Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'speaking'


Yesterday I took a few days off to fly out to Indianapolis to provide the keynote for the annual Start With Art event run by the Arts Council Of Indianapolis. Many thanks to Dave Lawrence for the kind invitation.

The event I spoke at was a luncheon attended by 1000 people which included awards given out to local artists and community leaders, a speech from the First Lady Of Indianapolis, and some musical performances. My keynote wrapped up the two hour event.

My presentation focused on the intersection between art and community, and the many similar driving forces behind both. Art is meant to be created, distributed, shared, and enjoyed, and communities are a wonderful way to infuse artists with opportunity. Likewise creativity is the backbone of great community.

My presentation touched on a number of experiences and take-aways from my experience as both an artist (citing examples of Severed Fifth and LugRadio) and a community manager (covering Ubuntu) and a set of general lessons and conclusions that I have learned over the years. Although I had never been to a Start With Art event before, and was a little nervous as I didn’t really know the audience, the presentation was well received.

I love speaking, and I love meeting new people at the events I speak at, but I have to admit, this event felt different to most.

I must confess that I didn’t have a particularly large scope of knowledge about what the Arts Council Of Indianapolis actually do, but the opening remarks included a range of announcements of new areas of focus and work that the organization are working on as well as updates about existing programs. The council highlights artists, provides funding campaigns, released a local crowd-funding portal to connect donors to artists, built a central arts website for ticket and performance information and more. The strong overriding message I got from all of this was that they are doing everything they can to make Indy a national example of a thriving arts eco-system.

The level of passion that I experienced today from the organizers, attendees, and sponsors was inspiring. They are clearly charting a course for Indianapolis to be to arts that Nashville is to music and Silicon Valley is to technology. The core takeaway from my presentation was that great communities succeed when united around a mission, and the organizers from the Arts Council Of Indianapolis and their community leaders are a thundering example of this sense of purpose. They are not just talking about how to improve the arts in Indianapolis, they are making it happen, and the event today was a strong testament to their efforts.

A truly inspiring trip, and many thanks to everyone at the Arts Council Of Indianapolis for taking such good care of me while I was in town. Indianapolis is an awesome city, and it is wonderful to know that the arts community is in such good hands.

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On Friday I will be traveling to Portland, Oregon to run the Community Leadership Summit 2012 this weekend and then join OSCON the following week. While I will be dipping into some sessions and meeting folks at the two events, I also use these events as an opportunity to coordinate and schedule meetings while at the conference venue.

If you want to have a meeting with me while I am in Portland, please drop me an email. My schedule is starting to fill up, but happy to meet if we can make it work.

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I had an interesting, fairly personal experience today and a resulting lesson that I wanted to share.

Earlier today I gave one of the opening keynotes at OSCON. It was 15 minutes long, and it was OK. While I didn’t consider it a bad talk, it wasn’t what I would consider my best work.

Immediately after the presentation I gave my second talk, which was 40 minutes long, and I was very happy with the results. A filled room of folks seemed to find the talk useful and there were plenty of questions. I did consider that some of my better work.

So in a nutshell, my 15 minute keynote felt OK and my 40 minute talk felt solid.

Something was bothering me much of the day about why this was.

My dissatisfaction was not with the execution of the keynote, I felt I was reasonably vibrant and articulate in the way I presented, but I was less happy with the content and the structure. It felt to me that not enough of the rubber hit the road.

I have been giving talks at conferences around the world for over twelve years. I have prided myself in striving to deliver useful content but wrapping it up in a loose and entertaining style, and providing plenty of anecdotes to identify with the audience. Twelve years in, I felt pretty confident that I had this presentation-business down pat. I felt like I had cut my teeth, paid my dues, and made all the mistakes I needed to make to get the art of delivering a solid presentation down.

I am an idiot.

As a bit of background, when I started preparing the content for my keynote, the content and the structure was something I really battled with. This was a different type of keynote; it was more along the lines of a lightning talk in terms of duration, but it had the gravitas of a keynote. It needed to be thought-provoking and set the stage for discussions elsewhere at OSCON. But I needed to do this in a short burst of time, and make it feel like an experience that people could identify with. I had my message; I believe that we are at the beginning of a renaissance in community management, but I found the shorter nature of the presentation and it’s position as a keynote really challenging, and more-so than I expected.

After delivering the keynote and in thinking about this and talking to some close friends, I came to some conclusions, and it is these conclusions that I wanted to share. If you are a presenter some of these thoughts might be useful in how you think about your own presentations too.

Firstly, my presentation style has always been story orientated; I build up a context, provide some tension in that context, and then deliver an outcome that strives to relieve the tension and provide insight. As such there is a certain amount of set up and context building that gets the audience up the curve, I then deliver the outcome and bring the audience back down over the curve and provide conclusions. This story-telling component takes time…valuable time in a short presentation.

Secondly, Steph Walli observed that there is a real skill in writing novels and a real but very different skill in writing short stories. I think this was really insightful. Short stories by definition need the story-telling to be more compact, and the finesse and skill is in delivering the same smooth set-up and transition of events, but with fewer keyframes thrown into the mix.

As such, my conclusion here is that I like to tell stories, and my presentations always comprise of telling stories, but my career so far has far been from the perspective of a novellist as opposed to a short-story writer. I believe this was illustrated today when my longer talk felt more natural and more me, yet the keynote felt personally more awkward, and less me. While I am confident in my skills in delivering a 30 or 40 minute presentation, I discovered today that delivering a shorter presentation that needs to have the same or greater level of gravitas requires a very different and distinctive set of skills, and I want to aquire them.

To be completely clear, none of this is at the fault of OSCON and O’Reilly, I have no issue with 15 minute keynotes, and they put on one heck of a great conference. Everyone has been so supportive and wonderful to me. I am delighted they gave me an opportunity to get up and speak and I feel even more grateful that my experience has now helped me to learn something new about myself, and a new area to focus, even after I had been down the presentation road so many times before and I thought I knew what I needed to know.

It turns out that this old dog still needs to learn some new tricks, and I am now switching gears to learn how to do this. Thoughts and advice all welcome! :-)

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I just wanted to let you good people of the Internet know that I will be delivering a brand new talk entitled Unwrapping The Community Manager at OSBC in San Francisco at 11.40am on Thu 18th March 2010.

In the presentation I will be deconstructing the role of community manager and discussing:

  • who needs a community manager?
  • what does the role involve?
  • where should he/she report?
  • what are requirements for improving the opportunity for success?
  • what are the risks?

I will also be sharing my experiences working with Ubuntu and other organizations. I hope to see some of you there!

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