Slidecraft updates

Posted on Fri 13 December 2019 in blog

I’ve been doing public talks and presentations rather frequently for the last 10-or-so years, but this year I made significant changes to my process for creating, rehearsing, and presenting talks.

What I used to do

When I started doing talks a while back, I followed an approach that many of us were at some point either taught, or adopted by emulating our peers:

  • I would roughly sketch an outline,

  • then I’d create slides (usually on a company or conference template),

  • then I’d add some speaker notes in bullet-point fashion,

  • then I’d rehearse the talk,

  • and finally I’d refine my content based on whether I was short or long in terms of the available time slot.

That’s a very conventional approach, and it tends to focus very much on getting the slides right.

Today I do things differently.

What I do now

I’ve come to the conclusion that what I really want my audience to focus on is what I am talking about. So now, I do this:

  • I still start with a rough — very rough — outline.

  • Next though, I write my speaker notes. All of them. Yes, that means I write out my entire talk, and this may well take days.

  • Then, I do a first practice run. Is there a good natural flow? Will it make sense to someone completely unfamiliar with my topic? Is the story I’m telling logical?

  • Then, I edit. This process of alternating rehearsal and edits continues until I’m reasonably happy with the whole talk, and I have timed it and am happy with my pacing, too.

  • Only then do I start creating my slides, and I usually completely disregard conference templates, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

Yes, that means that when I ultimately deliver the talk, I’m actually reading from my notes. Except when I’m just riffing and ad-libbing over them. Chances are, unless you know me very well, you’ll be unable to tell. That’s because I write my notes like I talk, and I pay more attention to flow and stress and rhythm than I do to grammar and exactitude. This talk, just like this, and this were all delivered from fully written speaker notes.

Fully writing out my talk has also enabled me to greatly reduce my use of fillers (like “ah” and “um”), which I used to say excessively and which would make me cringe at my talk videos.

Accessibility

Now to explain why I normally disregard conference templates: In preparing and delivering my talks, I try to put a greater emphasis on accessibility that I used to before.

  • my slides are now all high-contrast. I default to using black text on a white background (this is a good default for when I have reason to assume the projection equipment will be less than perfect), alternatively I use white text on a black background (for darkened rooms).

  • I try to accommodate people with the most common types of color blindness: I use blue — as opposed to red or green – as my highlight color, and in charts, I differentiate by both color and line stroke. I also try to refrain from using animations. As for slide transitions, I use only fade, no motion.

  • I publish my slides ahead of time, include a QR code at the very beginning, and I use reveal.js Multiplex so that my slides advance in unison with those one people’s phones, tablets, or laptops. This way, people with less-than-perfect vision (or simply seated in an unfortunate spot, at the back of the room) can follow along easily and and their own preferred zoom level.

  • Since my speaker notes are fully written out, this means that I can also include them in the published material, so that my notes can act as subtitles for my speaking. This can come in handy to people who are hard of hearing, or who are simply unaccustomed to my accent or manner of speech.

I’ve rolled these accessibility considerations into my opinionated, Cookiecutter-based reveal.js presentation generator.

A request

If you happen to be visually impaired, or color blind, or hard of hearing, or you work with people who are – in other words, if you can make a suggestion for me to improve the accessibility of my slides, please file an issue against my Cookiecutter and I’ll try to work that in as best I can. Thank you!