Paul McAleer

Presentations are not blog entries

Paul McAleer

A few days ago I wrote about presentations - the whole "they're not pop quizzes" thing.

When I joined Gogo one of the first things my boss and I worked on was a presentation about UX. I was new to the organization and the organization had no formal UX people on staff (much like Jessica Ivins's story). This presentation was to be open to the whole company, and was to talk about what UX was, what I did, and how it could impact everyone. The talented creative services team made posters, emails, and the like.

I got about 100 people to RSVP in a company of about 400 (at the time). And I wasn't even providing free food! This was so many people that we had to use an adjoining building with a bigger space.

I tried a new approach for the presentation. In lieu of having note cards or memorizing the whole thing, I wrote a blog entry. I just acted like I was writing an essay that I would then present. The slides were a big part of it too, maybe bigger than I would have liked.

Hours before the presentation I went to the conference room and set up the space. I ran through the speech one more time and felt I had it. Then the time came to actually talk. I watched as people trickled in the room, expecting a flood... and it never happened. We had about 40 people actually show up. Lesson #1: not everyone who says they will attend actually will.

I started my talk. I recall staying behind the podium quite a bit and using it more than I wanted to. It felt like I didn't really have the speech and the audience was lost. I was reading and reading and reading off of paper. It was pretty uncomfortable for me. I knew this material. I had read it and spoken it about 5 times and yet, here I was, standing there mostly stumbling and just a wreck. That podium became a rock for me - I hate podiums. Oh and, of course, my boss was there.

I got to the end of my talk, launching into the ending. Probably one of the best speech endings I've ever done. And... it was over. I felt a little relief and pride, but I also felt that I didn't give it all I could have at a time when I really should have.

Afterwards a number of people came up to me. One person said that I should be giving that same speech at a company all-hands meeting (and to be honest, I would love to do so.) Lots of people were very complimentary and had great things to say.

After the speech we sent out an anonymous survey to get feedback, as you do. The feedback was mostly positive, but one comment I distinctly remember said that I was "reading too much" and "looked uncomfortable". This resonated with me only because that's exactly what I thought and felt too.

This approach, ultimately, did not work for me. Just reading something like what you are reading right now, in front of people, isn't going to work. (This is one of the reasons why I don't take this approach in my videos.) Presentations are about the talking, the interactions, and the audience. Blog entries can be about some of these things but usually are not all of them, and definitely not in the same way.

When you're giving a presentation you're really creating an experience. Consider it a design problem.