Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ignite Seattle! Tonight

Tonight is Ignite Seattle 6, the latest in a series of collections of short talks by varied speakers on topics at least vaguely of interest to geeks. I am slated to give a talk on "The Psychology of Incompetence". This has turned out to be basically an extended humorous rant on unrecognized incompetence embedded in the software industry. It'll be interesting to see how well I can perform it and how well it plays to the audience.

The Ignite format was an interesting experience to work with. The rule is that you turn in 20 slides, which will advance automatically every 15 seconds, giving you time for exactly a 5-minute talk with no opportunity to slow down, speed up, or start over. It seems to be a relatively new rule that "no notes" are allowed on stage. Maybe that's just to weed out people who weren't going to rehearse at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't hear about and apply for this Ignite until the last possible moment, so by the time I was notified that my talk was accepted, that left only a few days before the slides were due. My luck running true to form, that was the exact moment I started coming down with the stupid influenza. If Paula hadn't jumped in to help make the slides, I would have failed to deliver.

It was an interesting interative process, and probably my process was different that what many would use. First, I had to write a script that I could verifiably perform within 5 minutes. I was surprised to realize that 5 minutes of talking was little more than one sheet of paper. Then I had to recite the script and mark the slide boundaries. Then slides had to be made that at least roughly corresponded to what was being said at the time.

By that time, slides were due, so they were essentially set in stone even though I had not started serious rehearsing. Rehearsing showed problems. Too much material was crammed into 5 minutes, requiring a rapid pace that allowed no space for audience laughter and, worse, no recovery time if I made even the slightest stumble. Unable to change the slides at that point, I just had to mercilessly edit the script to create a reasonable amount of slack.

Only by yesterday did I get the final tuned script complete. Unfortunately, I'm prone to losing my voice and have entered the coughing phase of the influenza, so I had to stop rehearsing, except for a couple final run-throughs just before going to sleep (to give my brain the hint that that's what it should be moving to longer-term storage while I was asleep).

Today, I'll do a small amount of shuffle rehearsing: pick a random slide and start the talk at that point. The goal being that even if I have the complete disaster of a coughing fit or being unable to remember entire lines, I can hopefully get going again. Then I'll gird myself with dextromethorphan and plastic bag (rebreathing quickly opens the carotid, moving more oxygen to the brain) and head out to give it the old college try. What could possibly go wrong?