5 skills I learned last month

Last month, I was asked to give a presentation about our testing community. After 15+ years in IT, I have  seen my fair share of horrible powerpoint presentations. And I am sure I am stating the obvious here, especially those in IT, but there are few common points of failures that all those presentations share: 

  • Overly complex charts and graphs
  • Way too many bullets
  • Way too much text
  • All the effort is put into creating the slides, not the talk.
  • Lack of message and emotion. Just a uninspired rambling instead of a passionate plea.

The real problem with those powerpoints is that the presenter will spend most of his/her time with his/her back towards to public to read the text on the slide. Not only do you loose  ontact with the audience, but assuming the audience can read, the presenter adds no value whatsoever.

AWKWARD!

Or worse, the presenter attempts to add value by explaining what is on the slide. 9 out of 10 times, that just turns a longwinded and boring repeat of what was already on the slide.

BORING! 

Here is what I learned and worked for me to remedy this.

Lesson learned 1: Pecha Kucha  presentation format

Researching ways to come up with a better presentation. I came across the Pecha Kucha format. Pecha kucha is japanese for "smalltalk" and such a presentation consists of 20 slides that are on the screen for 20 seconds each and automatically progress.  A pecha kucha presentation means:

  • It has to be short and simple.
  • A well prepared story with slides to support it, not the other way around

That looked like a great solution for me. It resembled a format I find inspiring; yes, TED talks (again). Look at those: a presenter with a story about his or her passion, supported by slides and constrained by time. Pecha-kucha it is.

A pecha-kucha presentation does not require any special software. Ironically, I made mine using powerpoint. And it is really easy to do! I will even make it easier: download a free copy of my pecha-kucha template.

Creating the presentation was a tough, but fun proces! From the beginning you need to think about the core information you want to get across. Think about your audience and how to tell them what you want to share. And more importantly: leave out anything else. Make sure your story is informative so that they want to keep their attention with your story instead of WhatsApp. If you manage to do that, people will remember you and find you if they want to know more. When someone does reach out to you, you know you have someone who is genuinely interested and who you can really help.

Lesson Learned 2: Script writing

Well, not exactly script writing. But that fact that I had to come up with a story that I could tell that would be timed exactly to the changing of the slides, meant that I wrote out a little  script. Over several itterations I was able to come up with short pieces of text  that would fit exactly within those 20 second slots. It forces you to leave out anything that is not needed. Carefully craft the story you want to tell. Rehearse it several times so you know what is coming and stay in the flow. Too much text and you are rushing to finish you sentences and all of a sudden you are behind on the slides. Or, you get a black-out because you were thinking about how to get all the text out in time. Yes, that happened to me. Too few words and you find yourself with a few seconds of crickets before the next slide, breaking the flow of your presentation.

Lesson Learned 3: Re-usability

I had spend about a day to come up with the original story, and a few more hours to come up with the slides. All that for 6 minutes and 40 seconds? Yes! 

The presentation was a succes and I was asked to present it in a few other places. That was very easy since I had rehearsed the story so many times, I could probably tell it over and over again without having to look at the original script again. In other words: the inital investment of time and effort means I now have a presentation ready at any time without much rework.

Lesson Learned 4: Basic voice recording

Because I had presented this story a few more times, the audience had broadened bit by bit. So, I found myself making tiny tweaks in the script here and there to adjust if necessary. Now, I had a version that I could present to pretty much any audience. 

Our company had recently started a blog, www.wehkamplabs.com, where we write about what we do. A great way to share knowledge and get people interested in working for Wehkamp. Since I am also looking for great talent to complement our testing community, I decided to turn the pecha-kucha presentation into a short video on youtube and put it on the site. 

That means recording the audio, importing the images in a video editing program and putting audio and video together.

Originally, I presented everything in dutch. For the blog, the script was translated into english and recorded in Audacity, a free audio-editing tool. As a microphone I used the Zoom H4N I had bought second-hand last year to record myself when reheasing saxophone pieces. In audacity, I reduced the noise, added some bass and treble and cut it into separate pieces.

Believe it or not, I have never actually recorded anything on the computer before and this was super easy. In a future post I will explain the process in a tutorial-style post.

Lesson Learned 5: Basic video editing

Though not really video, more like static images. I did learn to use iMovie. Truth be told I had worked with iMovie several years ago to make a few vacation movies, so this was not completely new. But, iMovie has changed a lot and what I did learn this time is to match audio and video together and get the timing right. When you look at the video, you'll notice that it does not exactly match 20 seconds per slide. Which is not a problem, but it prevents those "awkward silences" at the end of a slide.

So, that was a lot of learning new stuff and all that in a matter of about 2 to 3 days. Ii was having so much fun that the line between work and fun really blurred. Spending a few evenings to find my way around the various tools. But all in all a great way to learn something new and to inject some more passion into my work.

Of course, I could not write a whole post about a presentation and the subsequent video, without showing it to you. So, here it is. Please feel free to give constructive criticism as I realize there is probably a lot to be improved for a next project!

 

Maybe the most important lesson I learned is not a hard, technical skill. The first post on this blog was a self-reflecting post about what makes me happy. With this presentation and video I realized that I am passionate about learning and getting my message across.

Don't forget to download the free, no strings attached Pecha-Kucha template for PowerPoint to quickly get started with yours!