Sunday, February 07, 2010

My Ignite Talk Experience

20 slides, 15 seconds per slide... a 5 minute talk. How hard could it be? Famous last words!

That was what I signed up for when I asked to present at the Denver Open Source User's Group Lightning Talk Night.

I had my topic in mind. I wanted to provide an overview to the basics of estimating tasks in an agile development. There are many things I find compelling about agile development philosophies, but none more so that the elegant simplicity of how estimates are made and progress tracked.

It might sound strange, but the first thing I focused on was a title. My thought was that for a five minute talk, the title would be an important way to set the tone for the talk. I started thinking about what I would be talking about and the title just seemed to fall in place. I took this as a good sign.

I then proceeded to procrastinate for three weeks (actually, I was slammed at work, but still...). The talk was a couple of weeks away and I knew I had to get cracking. Evidently, my subconscious agreed and had actually been on the job, because I woke up at 3 AM one morning with the entire outline of the talk running through my brain. I quickly grabbed my iPhone and started frantically typing into the notes App while everything was still fresh. I was surprised when I reviewed it the next day to find that it was a good outline. The final one did not deviate much from the original.

With outline in hand, I then started making my slides. I tried to go for a very simple title that conveyed the message of the slide and a graphic that supported that message, albeit in an abstract manner in some cases. Since I wanted to release the talk under Creative Commons, I had to search a bit for appropriately licensed media. FWIW, there are some very talented folks on the interwebs that totally ROCK!

After I had the slides completed, I wrote a script for the talk. This consisted of writing 2-3 short sentences for the slide, then speaking the sentences while timing to see if they fit within the 15 second allotment. There was a lot of iterative editing in this step. I wound up with a talk that was, in hindsight, a bit denser than it should have been. It fit the time limit, but barely.

I practiced the talk and thought I had it down fairly well. I had the script for each slide on a 3x5 card, just in case something happened. In practice, I found that glancing at the card was sufficient to guide me through the talk when I got stuck.

Then came the live performance. It was not the rousing success I had hoped for. I slipped up on my timing early in the talk. At 15 seconds per slide, it is very hard to recover from this, particularly when your talk is info-dense. I wound up speed reading my cards to keep up. I'm not saying it was a complete failure, but I would have liked it to go a bit smoother.

As far as the night in general, there was some amazing talks on a lot of different topics. This format is such a great venue for getting a peek at many different ideas and technologies. Slides for the talks are posted at DOSUG Slides.

A couple of days after the talk, I got the chance to reprise it at Tendril. It went a lot better (still not perfect).

The whole experience has been both educational and fun. If given an opportunity, I highly recommend you give it a try.

You can review my talk, with audio, here. Let me know what you think.

Also, full disclosure, the recorded talk is slightly longer than the 5 minutes allowed. This is mostly due to the fact that the introduction was not counted as part of the talk.

Agile Estimation: The story has a point, but the point is unitless