Do you like to hear yourself talk? Especially while on a stage and in front of a lot of people? How do you come up with ideas to talk about? What process do you use to build a conference talk or presentation?
Today, we’re talking to Matty Stratton of PagerDuty. His job involves building conference talks and finding ways to continuously improve them. Public speaking can be intimidating, so he shares some tips and tricks that have worked for him.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Avoid creating something brand new for every event
Don’t tell flattering stories about things that happened to you; may be uplifting, but doesn't resemble reality
Failure stories are fantastic because people relate to making terrible decisions
Everyone who gives a talk panics, gets nervous, and thinks they’re about a sentence away from stammering and falling off the stage; almost never happens
Audience wants you to succeed because they're there to learn; no one is hoping a presenter messes up
Preparation is key; could build a talk at the last minute, but it would be much better, if you prepared for it
Don’t intentionally try to think of something; have conversations with people and listen to other talks to develop anecdotes, stories, and cold opens
Humor can be tricky; what you think is funny, other people might not
Make things memorable; show good ideas by showing bad ideas - it’s the ‘don't do this, do this instead’ model
Submit early and often, but submit appropriately; if you are always submitting stuff that’s inappropriate for an event, your stuff starts to be ignored
Sometimes, you may want to avoid slides that auto advance; if you trip over yourself: Stop, repeat, back up, take questions, etc.
Try not to read from notes or slides; takes the life and engagement out of the talk
People can only do one thing at a time - listen or read
Practice: Record yourself every time you practice and watch it; focus on blocking and tackling
You have about 45 seconds to grab people's interest before they look at their phone; get them engaged via a story, picture, or anecdote
Full Episode Transcript:
Matty: It's time for Arrested DevOps. The podcast that helps you achieve understanding, develop good practices and optimize your team and organization for maximum DevOps awesomeness. I'm Matty Stratton and here with me today is Corey Quinn.
Corey: No, this is Screaming In The Cloud where we talk about the business of cloud computing. I'm Corey Quinn, joining me today is Matty Stratton of PagerDuty.
Matty: Before we get into this dueling podcast. A message from our sponsors.
Corey: This week's episode is sponsored by Datadog. Datadog is a monitoring and analytics platform that integrates with more than 250 different technologies including AWS, Kubernetes, Lambda and Slack. They do it all, visualizations, APM and distributed tracing. Datadog unites metrics, traces and logs all into one platform so that you and your team can get full visibility into your infrastructure and applications.
With their rich dashboards, algorithmic alerts and collaboration tools, Datadog can help your team to learn to troubleshoot and optimize modern applications. If you give it a try, they'll send you a free t-shirt. I've got to say, I love mine. It's comfortable and my toddler points at it and yells, "Dog." every time that I wear it. It's endearing when she does it and I've been told I need to leave their booth at re:Invent when I do it. To get yours, go to screaminginthecloud.com/datadog. Thanks to Datadog for their support of this podcast.
Matty: Today we're going to be talking about a lot of things and we'll kind of find out as we go because we're professional podcasters but for a place to start, Corey and I thought we would talk a little bit about what does it take to build a good conference talk given that that's the thing that we do.
Corey: We both have an ongoing love affair with the sound of our own voices and that tends to lend itself to speaking on stage in front of people an awful lot. we sat down a few times now and had discussions about the intricacies of how we build talks, where the ideas come from, the tips and tricks that we use as we go through the process and it seem to us that this would be the sort of conversation that maybe more than the two of us could benefit from.
Matty: Absolutely. I'd like to think that I've learned over the years. In my role now where this is mostly what I do, I've given probably 10 times as many conference talks this year than I have in my entire career leading up to it. so I'd like to see some level of continuous improvement that's one of the benefits of a tip that I got and it's kind of a running joke on this show that we don't name drop except when we do, so I will say that this is a tip that I got from Jez Humble.
I don't know that it was necessarily directly given to me. I don't even remember when I heard Jez say it. His point was he said, "I have one talk for the year and I continue to iterate on it and make it better." I haven't really had just one talk per year because different events have different needs, but one thing is I try to avoid creating something brand new for every single event which for event organizers and attendees maybe that sounds kind of cruddy but…
Corey: The secret to giving a good conference talk is always to give a bunch of crappy ones first and then from there you wind up sort of iterating into a place where, "Oh, that never worked but it might work this time." and eventually you finally learn no, that joke will never work and you take it out.
Matty: One of the things, when Corey mentioned that to me before about the secret, is getting all the bad talks out of you is Robert Rodriguez, the film on tour to the extreme actually out of El Mariachi and Desperado and Spy Kids fame, he said in his great book Rebel Without A Crew which I highly recommend reading, it's a lot of fun. But he has a part where he says, everyone has 10 bad films in them. The secret is to get them out of the way as quickly as possible. I don't know that I got my 10 bad films out of the way.
I've gotten three bad films out of the way so as a filmmaker, I've got seven more to go. But I do hope that I've gotten my 10 bad talks out of the way and those 10 bad talks are not necessarily 10 different talks, they could also be versions of that particular material.
Corey: The best thing to do is to give those 10 bad talks all in a row and then get fired. And then you're set. Okay, now you can go and get a job and do it well. The challenge is, who's going to hire a crappy speaker.
Matty: So that's probably the least practical advice that you're going to get but, challenge accepted. When we kind of take a step back, I know I've talked before to folks who want to get involved, who want to give a talk for whatever reason it might be but it can seem very intimidating because generally speaking, no pun intended, maybe a little pun intended. This is Screaming In The Cloud after all.
Corey: That's right, it is.
Matty: The pun should be coming fast and furious, you see folks up on stage and it just looks like they have got their act together. Everybody said certain things, there's no way I'm as polished as that. There's no way that what I have to say is that interesting. Imposter syndrome can really rear its ugly head. So Corey, what are some things that you would suggest if someone says, "I want to write a talk. I want to give a talk but I just don't know what to talk about."
Corey: The biggest thing that I noticed about conference talks that I'm starting to push back against is, everyone tells stories wherein they're the hero. where they have the solution to everyone's problem and in some cases, you see this taken to an extreme where someone gets up and talks about a wonderful project that they did at their company to solve their problem and you're sitting in the audience next to someone else who worked there who turns to you and says, "I don't remember any project that went like that. Sure would have been nice, wish I could have been on that one."
Because we tell flattering stories about things that happened to us. While that’s uplifting and gives us something to pursue as an audience, it doesn't bear too much resemblance to reality. Being able to tell a story about something that you tried and didn't work, failure stories are fantastic and no one wants to give them. Or if they do they'll say, "Yeah, doing this technical thing was a poor decision." but they're never going to get into how that decision was made. And that in many cases is the best story you can relate because we're all in the process of making terrible decisions we're not going to realize until much later.
Another aspect that makes sense from my perspective is if you don't have a good story to tell about something, start there until you have one. People want stories. They don't want you to read a man page to them. They don't want you to show them how a technology works in 45 minutes. You're only going to be able to give them a glimpse and a hook. Being able to do that in a larger context, then that is just something that people often build terrible talks out of. That's where they're reading slides to you, they're trying to shove two hours of content into 45 minutes and it just doesn't work.
Matty: Even if you have to make up a story. So Adam Jacob from Chef gave a talk where he was explaining an experience that he had with his wife and daughter and the whole point was that there were things that you remember because it was a story. People remember stories better than that. So if what you do have is maybe not a real story but you're trying to explain something about a product, trying to explain something about a technology, explain it via a story. Tell a story with it instead of just saying, "Well now I'm going to go here and it's going to be Acne Corp or whatever. Tell me about Acne Corp. who is Acne Corp. What is a team like."
Put characters into it because all these things end up making it resonate more because it feels like a real thing that happened. Whether it really happened or not. I'm not saying go up and lie, it's pretty obvious you're telling a story, it's fiction but it's okay to have fiction in your talks. You can use fiction as a narrative device I think.
Corey: Something else people forget is that no one in the audience is hoping a presenter screws up. That's an awkward feeling and it's something no one likes. People want to see you succeed. The other trick people tend to sometimes lose sight of is, they build out an entire talk start to finish and then they start trying to get it accepted in various places. I've heard of people having success with that but I still have a good two dozen talks that have never been picked up by anything so I've never bothered to write them out.
In fact, half of them these days I wouldn't want to give anymore the moment has passed. But everyone who gives a talk goes through an integrative process. Everyone who gives a talk is panicking the night before it's due. everyone who is about to step onstage is nervous to some degree or they're on Quaaludes, we're not entirely sure which sometimes and everyone is convinced there about a half sentence away from stammering and falling off the stage. In practice, that almost never happens.
Matty: Remember always that nobody knows what you meant to do but you. There's an anecdotal story or—I can ever say that word.
Matty: Yeah that one, that word Corey said. I remember a story about Alfred Hitchcock about how he would never watch his own finished films because they never looked like what he saw on his head. so you know what you meant to do when you're on stage, you know the story meant to tell but it's very common that I will finish presenting and sit there and say, "Crap, I forgot to include this part. On this particular slide, I usually tell this story. I did this thing." nobody knows that that happened but me, unless you tell them. Some of them could be literally telling them and going, "Oh, I totally forgot to say this." or telling them through your expressiveness or your body language or expressing that you're uncomfortable.
Like Corey said, nobody wants you to fail or if there are people that do they are sociopaths and they are few and far between and if they…
Corey: Even in tech.
Matty: …even in tech. They will be descended upon with pitchforks if they try to verbally attack you—wanting you to fail. Generally speaking, most of the audience wants you to succeed because they're there to learn. I'm thinking a little bit about the failure talks. Sometimes I want to have some empathy, that can be really hard for two reasons. One is, it's hard just as the individual to get up there and it takes a lot of courage to say, "Here's where I made some mistakes or everything wasn't perfect." Also, it can be really hard from your organization's perspective because a lot of times if we work for large organizations, we have to get things approved by PR or corporate comms or things like that. Someone, I'm going to keep this scrubbed as I can, but works for a large enterprise and was giving a talk that the core of it had to do with failure.
It had to do with, "Let me tell you our failure story," and the went through the PR department you know the corporate comms as they were supposed to and said, "well, this is all really great but can you take out all the things that say that we did it wrong." he was like, "Well, that's kind of the story." This is this is not an enterprise company that sells DevOps. This was this is a—it would be a little bit different if like let's say—I'm not talking about on auto manufacturers so it's not one of those.
But let's say it was like GM. Now GM telling, someone getting up there and telling a failure story about how they made cars really poorly and it caused a lot of people to get injured, yes I could see you're like, "Okay, that kind of can hurt our business to tell that story." Someone at GM getting up and telling a story about how—"Well, we didn't do the best job of building our continuous delivery pipeline and made us not awesome at delivering software, but we learned from it," that's not going to make you say, "Well, I'm not going to buy any GM cars anymore."
I don't know, maybe some people might but then you're holding yourself to—you're probably a bunch of Elon Musk fans.
Corey: Exactly, who is perfect in every way, please don't sue us. One thing I want to point out as well is…
Matty: It's okay if he sues us because that means he listens to our show.
Corey: Exactly, I'm sure he's nothing better to do these days. One thing I want to make exquisitely clear is that everything that you and I are talking about right now that has been a thing not to do when giving a talk, we've done them and worse. If you're listening to this and you're hearing, "oh, he's talking about me, that's not a good thing." no, we're talking about ourselves.
I look back at some of the early stuff that I gave in conference talks contacts that fortunately I've gotten taken down from YouTube and I look at what I do and it's cringe worthy. It is every terrible talk and then some. That's why I say, "Get a bunch of terrible talks out of the way first then go ahead and start telling the good ones."
Matty: And the beautiful thing about that is then those terrible talks are not the ones when you resonated it and then it'll pick up because I've heard a friend of mine told a story about how one of an early talk that they gave has things in it that they're not super in love with but because of various thought leadery reasons it's an incredibly popular talk that is referenced constantly and it's just all over the internet.
It happens to a lot of people because here's the thing you will look and I would say, it's fairly safe to say that if you go and you look at any conference talk that you super love and your constantly sharing YouTube video of the presenter is going to say, "Dear God, please do not show that to anybody," because you know what, two-and-a-half minutes in, I'm doing tyrannosaurus hands or over here, I say, "Uhm" all the time, or I tell this story but it really wasn't about company A, it was about company B.
The upshot is don't worry about being nervous or unsure about it because it's human, we're used to it.
Corey: Yeah, and it's never as bad as you think it is, like, "Oh, right there at minute 14, I wet myself." But it's okay I was behind the podium no one saw.
Matty: Now, one thing I will suggest though that will make you feel better about doing all of this is to be prepared and I am guilty of this as well so I'm not just throwing some other contemporaries under the bus, but it's kind of become a little bit of a running gag of the, Well, I write my slides on the plane on the way to the conference," and all this and I've kind of turned around on that a little bit, at least I'm trying to. I'm putting this is a character flaw at myself.
Corey: Yeah, I don't do that as a point of pride, I do that because I suck at time management.
Matty: Well, exactly and so my thing that I realized I was just talking about this is, I've been a procrastinator my whole life and the unfortunate reality is it hasn't screwed me over yet. I've been lucky, I've been able to be the one who writes the term paper at 02:00 in the morning. One of the stories that used to be a point of pride to me was in junior high school, in American lit, we had an assignment to write a Faustian legend, which I had just forgotten to do because it was fun. I told the teacher like, "Oh, I forgot to print it out in the computer lab," and I went to the computer lab and I wrote a short story, free hand, printed it out and I got an A. That's a source of pride for me. That absolutely should not be, that should be a, "Wow, did you get lucky, you son of a bitch."
The same thing is true because, I will give talks and I am not as prepared as I should be and what ends up happening is they come off, I pull them off, almost classically trained in improve, I guess, that's what you call it when you're trained in Chicago. But, I've done this before and it hasn't bitten me, yet. But what I started to think about is reframing that thought; which is, instead of taking it as a, "Oh, well I can just totally do this last minute because that always works." Yes, it does but, how much better could I be if I was better prepared.
Corey: This is incidentally one of the best arguments you can come up with, in favor of giving a talk on multiple times, because you're usually not going to redo the entire talk but you're also not going to keep that talk verbatim the same. If nothing else, it's really rude to give a talk at a conference with another conference's title slide. Turns out they really have problems with that from a branding perspective.
Matty: I sell for this by not using the conferences template or not putting any reference to the conference in my in my side, although that's sort of like when the band comes up in like. "Hello, welcome San Francisco, I saw the Bay bridges I was flying in, that's a thing that we know." Actually, that's a pretty good tip. I've never thought about figuring out ways to pull off that sort of standup comedian, music acts localization reference into talks.
Corey: I have a photographer friend who likes to travel in a day early take a picture in the city and then use that as the background muted down for the title slide and then say something nice about the city, which is awesome I just don't tend to fly and with enough time to do that in most cases. Plus a number of conferences are in places like Las Vegas. "It's great to be here in Las Vegas," says no one, honestly.
Matty: Right, "It's great to be…" "Insert something funny here," post-production people, some joke about Vegas. Let's think a little bit about—before transition into that, the thing about giving a talk multiple times and iterating, this goes back to the practicing, because one of the things that I also realize with my not preparing is, that meant that the first time I gave a talk, that was practice. That's pretty disrespectful to the organizers and the audience who got that that first time, that I did that I didn't think it up—this is this is real talk here.
Something I'm going to tell you that in 2019 I am going to be better about and thinking about getting better at sayings, what are some of the things when we're trying to—some of the—suggestions, the tips, besides failure stories, some other direction when you're trying to think of ideas, like the other day we went out to lunch and said, "Let's just sit down afterwards and try to think about things to talk about," how do you get yourself into that creative mode, Corey?
Corey: I find that when I'm trying to come up with a talk idea as I'm sitting there staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank editor screen because I can't rebound handwriting, let's not kid ourselves here, I find that my mind goes blank and I can't string together a coherent sentence. What I started doing is waiting for certain moments in conversations I have with people and then pulling out an ongoing note that I keep on my phone and jotting down the concept or the idea when inspiration strikes. I look through it later and some of them make more sense than others do, where it's, "Okay that that works in the right context but isn't going to turn to kind of talk I want to give," that's part of it.
That's how I cover the anecdotes, the stories, the cold opens, which we'll talk about in a bit, but that's where I get the flavor for the story. The theme of what I want to do, I usually get from watching other people's conference talks. I take a look at what's going on around me in the course of my consulting practice, in the course of the conversations I have with people, sometimes with microphone, sometimes not. I try and get to a place of being able to find the theme I want to work around then the rest becomes a lot more straightforward. Being able to address the problem that I'm seeing and how I want to work that into a talk and beating that into a keynote deck, that's just something that you could actively wind up doing by block and tackling.
Matty: Yeah I think structuring the Preso itself is where it becomes less about the creative side of it. I mean there's creativity involved but it's does not have an idea. Then there's something to be said for that turning off your brain, the shower ideas. People say, "My best ideas come to me in the shower." a big part of the reason is because you're not trying to think of something. For me, the best ideas would come to me when I was cutting the grass, or shoveling snow, or you might say when you're cleaning the house.
This is the challenge I run into now in this profession. It's seen as a luxury to be, your job now is to sit around and think big thoughts, sort of like the scarecrow, sort of like what the wizard says to the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. then you find yourself if you're like me, sitting at your desk in the office going, my to do today was to think of ideas for a conference talk. And you know what I do when I need to do that? I do my expense reports. Because that's the equivalent of cutting the grass that I can do in the office. It's something that is mindless that doesn't require thinking, where I'm turning off my brain, and little ideas will pop in.
Corey: This next talk is about how software as a service is priced because I've been staring at invoices for the last three hours.
Matty: Exactly. This is about why can concur is terrible.
Corey: You're just saying that because it is.
Matty: I'm just saying that because it's true, we don't even use concur. so I can't even complain about it but I feel like I'm not doing my job as a gadfly if I don't make at least one commonly use repeated joke over and over again. That's thought leadership right there.
Corey: Absolutely. The other thing that I see that people tend to do with mixed success is they try and give a talk that is technical in nature. Increasingly I've biased myself towards giving talks more about the culture than about the tooling. But every once in awhile, I'll mix that up and throw my hat in the ring. One of the talks I gave that did reasonably well was called Terrible Ideas in Git.
The reason that I gave that talk was not because I was a Git master who needed to teach everyone what I knew. It was a, I use this tool a lot. I feel like I barely understand it but if I give a conference talk about it, that will force me to be able to answer questions when people ask from the audience. Sure enough by the time that talk was given, I knew Git a lot better. Counterpoint, it's a bit dicey to wind up giving aspirational talks. Sure, that project will be done by the time that conference rolls around is a recipe for disaster. On the plus side, it's a great way to build a failure talk accidentally.
Matty: Yes. I have to echo, something I would suggest is that giving a talk is a great way to learn something. I've got something I'm workshoping right now called Keeping Calms with Azure DevOps and the idea was I wanted to learn Azure DevOps which is previously known as Visual Studio Team Services, all the various names it has had. But I was like, well this is a thing I want to understand. Combining that with knowing that there are certain conferences I'd like to speak at where they're looking for a bit more of a technical track.
I was trying to figure out how do I insert myself into that. I shouldn’t say that, not how to insert myself but, what can I bring to that table. Am I going to bring the table of, you're going to learn the intricacies of how this particular technology works. No, but are you going to learn about how a team can use it and guess what, it might be the idea of this is telling a story of a team using the tool across multiple things. Back to the point, have I written this yet? Have I built it? Have I taught myself this technology completely? No, because I'm going to wait until somebody accepts the talk before I invest the time in doing it because I could spend a whole lot of time.
I spend enough time to prove out that my theory is somewhat sound. That that particular technology stack is something that is vaguely accessible to me. I didn't set myself up for too much failure and I'll be able to tell the story that I want to tell. Then I can write a description of the story that I want to tell and I can start shopping it. Then when someone bites on it I can say, okay now I will sit and I will build out my piece. But again, it's telling the story. I think to Corey's point with the Terrible Ideas in Git, there are stories there right? Humor can be tricky because what you think is funny, other people might not.
Corey: If that isn't the story of my life.
Matty: But it does help make things more memorable. People will remember if you kind of show a bad idea but as a joke or again, if I'm understanding a little bit about the structure of your talk, it's you're really showing good ideas by showing bad ideas.
Corey: Exactly, it's the don't do this and do this instead, type of model. I find it with a couple of sentences that are suitably vague. For example with Terrible Ideas in Git, I had a catchy title and I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go. Learn one of the DevOps community's most ubiquitous tools explained by someone who should never be allowed to touch it ever again. That was concise, it fits and the first time it got accepted, then I built it out and learned a lot along the way, but that wound up being a much better approach than trying to write the entire talk out.
Because as I was building the talk, I change things five different times as I went through that and realized that will be too hard to demo, that's not funny, that's actually a good idea I just didn't know this one command worked because it's Git. Being able to figure that out as we spiral down the rabbit hole of finalizing a talk was a lot more straightforward. The trick is to have a fun title, be suitably vague in the description and then wait for it to get accepted.
Submit early, submit often. For most conferences that I want to speak at, I submit about six talks on average. I generally only will get accepted on one of them which is as it should be. I don't want to give three talks at the same conference, that's terrible.
Matty: That's a thing that you'll get different responses from different people about how many submissions you should give per event. The reason when people say they don't like it if people submit too often. it's because, there is such thing as a shock and approach which is, I haven't looked at this event at all so I'm submitting all these proposals I have which is different than, I have three or four proposals that actually are appropriate for this particular event and I'm giving you the option conference organizers to see the one that's most interesting to you.
So I agree, submit early, submit often but submit appropriately because now we don't need to get into it here but if I remember, I'll put in the show notes some links about double blind, whether it works or doesn't about anonymized submissions and everything. But one way or another, conference organizers get to know you as a submitter. If you are that person that is always submitting stuff that’s inappropriate for their event, you become that person and then all your stuff starts to get ignored.
You cause yourself more damage. You can err on the side of, "I'm not sure." and oftentimes in CFP systems like paper call or whatever, there's a space for notes you could always say, "Hey organizers, I'm not 100% sure that this fits with your story but maybe…" because if it was me as an organizer if I get—Corey submits something to me and I'm like, "This is not…" there's a difference between you didn't read anything about my event, you are just spamming paper call and you might not be a good fit. I don't quite see how this connects but you made some comments to me that makes me feel like you at least are explaining.
So that's a big thing, you want to win the organizers and the submission committee or the selection committee rather over to your side. Think about everything you can do to make their life easier, explain why. That's hard, trust me. I hate it. I get certain CFP forms we were like, "Why should this talk be given at our conference?" I was like, "Because it's awesome, that's why." is what I want to put in there.
Corey: "Don't you know who I am?" which believe it or not, I've given a keynote with that exact title.
Matty: Don't ever do that, I mean you giving the keynote with that title is fine.
Corey: Yeah, if you ever non-ironically say, "Don't you know who I am?" you have automatically lost the fight or damn well should.
Marry: You should lose the fight, is the unfortunate truth.
Corey: So let's talk a little bit more about implementation details, as you're building out a talk is—easy to fall into. I'll start with one, something that I notice a lot, is people get scared when they see a 45-minute speaking slot, so they go for a lightning talk or an ignite, which is only five minutes and the slides auto advance. At least it's over more quickly, this is almost universally a terrible idea.
In a 45-minute talk, if you trip over yourself, you can stop, you can repeat what you're saying. You can back up, you can take questions from the audience. When the slides are auto advancing, you have to be aware of what your time constraint is, is the audience laughing and you have to not say something while the laughter subsides? Are they not laughing and you need to be able to say something instead of five seconds of painful silence which fuels three years long? And there is an art form to it.
I do an awful lot of those and I do an awful lot of 45-minute talks and on average, it takes me somewhere between three to five times longer to build the ignite talk than it does the 45-minute session.
Matty: One thing about that is—I agree that that it seems that the entry point is easier through an ignite than it is through a 30 or 45-minute talk. But something that, my friend, Jerry told me—he much prefers to give ignites than longer talk and he said the reason is because he likes to be very well rehearsed and he says in a five minute ignite, he can lock down every beat. And again, you still have to allow for laughs and stuff but he can be very practiced.
It's a lot harder if you're someone who feels more comfortable, not going "loosey-goosey" but saying like, "I know exactly what I'm going to say for every slide and for every time," it's much easier to practice and have consistency over five minutes than over 45 minutes.
Corey: Yes, with the caveat that, you'll see this occasionally for new speakers, where they will read to you, either from note cards or from their slides or from the presenter notes. That generally doesn't work very well unless they're fantastic at reading, which is not often the case and it also winds up taking the life out of the talk in some ways.
Matty: It does it's a lot less engaging so I don't know if it's that I've just gone to more of vents lately, so I'm seeing it but I…
Corey: With the caveat, my first ignite, I read the entire thing from note cards. This is not me casting a shade of people.
Matty: …I was about to give an example of reading right from the slides, myself, but I think there's times when it's okay. I've been seeing a lot more of no cards and ignites and I think it's because it does make you feel more comfortable but they need to—I feel like if you want to have your no-cards for your ignites, that's great, just hold on to them and move them for each slide but don't look at them unless you get stuck.
Corey: It does give you something to do with your hands.
Matty: That's true. I have an ignite that I gave a couple of times. It's the " Hot Takes, Myths, And Fake News—Why Everyone Is Wrong About DevOps, Except For Me," and that fundamentally isn't a night where I'm just reading off of the slides. But, that one kind of works and I'm not just saying that because it's my own.
Corey: No, I've seen it. I can confirm, it works.
Matty: Because it's just a bunch of jokes. And, it's three bullets per slide of jokes and I add a little color to each one. So I read off the slides, because the other thing is usually you'll find an implementation, what saves you, either speak or you have information on the spring. Because people can only do one thing at a time, they can either listen or they can read so if you want people to be reading the words on the screen, then you need to not be talking. If you want them to listen to what you say, you need to not have stuff on the screen that they're going to be trying to read.
We don't need to go out—there's some debate about blank slides. The training I got is a big fan of having just black blank slides while you're talking. The problem that you run into and I believe this is—I feel like this is something specific to the technology audience because non technical audiences, I don't they do this. When a black slide, a plain black slide with nothing on it comes up, the audience thinks something broke.
Corey: And you have six people immediately trying to be helpful and fix the projector and you have to wave them off. If you're going to play those games, you have to tell the AV people that it's coming, unless you enjoy being interrupted.
Matty: So I think the thing that works is what—so Emily Freeman does this really well is her version of a blank slide is a photo of just some aesthetic, nothing, it's not even necessarily, I'm sorry, Emily, I don't know if this is true or not, not even necessarily 100% connected to what she's saying. But it's not distracting is what it is, it's something that basically is like, "Here's a pretty picture, but it's not so pretty that it's taking away from what I'm saying but it's sending a visual cue that you're not supposed to be staring at the screen right now. You're supposed to be looking at me and listening to me.
Corey: I have to say regardless of how long Emily speaks, however long her career goes, no one else will ever be able to top the intro to a talk I saw when she was giving a keynote at one of the DevOps days.
Matty: It was DevOps days in Indianapolis.
Corey: Yes, that's right. She got on stage, everyone claps, she opened her mouth and says, "The dumpster is on fire." At that moment the fire alarm went off. No one believes me when I say that that is exactly the timing that worked, but it's on video. This is actually true. There is no possible way to top that kind of intro. I don't know how she was able to bribe someone at the hotel to pull the fire alarm at that exact moment, but we are all chasing that moment of perfection in our interest.
Matty: You just can't get any better and the serious part of that and not about it, but about chasing the perfection is I also remember another about that Corey and I spoke at with Emily was it DevOps state Charlotte about a year ago and Emily was the first keynote and I remember, it was really interesting to watch, Emily started and I could see everybody that came after leveled up their game, because Emily is very poised. She has it she has a great presence on stage and a lot of the speakers who came after, myself included, because I thought myself doing and I'm like, "Oh, shit, I need to like bring it up a little, bring it up a notch," you can watch everybody. That's something that's really inspiring to see.
Now, the question is, "How do you get like that?" and you want to know how you get like that? The same way that you get to Carnegie Hall, practice. Now is the part when I'm going to tell you about eating your vegetables. This is the hardest thing, there is no way around it and you're just going to have to do it. You need to record yourself every time you practice any need to watch it and you know what? It's going to be okay. It's going to be fine.
One other, kind of, final tip about that presentation side of the blocking and tackling, when I was decided for a brief period of time that I wanted to get better at the bowling. There's lots of things that have to go into play when you're when you're throwing a ball down the lane and what I told myself was every time in every frame, I said, "I am focusing on one improvement," I'm not going to worry about where I put my feet, at the same time that I think about my follow through, at the same time that I think about how I'm hooking the ball. I'm going to do one thing. That's the thing I focus on for this frame.
I do the same thing now when I give talks and when I practice, I don't practice much as I should, but every presentation I give, I say, "You know what, in this one, I'm going to focus on bigger gestures." That's going to be my thing. I'm not going to worry about any of the other stuff…
Corey: Here is the 18 things you're screwing up on, remember all of them when you're giving your talk.
Matty: Right, you're not going to remember any of them, but if there's one that also makes you feel better, because you're like, "This is only one thing and to improve," and not just you'll focus on it, but you'll be making effort towards it.
Corey: One thing that I also find is the moment where a lot of speakers lose the audience is in the intro. They'll get up on stage and sometimes they'll say, "This is my first talk and I'm really nervous." While I definitely understand the humanity of that moment, you're effectively setting the expectation for that talk down in the basement and people tend to tune out. The next level from that and I do this a lot if I don't catch myself and correct this. "Hi, thank you for coming. My name's Corey and I do X, Y, and Z. I'm here to talk about whatever."
You have about 45 seconds to grab people's interest before they get back into their phone and most people tend to waste that on talking about who they are. I like a cold open approach where I talk about the story. A great example would be Emily, when she started her talk with, "The dumpster is on fire," even without the fire alarm going off, that's still a great hook to grab people with. Then a minute or two later you talk about who you are, but first, you give people a taste, get them engaged, and you're never going to do that with a form of your resume. No matter how entertaining.
Matty: The communication training, I'll put a link to it. It's Decker Communications in San Francisco and in New York and other places does this training and one of the things that they talked about, it's funny because it's a mnemonic device but I don't remember what it stands for but they call it the SNAP. It's actually supposed to open and close with a snap. But a SNAP is like a story, or a picture, or an anecdote, or it's something to grab attention like Corey said. so it can be, I'm going to tell this story about this thing that happened, or I'm going to put up a picture that's going to get your attention really quickly, something that's going to draw you in.
Then if you do need to do a resume slide, do that three to four slides in. you don't even start, you don’t even introduce yourself, you get up there, you start telling that story, you do that thing, you get through the story, you get through the anecdote and then you say, "Hey, I'm Matty Stratton, DevOps advocate of PagerDuty, I'm going to talk about X, Y, and Z today." That’s something I need to get better about, I do the resume slide. To be honest, I mostly do it nowadays if I know Corey's in the audience because it's a form of trolling but that's me getting a laugh at the expense of my overall talk.
Corey: It comes back around again, it becomes cool past a certain point. One thing to think about as well that I find myself wanting to do the intro slide and not because it is critically important for me to be self promotional, it is but that's not how it manifests. But rather, there's still a voice whispering in the back of my mind that I am a giant fraud and I have no business being there which means everyone must believe that. So I should first tell people why I'm worth listening to. Who the heck I think I am to be standing on that stage and why I think I have anything of value to say and that voice is always lying to you. But it's something that if you can get past will lead to a much better talk.
Matty: You don't need to prove that you have the validity to be there because, the talk selection committee already did that by giving you the stage.
Corey: If you're holding the microphone, you deserve to be there.
Matty: So with that, usually this is the part of ATO where we would go and do any checkouts. I know I just sort of threw you under the bus here right now.
Corey: That’s fine, I live here.
Matty: Do you have any, this would be something, it could be a blog, a book, a tool, a beer something that you think the listeners would dig and should check out.
Corey: I have a blog post that I'll throw in the show notes that talks about my philosophy on giving conference talks but in more technical detail. Less higher level theme of building a talk and more implementation style detail and I'll throw a link to that. It may be one post or it may be a couple. We'll see what happens by the time this winds up getting published. I normally ask people the same thing, is there anything you'd like to drive people to, a story you'd like to tell, where can people learn more about the wonder that is Matty Stratton?
Matty: Well for that, basically your best bet is you can find me on Twitter if you don't already know, I'm at @mattstratton. If you go to mattstratton.com/speaking, you'll find links to the places that I've spoken at, my presentation notes and videos and such as well as any upcoming things. I also have a newsletter with various DevOps news and fun tweets and things if you're interested in what's going on in the DevOps world and you can subscribe to that at devopsdispatch.com.
Corey: If that's not enough newsletter for you, there's always lastweekinaws.com and we should probably cut there before we wind up listing everything we've ever done for the past five years.
Corey: Matty, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I'm Corey Quinn and this is Screaming In The Cloud.
Matty: No, no, this is Arrested DevOps and remember, there's always DevOps…
Corey: In the cloud.