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oliver (7451)

oliver
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http://users.ox.ac.uk/~oliver/

Data network admin for the University of Oxford. PAUSE ID "OLIVER".

Journal of oliver (7451)

Sunday November 30, 2008
06:57 AM

On presenting at the LPW08

[ #37984 ]

Before too much of this slips from my mind, I want to jot down some notes about my experience this year as a speaker at the London Perl Workshop 2008. The talk I delivered was about instant web front-ends to databases (i.e. scaffolding and CRUD) and in particular my own module CatalystX::ListFramework::Builder.

Please be aware that none of the following should be seen as criticism (of the organisers, audience, etc) in any way! How I felt was, and is, my responsibility alone. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to speak at LPW. Also, I'm a fairly experienced public speaker; one other reason for writing this is that I feel I didn't perform particularly well on this occasion, and want notes I can refer back to (and that might help others, by being public).

I had a lot of trouble preparing this talk, I think because this is my second most popular module, and yet it's a subject matter about which I am really no expert. Lots of other people know much more about JavaScript, databases, DBIx::Class, Catalyst and Template::Toolkit than I. I didn't know how to pitch the talk - beginner, intermediate or advanced? There was easy scope for all three.

The timing of 20 minutes, in hindsight, was a mistake and I should have opted for a 40 slot instead. I had just maybe four slides too many and that meant I had to talk too quickly and perhaps not explain certain key concepts. There was not any time for Q&A and again looking back, this module is one of those where people are likely to want to ask odd little questions (it's more of a system, than a module).

When I arrived in the morning, I found some spare time and went up to look at my allocated room (lecture room 3). Unlike the other two rooms which had standard tiered seating, this was a classroom, with maybe 25 seats, and tables. This seemed okay because it would be more cosy and good for discussion. Unfortunately about 40 people seemed to turn up, which meant it was standing room only, really hot, and very daunting for me (I'll come back to this in a minute). The number of people certainly exacerbated my trouble over the pitch of the talk - with less people I could ask questions at the start and then tailor my speaking to point out features at the general level of the audience. In this case I had no such opportunity.

Now, everyone knows that London has its fair share of leading lights of Perl, and the LPW also attracts visitors from around the world as one of the best one day conferences. Maybe not many people knew who I was, but I certainly knew them, and this made me uneasy. This isn't to do with personalities, or being star-struck; I'm talking about experience. The very reason for me writing this module was to get to try JavaScript for the first time, and yet people here probably knew more than I did. Is that a reason not to give a talk at LPW? No! Normally as a speaker you can deal with one or two experts in the room, but I had a dozen, so my poor brain was working overtime on watching what I was saying, which didn't help me to focus on the delivery.

One thing I missed about LPW was a system to get feedback from the audience about how they felt the talk went. I love to get this stuff, the good but especially the bad. Sometimes things can't be helped and the attendee perhaps misunderstood the theme of the talk, but other times I just hadn't realised people like that existed, and next time I will be able to take their thoughts into account. I cannot stress enough that as a public speaker, getting honest, good and blunt feedback from attendees is really, really useful. So I'm particularly saddened that by the end of my talk I was hot, flustered, a little overwhelmed by the audience, and totally forgot to ask for feedback.

Also frustrating was that this year LPW just happened to clash with an important evening meal out in London for me, meaning I couldn't come to the after-show drinks. Perhaps that would have been a good opportunity to solicit feedback, or at least get drunk and forget all the stuff I've vented in this article.

My final point to note is that I do think I tried to cover far too much in the talk. For 20 minutes, an end-to-end life-cycle of CRUD is just way too much to cover. I should definitely have skipped some areas and focussed on others (e.g. the various ways to use the module - just pick one and let the audience RTFM to find the rest). More diagrams showing workflow, and how data moves around the system would have helped; the slides were too text heavy. These are side-effects, I think, of the pitch issue mentioned above. I wasn't sure what to speak about, and what not to speak about (which is equally as important!).

I'm really, really glad to have had the opportunity to speak at LPW. And I would do it again without second thought. I could also probably manage a talk at a London.pm tech meet, now that I have the cojones to speak in front of them. But yesterday wasn't my finest speaking hour; I'm sad that was the case. Apart from all the irrational thoughts such as letting people down, bad first impressions, etc, I let myself down. The pitch, and the venue, were both awkward, and I think that's the note to take away from this - better prep required to deal with these two gotchas.

Thanks for listening, if you made it this far! Overall, please know that I had a very positive experience at LPW08 - these are just notes to help make that even better, next time around. If you were at the talk, please do drop any feedback to <oliver.gorwits@oucs.ox.ac.uk>, or comment below. Good or bad, I don't mind, it all makes me happy.

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