February 19, 2009

Substance plus Style: Speaking at Design Conferences

Interaction designer Cameron Moll of the blog Authentic Boredom shares a relevant list of do’s and don’ts concerning presentation creation and delivery. For those, like myself, who are not born presenters, presenting a topic in a legato manner requires artistic levels of skill.

Cameron’s emphasis on striving for “meaty content” resulting in a “more advanced” presentation takes a lot of time, matched by an investment of effort. Design writer and critic Rick Poynor would agree: “Unlike just turning up on the day with a ready-made PowerBook slide show of greatest hits, thematic talks require extensive research and hours of hard work putting it together. Speakers who don’t have something fresh to deliver and the writing or presentational skills to make it interesting shouldn’t be up there on stage taxing our patience.” Content is often deemed the king, or queen, and its rule is empathy.

Having worked in litigation, I observed attorneys manically prepare their presentations before jury, judge and—though not direct participants—the gallery. Every exhibit, whether as a digital slide or fragment of video, was mined and massaged in detail. Every transition seamless. The lead legal presenter, typically the partner, had a team of diligent associates to generate compelling content and braid a persuasive string of dots. The task is necessarily more difficult with a single presenter who acts as a team of one (i.e., writer, editor, typographer, orator, and subject matter expert). Ensuring a generous amount of lead-time (a few months before arrival) makes the final presentation material better, and not a turnkey version.

Among his tips for Equipment, Cameron exclusively promotes Keynote. Though I’m not an avid user of Apple’s presentation tool, my few impressions are that it handles presentations with elegance. I respect the dogma about using a specific tool, but I’ve always been preaching the dogma of “Use whatever tool is comfortable with you.” I mean other software, like PowerPoint (yes, PowerPoint) or InDesign. Granted that each software application has their constraints concerning typographic layout and control, the presenter ultimately controls the aesthetics of their content.

Cameron’s tips on presenting good content can help design gatherings move forward, as mentioned in a previous posting. I’ll be referring to them for my upcoming small talk.

As a new conference year begins, have a good presentation if you’re a speaker. And if you’re attending a conference, have a good presentation.