My colleague Gwyn and I have just returned from Krakow, Poland, where we gave our Sword of Integration talk. It was the best presentation we have given so far, both in terms of how well we feel we delivered it, and the feedback we got from the audience. So I wanted to share with you some of the ideas and techniques that we used to create, and rehearse the presentation.
Gwyn did the initial talk in 2008 at the London XP day (I was unable to attend) as a 5 minute lighting talk. He showed how to create an integration token from paper in under 5 minutes. This got good reception, and Rachael Davis asked to use the idea of the sword in her upcoming book on Agile coaching.
This gave us the idea that there was something here worth building into a full talk. The first thing we decide was that the presentation was going to be fun. Fun to give, and fun to listen to. This meant it had to include making the sword as part of the presentation, and what could be more fun than a full sword fight, live on stage?
From here it was a simple matter of finding a general theme: “Low tech practices to extend agile” and collecting as many of the things we had learned that fit into this theme, and building short acting sketches round each of them.
We ran the acting sketches initially as improv sketches between the two of us, then refined them to tell a story. We both have experience of performance arts (Gwyn has done improvisation comedy, and I have a background of acting school and dance performances), so we were both used to the idea of rehearsals, and of adapting things on the fly.
Then we ran the presentation several times back in London, once just to ourselves, and once to the rest of the company, to see if they liked it.
The talk also contains a few mini lecture parts. We have a lot of conversations about how to present these. Stories work best. I like to think of a real example where the subject I’m talking about came up, and tell it in the form of a story. A beginning, a middle and an end.
The final part, which we do every time we run the presentation, is to do a full rehearsal of all the acting parts. We either do this the night before, or in the final few hours before the talk. In Poland we did both. This serves three purposes. It caches the material in short term memory, it reminds each of us of the cues we have for when to start talking, and it builds trust between us that we remember our parts. For me rehearsals are also a time to make all the mistakes
Finally we script the very beginning of the talk. This means that there is little chance of getting stage fright in the first few minutes – or until the initial rush of adrenaline has passed.
Now we have done the talk together several times. We are building up a good understanding and trust. We both know each others parts, so if we one of us starts to falter, the other can jump in. The best bit is that the audience doesn’t know who was meant to say what, and so doesn’t suffer.
The best part of giving a talk that the audience likes so much is the feedback. The feedback we got this time was amazing. I had a wonderful warm feeling reading the positive comments on twitter afterwards, and we have been invited to present the talk in Bucharest and Kiev.