patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

Category: Presentation Support

My Personal Productivity Tools

Everyone has their favourite tools for getting the job done. In this post, I want to share some of my favourite pieces of software and how I use them.

For Presentations

I start with an abstract or outline with a simple markdown editor like MacDown (OS). Markdown gives me enough formatting to play with structure and messaging. When I’m happy with this, I use Keynote to prepare the slides. Magic Move transition is the killer app for presentations.

I have an account with The Noun Project for imagery, and use Inkscape (OS) to format and edit the icons. I also rely heavily on another image editor, Gimp (OS). I feel Gimp has more versatility than Inkspace, particularly with photo editing.

For Reading

I like to read books in the real world, but when using my Kindle, I use Calibre to manage my e-books. Refind is super helpful for saving links to find later while I use Pocket to save links to read offline. Feedly plays a big role helping me manage my RSS feeds and plugs straight into Pocket.

My normal workflow looks like this. During short commutes, I browse through Feedly and save interesting articles to Pocket. I   sync the Pocket app before I head to an airport, or hop on a train with limited connectivity. I also save interesting reading material via Refind and Pocket when I’m at a computer.

For Writing

When I started my blog in in 2004 (more than a decade!), I chose WordPress out of all the blogging platforms. I’m very happy with my choice. WordPress outgrew its competition such as Movable Type, Typepad, JRoller, and LiveJournal. I started to use  Hemingway Editor this year for writing, and rely on Flickr (CC) for imagery. ImageOptim is my go-tool for optimising images for the web.

I use Twitter’s native mobile applications and then Tweetdeck for the laptop. I used Tweetdeck long before Twitter acquired them. 

I make heavy use of the Mac/iOS Notes apps to capture ideas and write drafts because it syncs so well across devices. It’s simple enough to jot ideas down where I am and expand on them when I find time to write.

For Everyday Use

I happily use KeePassX as my password generator and manager, syncing to my devices. It syncs well with KeePass Touch on the phone and provides enough usability for me. I also like the control it gives me by not trusting a third party to store this in the cloud. I rely heavily on Google Docs/Sheets for general office administration. I then switch to OpenOffice when I need to work with documents or spreadsheets offline.

Skype and Slack play and almost daily role with me. I use a combination of Stickies and Trello for my personal backlog.

Conclusion

Everyone has their favourite tools that make them effective. These are the ones that I draw upon all the time. What are your favourite tools that you use on a regular basis?

Three tips to become a public speaker

I am grateful that I have had a chance to do a lot of public speaking. Speaking at conferences and user groups has many benefits: You meet new people, you are introduced to different ideas, you often get to visit new places, and share your own ideas and experiences. I am particularly thankful for many wonderful memories where people have come up to me, sometimes years later, to mention they saw a talk of mine and thanked me for sharing my knowledge and experiences.

Over the years, I have also helped many people with their own personal journey of speaking at conferences or events. I found myself repeating several tips that, in this blog, I want to share with you.

1. You have something to say

People early on in their speaking journey often throw this statement up as their first mental hurdle:

“I have nothing to say”

What’s fascinating about this statement is the assumption that everyone has heard and learned everything there is in our industry. Considering that the technology industry is constantly evolving with its tools, platforms, languages and practices, there will always be someone who hasn’t been exposed to some idea or some experience. Everyday there are more and more people coming into technology, each with a different background, and there will be something they have not read, listened to, or learned yet.

You have an opportunity to share your own lessons learned. You do not need to be the expert, and you do not need to be a person who has invented an idea to share your own knowledge. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and as long as you attribute other people’s ideas, you should not worry about this.

For ideas for talk topics, consider:

  • What problem did you solve in own environment, that others might learn from?
  • Have you applied a certain technique/approach in a context where it is not so usual?
  • In learning a new tool, framework or practice, what lessons and traps did you discover along the way?
  • With a repeated experience, or practice, have you uncovered some general principles that work for you?
  • Is there something that you found difficult to find information on the Internet? If you can’t find it, it’s likely that others cannot as well.

As I wrote in a previous post about preparing a proposal for a conference, experience is super valuable and attached to a relevant topic, or a slightly different spin about a technique or tool, you can offer others a different perspective, and insight.

Everyone has something interesting to say. Find a friend, a coach, or a mentor to bounce ideas off and see if there is an interesting experience you can share.

2. Start off small

I don’t know anyone who started their public speaking career by launching into a keynote, or presenting at one of the largest or most popular conferences in their industry. Agile software development teaches us to start small, gather feedback and learn to adapt and refine your talk.

Practice makes perfect – An age-old maxim.

I recommend first-time speakers start small, and practice giving their talks to groups as depicted in the below diagrams.

A lunch and learn (sometimes called brown bag) tend to be one of the smallest and safest places to practice your talk. Often held at a lunch-time, a lunch and learn talk often doesn’t require as much polish or preparation as other types of talks. You also have the benefit of knowing some of people who might attend, giving you a chance to get objective feedback to help you improve. Pro-tip: Ask some people attending in advance if they can give you feedback, so they can give you more specific and concrete observations as feedback.

As you gather feedback from a lunch and learn, you might then look to find a relevant user group to host your talk. A user group tends to be more formal than a lunch and learn, but are still often informal groups where you can test your talk for flow, and even discuss the talk with people who hang-around after a conference. This is a super-valuable source of seeing if you communicated your ideas successfully.

Rather than targeting a large conference, look for a smaller conference (<300 people) to submit your talk to. A smaller conference might have trouble attracting more well-known speakers, and give you less competition in submitting and getting accepted. See my tips for submitting a proposal here. You may be happy keeping to smaller conferences as you build up experience and confidence in presenting your topic. Smaller conferences offer you a number of experiences: Stepping on stage without being overwhelmed by a faceless crowd, or feeling like you can chat to people in between sessions rather than at a convention of 800+ people.

Once you master these smaller conferences, you might start to get invites or be accepted into a larger conference. These conferences are often multi-stage, or multi-day conferences which tests your ability to really perform on stage and appeal to a much broader group.

Finally, and it’s definitely not necessarily for everyone, you may even get an invite to keynote a conference. I am a big believer that keynotes are slightly different from your average conference talk. I see these as talks that should be inspirational, introduce a different idea to an audience and have a different feeling compared to other talks at the same conference. A really good keynote should be difficult to pull off, because it draws upon both your speaking experience and skills but also challenges the audience with a different perspective.

3. Discover your own style

Like many activities, public speaking draws upon many different skills and experiences. Everyone has a different approach to composing and telling their presentations, and it is this variety which keeps conferences stimulating. Over time, with more practice, you will discover your own style that resonates with your audience.

In the meantime, I recommend the following books to help you prepare:

  • Presentation Zen (Reynolds) – Written by the person who worked alongside Steve Jobs for his famous apple keynotes and provides plenty of advice for composing and designing the presentation.
  • slide:ology (Duarte) – Another great book that explores the difference of presenting information via slide decks versus other forms of documentation as well as many recommendations about effective techniques.
  • Presentation Patterns (Ford, McCullough, Schutta) – The authors of this book are well-seasoned technical conference speakers and they draw upon the ideas of patterns and anti-patterns to describe and catalogue common advice and pitfalls for the first-time conference speaker.

As you build your experience with public speaking, and you really listen to your audience and feedback, you will discover your own style that works for you, and audiences will appreciate your authenticity.

Conclusion

Developing public speaking skills takes time and effort, but if you follow these the three tips above, you’ve got a good chance at starting on the right track.

Need Colours for Presentations

Here are a few websites I tend to use:

Leave a comment to tell me your favourite.

Flags of the World Site

This is a useful site for finding flags for countries that I used for my last presentation

SVG 2 Key Presentation Tool Support

Although clipart has a bit of a bad reputation with the Office suite of products, I used to use them a lot and decompose them into reusable shapes. Keynote doesn’t have as much of these prepared, and you’re often forced to resort to lossy formats such as GIF or JPG. Fortunately I found that a cool tool called svg2Key that converts SVGs as made available by OpenClipart to a format that is Keynote friendly.

Updated: 10 September 2012

It looks like the svg2key tool doesn’t work on Mac lion. The alternative I found was another tool made available called svg2keynote

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