how easy it is to connect the arduino to the internet, and to make a roving robot with it. If I had 20 more minutes it would have all been possible. But again, there is always next time, and I am already prepared. Although, by the next time I do this sort of presentation again, I’ll probably have even cooler stuff to demonstrate.

I just want to say thank-you to the Office of Human Development at Waterloo for organizing an excellent staff conference this year, and for letting me present in it. I’d like to thank my audience for being awesome, and and extra big thank-you to April and Carmen for helping me out.

As for me, I think I’ll take a break from electronics for a couple of weeks. I’ve been meaning to learn how to crochet. Now feels like a great time to start. Anyone with any tips or suggestions give me a shout.