November 11, 2017

Lessons learned from six months of refining a presentation

I've just completed my biggest conference talk to date, to a packed house at TestBash Philadelphia. It was my first time speaking at a single-track conference: I'd never previously been responsible for entertaining an entire crowd, and to make things slightly scarier, I was the closing speaker - it was my job to stop everybody from falling asleep (while also trying not to collapse from exhaustion myself).

I feel like it went really well. I've had some great feedback too, and a couple of requests to take this talk into peoples' organisations. There was a minor technical mishap, but I'd prepared so that it wasn't going to be a problem, and the Ministry of Testing team pulled-together to make sure the audience didn't know that anything weird was happening.

Given the prestige slot at a popular conference, I really wanted to make sure that I got this one right. For that reason, I did two public rehearsals (at a MoT Brighton meetup in May and a MoT Cambridge meetup in September) and an internal presentation to the Medidata team in August. Along the way, I received some really useful, actionable feedback from attendees, so the final version that I gave in Philadelphia was very different to the first version that I showcased six months ago in Brighton.

I thought it might be interesting to compare some of the differences, to show what I learned/adapted along the way, in the hope that this might give you some pointers for how to refine your own presentations.

Snapshot of the first version from Brighton, May 2017:

Snapshot of the final version from Philadelphia, November 2017:

Both decks are also available to view/download on SlideShare:

So what sort of things did I change, and why?

I want to give a HUGE thank-you to a couple of testers who emailed me detailed notes after my Cambridge presentation, and particularly to highlight the constructive nature of their feedback - these are great examples of how to effectively communicate ideas for change. Here are just a few of their suggestions which made it directly into the final talk:

Hero #1: James Thomas:

Hero #2: Shey Crompton:

Practice, practice, practice... practice!

I really can't over-emphasise the importance and benefits of doing multiple run-throughs, ideally in as close to real-world situations as possible (performing the talk out loud, preferably to an audience). This was the most confident I'd ever been when going into a talk, and I could literally recite it in my head (something which my jetlagged brain annoyingly decided it wanted to do at 2.30am on the day of the talk). That proved especially useful when the speaker's monitor (which showed me what slide was on-screen, and which one was coming next) decided it didn't feel like working. Allow yourself the time to reflect, refine and repeat, and hopefully your next presentation will be just as rewarding to you.

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