Performance

In preparation for Tuesday’s talk, this weekend, I’ve been working on a demo application that I’ll be teaching everyone to build. While the app—and the in-person tutorial—are most-definitely the centerpiece, I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about the “show” around the tutorial. Safe to say, the majority of tech talks are boring. While the immediate point of a technical talk is to teach the audience something, not adding a bit of finesse to that teaching feels like a missed opportunity.

Something I’ve always paid close attention to is the way that someone delivers an idea. The idea itself is important, but what I’ve found to be more important is how an idea is presented. When someone—a speaker, a musician, etc—takes the time to focus on the details of a presentation, it stands out. Not only that, but it makes the idea they’re trying to convey stickier. A solid joke bookending a technical explanation makes it more likely that someone will recall it later (or at the very least, the presenter). Arguably, not paying attention to the details is a slap in the face to the people who took the time to come see you.

Also wrapped up in this is the rehearsal. Even if just once before a performance takes place, you can always tell the person who practiced and the person who fudged it. When it comes to my own performances, I always make note to spend time doing two things: practicing my own talk and watching others practice their own performances. A favorite pastime of mine is watching musicians rehearse (tonight’s background noise is Michael Jackson’s This Is It).

Though I’m a bit biased (I’ve been a devotee since I was in junior high school), the musician topping my list for this is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. If you’ve ever been to a Nine Inch Nails show, you’ll know that it’s one of the best-produced things you’ve ever witnessed. The lights, the timing, and the music noticeably have a significant amount of thought backing them.

Something I’ve learned from Trent’s approach is that it’s okay to be fussy. You only get one shot, so you should get it as tight as humanly possible. It’s not uncommon to see Reznor throw a tantrum when someone on his crew screws up. Rightfully so. When you only get one night per city to blow people away, a mistake should have a damn good reason for existing; certainly not carlessness. While a tech talk is far less likely to be cobbled than an arena-sized concert, being prepared ensures that any snags are truly an act of chance and not your own negligence.

Leading up to my flight tomorrow evening, I’ll be doing a few run throughs and tightening the screws on my delivery. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this time will ensure that the final delivery goes off without a hitch. It will, though, allow me to walk into a room with—potentially—one of the biggest audiences I’ve ever spoken to with confidence. It will also give the folks there something to remember and a reason to come see me speak in the future.