Diary of a conference presentation: Day one.

Roller coaster at night

by Arty Smokes

I often get asked about how I put together, and remember, my slightly illogical and mostly rambling talks for conferences. The thing is I often get asked this right after I’m done at which point the answer is always ‘Gosh, I don’t know really. And I want a pint.’

Next Thursday (the 26th of May), I’m giving a new talk at Web Directions @Media, in London, related to mobile content. This will be my third new presentation in as many weeks and so I feel confident enough now with my own (ridiculous) methodology (HA!) to share it and hopefully give confidence to people that think ‘I’d love to present somewhere but I have no idea how to start’.

So, what’s the deal with the presentation? I have 55 minutes (including time for questions from the audience – and more on that at a later date) to present on the topic Mobile Content Through The Ages, or as I dubbed it in my usual motormouth grandiose style The Vaudeville Rollercoaster Tour of Mobile Content Through The Ages. Rollercoaster because it’s going to be fast. Vaudeville because it is going to have some theatrics and Mobile Content Through The Ages because … well, that would give it all away right?

And how far have I got? With a week to go, it would be easy to assume that I have now got a slick and well-rehearsed presentation of many detailed slides and studies with a few minor tweaks left. Er, no. And I know I’m not alone in being a person who lets ideas ferment until pretty much the last possible moment before pulling together all these ideas with some words and pictures in Keynote (or Powerpoint or whatever else is your weapon of choice in these matters) and a smattering of presenter notes. (Actually, I rarely present with notes purely because I bounce around the stage like a lunatic out of the asylum and I’d have to keep running back to see what I wrote. Useful for specific facts and figures though.)

So, where have I go to? I’ve been making notes on and off about this presentation for the last six months but it keeps shifting about as I learn new things. The comedian Bill Bailey has a routine about creating a joke by thinking about what the audience sound like when they laugh and working back from there. I guess I think ‘what do I want people to get out of sitting through me for an hour and what do I need to tell them for them to appreciate that?’

In the case of this talk, perhaps it was some sort of convoluted work of the gods that brought me here because I’m talking about stuff I learnt in primary school, senior school, sixth form, undergraduate studies and things I happened upon only last week. I have a ton of source material for this. I now need to organise it.

Today and tomorrow I am going to lay out, in a sort of structured mind map, the start, middle and endpoints of my talk and how I’m going to illustrate them with examples. I am opening with a grizzly murder, the middle will probably have a long timeline and the end is as yet undecided. I have a stack of books and articles to pull references from, such as A Companion to the History of the Book , The Printing Press as an Agent of Change and A History of Reading but the clock is ticking. Time to pull this stuff together.