Giving a Presentation? Lose the Laser Pointer

You heard me. Put down the laser pointer and slowly step away.

There are two things that a lot of presenters do that just drive me nuts:

  1. Reading the slides to me. I can read. I don’t need you to do it for me. And, if every single word you want to say fits on the slide, you either don’t have much to say, and so shouldn’t be presenting, or your fonts are way too small, so you should skip the slides altogether and just go off of note cards. Slides aren’t there to take the place of good presentation skills, practice, or note cards. It’s a visual ***aid***. Referring to slides as “the presentation” is a misnomer. Recognizing this is half the battle.
  2. Laser Pointers. This deserves more than a paragraph.

Used to be people used pointers. They were made of wood or metal or plastic. They were typically about 3 feet long. Thing is, you had to walk around with a tree limb while giving a presentation. It was clumsy to handle for some, a little heavy, a little unwieldy maybe. Then came the laser pointer.

Now all of us audience members are driven to near seizures while people wiggle this little floating pointer all over the place. It’s hoppy and jumpy. It’s hard to be really accurate with it (in part because the slides are inevitably *not* designed for use with a laser pointer. “Oh, I need to do that?” Well, if you use one, yeah, you need to do that), and it’s really pretty useless to use any kind of pointer. This may seem ironic, but to me, the use of a pointer has always indicated a *less* prepared speaker, not a *more* prepared one.

Think about what people use these things to point at. 80% of the time (conservatively) it’s to point out some text on a slide. How about just… I dunno… *UNDERLINING* the text on the slide to begin with?! Also, I don’t need you to point to the very same text that *you’re* reading and *I’m* reading. To be clear, the distraction here is the frustration that comes with realizing that everything you’re doing is annoying, and in the audience’s mind, the presentation becomes about how annoying it is instead of the content.

The rest of the time is probably spent pointing to portions of a chart or graph. This has only slightly more merit. Very slight. Why? Because it generally is indicative of a speaker who hasn’t practiced presenting this specific data. When a graph comes up on a slide, the first thing I do is try to get my bearings – I look at the labels to figure out what data is being charted, then look at the line. If you’re charting the temperature for the 12 months ending in August 2005, you should be able to talk about an anomaly in mid-May by telling the audience “you’ll notice that in mid-May, the rains seemed to come in spite of barometric pressure readings and temperature. Note, too, that the percentage of weathermen that called the weather in this period also dropped precipitously”. You should be able to say that, and the audience should be able to digest it. Using a pointer will only serve to distract them. The reason is because not everyone takes in information in the same way. If you want to (and have time) you can verbalize the data, and then go back and point to the lines to reiterate what you just said a different way, but to talk, and point, and we’re reading and digesting, there’s just too damn much going on.

This is all without even talking about the plain and simple fact that those damn laser pointers are just the most annoying thing in the universe, even when they are used in textbook-proper style. So when you put it all together, it’s really just not worth it. Chances are, there are glitches in your presentation style somewhere. Maybe you look at your own slides a lot. Maybe you swallow the microphones. Maybe your voice is monotone. Maybe your pace is monotonous. Maybe you say “um” a lot. Maybe you’re visually uncomfortable. All of these can have a deliterious affect on the audience’s attention span. You don’t need to spend money on tools to lose an audience ;-)

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Yet another LinuxLaboratory overhaul in the works.

Well, it’s that time again. Time to suck it up and come to terms with yet another “conent management solution” that doesn’t fit the bill as far as Linuxlaboratory.org is concerned.

The latest system is MediaWiki, and it’s not working out. There’s about a million things built into MediaWiki that I don’t use, and then some of the simple things I do want to use are either hacks or don’t work right, or both.

For example, MediaWiki, to my knowledge, doesn’t have *native* support for providing downloads through your site. You can do it using a hack that utilizes the “Images” tag, and I’ve done that on LinuxLaboratory, but recently, and without warning, the wiki markup stopped honoring my request to hide the hack in the actual title of the download, so now my downloads all say “Images:Downloadname” instead of just “Downloadname” as my wiki markup indicates.

Anyway, MediaWiki doesn’t really aim to satisfy the needs of sites like LinuxLaboratory. I just tried to repurpose it, and it hasn’t worked as well as I would’ve liked. I still actually use it for other projects that are more wiki-like, and it’s great, but not for this site.

So what’s next? I’m not really sure. There seems to be an unclaimed niche in content management. I can’t seem to find a solution that doesn’t consist of either some arbitrarily convoluted framework, or a bunch of hacked PHP scripts with no real flexibility. I don’t want to run a news site, I don’t want to run a blog. I run, primarily, a HOWTO-style documentation website that also provides downloads of various bits of code.

I’ve looked into handling this with WordPress, but there’s not a really good way to handle category navigation, or downloads, that’s *native*.

Why am I obsessed about native features? Well, because I’ve been shot in the foot in the past by installing whiz-bang extensions written for one version of the CMS-of-the-day, only to find they’re unusable when the CMS is upgraded, and they’re in no big rush to update their code.

I’ll be testing out a few systems, now that I’ve basically given up on wordpress. Open source projects use systems to host their software downloads and documentation, so I’ll look into some project home pages and see what they use.

Cory Doctorow’s toorcon speech

I just wanted to point out this Cory Doctorow blog entry which points to his speech at toorcon. This isn’t brand new (post is from Oct 6, 2006), but I only just found it, and figured others may not have seen it yet. Link directly to the video here.

The short story is that it seems Cory is the new spokesperson for anti-DRM causes put forth by the EFF, FSF and others (as evidenced by his new USC course, and several of his speeches I’ve seen). So far, he’s my favorite one. He’ll also be giving a keynote at LISA06 in DC in a few weeks.

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When Geek Conversations Go Bad

There’s this annoying trend in the geek culture that I can’t help but comment on, if for no other reason than to let people know about geek culture here in the early 21st century. The trend is this:

At any given point in time, a group of geeks can be talking about just about anything (take note of the context here – it’s geeks talking. We’re not talking about sushi.) Things go along nicely until some old-timer geek walks up and injects himself into the conversation by somehow turning a conversation about iPods into a conversation about, say, his first SPARCStation.

Well, it’s all downhill from here. Another geek will then find what he thinks is a rather smooth segue into talking about his first SPARCStation and how he was the first one to have a monitor that wasn’t monochrome. Another geek thumbs his nose at such a trivial show of geek machismo and says something along the lines of “I was so happy to get a SPARCStation when they came out, because that old IBM RT I had been working on was really starting to get to me.”

Oh man. Here we go. Another geek jumps in with “IBM RT?! Man, you lucked out! At least that thing ran X! When that shiny new thing came out I was still using an Osborne I”

And so it goes, with geeks lining up to figure out the geek pecking order of the pack. Who worked on a PDP-11, or a PDP-8, or (gasp!) No! Not a PDP-5! With the paper tape!?! Oh man!

Look, there’s just no reason that a conversation about iPods should be forced to somehow morph into a conversation about something that had a hard drive bigger than me and hotter than hell just because you old-timer geeks have decided not to keep up with current trends. It’s fine. We don’t care that you wouldn’t know what to do with an iPod if someone threw it at your head, but don’t drag us into your personal hell by forcing us to listen to your drivel about your TRS-80 as if it gives you some kind of geek street cred.

There’s always room for knowledge in geek communities, and knowledge of old systems most definitely counts. I have much respect for people who dealt with some of those archaic machines and still found a way to maintain their sanity, but if you find yourself interjecting thoughts about stuff that hasn’t been made for 15 years or more into a conversation about the latest thoughts on quad-core uber-smp green-ray biorhythmic processing, try to resist the temptation. I’m just sayin’.

Thanks to my office mate, Chris Tengi, for help with references to historical machines :-)

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My LUG/IP Presentation: The Road to Geek Authorship

A few months ago, Tom Limoncelli (noted author and, now, a member of the Google team) spoke at our LUG about topics from his newest book, “Time Management for System Administrators”. It was a great talk, and it’s a pretty darn good book as well. 

Anyway, the point here is that, after the talk, there were, of course, a good number of comments, but some of us noticed that a lot of the *questions* were along the lines of “how did you get to the point where you’re writing books and stuff?”

Well, I’m a LUG regular, and I’ve written a book, and write elsewhere besides, so one of the board members suggested I give a presentation to address those questions. 

There was a pretty good crowd, and I more or less know the crowd from going to meetings, so I know when they’re completely disinterested, and I don’t think they were. Well, partly maybe, but not *completely*. I think the talk went relatively well. :-)