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

1 comment:

andy said...


This was a really interesting topic and definitely a tough one to handle in the 5 minute period. But a co-worker and I both really enjoyed it - we were talking today about how we want to attend DJUG this week to hear more on the topic.
Sadly, we can't make DJUG this week, but your presentation did its job - left us wanting more! Thanks again for presenting.