The Steampunk Eye Ball Is Operational

The Steampunk Eye Ball is up and running.

It features a copper lightning rod ball, pan and tilt servos, a decorative brass frame and base, along with a Pixy image processing camera inside. You simply sit it on a table, plug in a cell phone power pack and the device will track you as you walk around…if you are wearing a blue shirt. You can train it to recognize other colors using the PixyMon application on a Linux notebook. Be sure to check out the entire build series, “Off-The-Shelf Hacker Steampunk Eye Ball (parts 1 through 5) over at thenewstack.io.

Dr. Torq's Steampunk Eye Ball.
Dr. Torq’s Steampunk Eye Ball.

You Are The Show

Once you get over the initial fright of doing presentations, I think you should start treating your appearances as “the show”.

I believe ALL presentations are a show. Some speakers speak to inform. Some entertain. Some advocate or persuade. Some highlight and solve a problem.

No matter what kind of presentation, they are all YOUR show. YOU, the speaker, are the show. Not the slides. Not the props or hardware being demoed. Say it with me, “the speaker is the show”.

Anybody can find information about your speech topic on the Web. They want to know how YOU did it. They want to hear YOUR use cases, in person. The audience is there to hear and see something from you, the expert, in the flesh. They are looking for someone to inspire them to take action or give them a direction or make them feel like they belong. They want to feel the passion. They want to feel the emotion. You make that connection while live and on-stage.

The speaker is the one to address all those things and more. You are the show.

Also, what would a show be without some drama, theatrics, and audio/video razzle-dazzle. Start using show biz tools for YOUR show. Being entertaining, while making your point helps the audience feel comfortable and receptive to what you are saying. Make it fun. Make it authentic. Make it loud, or soft, or mysterious, or manic. Have an angle. Have an opinion. Do cool, memorable stuff. They are there to see and hear YOU.

Years ago, I was mortified to hear some of my very capable, senior Toastmaster colleagues tell me that a speech wasn’t a show. Presentations are serious business, they said. Well of course they are! They are still a show. It’s all show business and the sooner you embrace the mindset, the sooner you’ll start to really enjoy the process. I like the spotlight. I like choreographing my presentation. I love to talk to audience members during Q&A and after my show.

Delivering a great show is why speakers find their calling in the trade. I think it’s a noble calling and takes a great deal of time and effort to master. I certainly can improve. We all are constantly honing our craft and pushing ourselves to get better.

Make your next presentation a show and make it the best show possible, for your audience.

At Least 3 Real-Time, Full-Dress Rehearsals

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Many speakers get up on stage and just “wing it”. It might be due to poor planning, other obligations, travel contraints, or simply because no one has ever explained why and how you should rehearse for a tech talk. Throw in some hardware components, for a live demo and the risk of looking like an novice speaker, slides up a couple of notches. Break out of that white-knuckle-inducing old way and start rehearsing like a real pro.

You need to rehearse a minimum of three times, recommends Damian Conway, a nationally recognized speaker and programming luminary. You should attend his “Presentation Aikido” talk, if you can.

I’d add that you should take your rehearsal to the next level using the same props, slides, hardware and gestures you’ll use on stage…in real-time. In other words, do the speech just as you’d do it in front of the real audience. If you get to your venue a few days early, try to talk the room tech into letting you hook up your notebook and make some passes through your talk to the empty seats. Techs will sometimes let you do that after the normal sessions have ended.

Real-time rehearsals address several issues:

During the first full-on pass through the presentation, you’ll likely discover bottlenecks, rough spots, and parts of the speech that might be out of order. You can then rework your slides and cadence to fine tune your “show”. The problems will be immediately apparent. Resist the urge to stop and fix them. Instead, go through the whole thing making mental notes. If you stop and fix it, the first time through, you’ll also never have a base-line time for the whole speech.

That brings up the next point. Make sure to use a stopwatch or app on your smartphone to precisely time your rehearsal. Of course, you should time your actual presentation, as well. The last thing conference organizers, audience members and the next speaker want, is for your talk to run long. I put in a little cushion of 5 to 10 minutes. You decide what will work for you. You’ll need sufficient time to pack up your gear and possibly herd fans out into the hallway for further discussions. Respect the next speaker and his audience by exiting quickly.

Going through the talk at least 3 times, firmly anchors your topics and transitions in your head. Once you lock in your thoughts, adjusting for interruptions, equipment malfunction, or distactions becomes a no-brainer, since you’ll know your talk cold. You’ll be so comfortable with the material, that you can literally start in the middle and go to the end, without missing a beat. To get to that level of confidence, may take 4, 6 or even 8 times. I’ve done that many before. Believe me it’s an investment in your success and ultimately your reputation in front of your audience.

A while back, I did a local talk and for various reasons, just went to the venue without a rehearsal. Halfway into the presentation, the slides froze on the screen and I had to go through a reboot. The reboot didn’t work, so I just continued without slides and demo’d the hardware. If I had rehearsed, I would have remembered that slides made from large graphics files sometimes caused a lockup on that machine. Compressing all the images to a reasonable file size would have eliminated the problem all-together. Now we know and shame on me!

Moral of the story. Rehearse like a pro and you’ll get pro results.

  • Pro Tip #1: If you bring an HDMI cable (or VGA cable), with your computer, you can rehearse using your hotel room’s big screen.
  • Pro Tip #2: Check the conference schedule and see if you can convince the meeting organizer to give you a slot with a long break just before or after your talk. Before gives you more time to set up your gear and work out any last-minute glitches. After, gives you a chance to loosen up and have a longer Q&A time with the audience.

It’s Summer Conference Proposal Season

The 2015 summer conference proposal season, is upon us and it’s time to get your thoughts together and submitted. Speaking opportunities abound from deep-tech like OSCON to countless other meetups, events, and local venues. They are always looking for good speakers, who know their topic and can put on a compelling show.

You’ll want to keep a few things in mind.

  • Deadlines
    I’m submitting to SolidCon, which happens between June 23rd. and the 25th. I joined their email list last year and received a notice that the “call for papers” recently opened. The deadline for submissions is January 12, 2015. Selections will happen in February. I write the proposal deadlines on my whiteboard, so they are always visible in my office, as a reminder. And, I like to usually do two or more proposals, believing that I have a better chance of being selected to speak.
  • Keep Your Promise
    Make sure you can do what you promise in your proposal. Although it seems rather obvious, if you say you’ll give a hardware demo or walk-through of a process you certainly better deliver that during your talk. Unless the audience knows your reputation and perhaps has seen you before, the only way they have to know if they want to attend your talk is through what you write in the abstract and description. Hardware demos are tricky, so don’t make the decision to include it lightly. I always print out and use my proposal as a checklist, when I’m pulling the talk together, to make sure I cover everything. You certainly don’t want to get a reputation as someone who proposes one thing and then leaves parts out when you are on stage.
  • Know Your Audience
    Study your audience before you submit a talk, so you can present to their interests and in language they know and understand. I’ve been writing about Linux and free software for a dozen years and have attended lots of conferences. I know people in the industry and they know me. I’m one of them. That’s exactly where you want to be. It should be no surprise then that I’d submit and deliver a talk at OSCON. I’ve attended the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) for the last 10 years as a media guy. This January I’ll be pitching ways teachers, administrators, and principles can bring the super-cutting-edge world of micro-controllers, sensors, and cool physical computing projects into their classrooms.

Speaking at conferences takes research, lots of preparation and the motivation to share what you know. A great proposal that stirs the hearts of the speaker committee can lead to a great opportunity to wow a savvy, sophisticated conference audience. They expect a great show and it all starts with an awesome talk idea and a solid proposal.