Monday, September 14, 2015

Design Patterns for Speakers: Review of Dan Roam's Show and Tell

If I had to describe Dan Roam's book Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations (Amazon link), it would be:
Design Patterns for Speakers
I have to thank David Neal (@reverentgeek) for turning me on to this book. This is the result of one of the hallway conversations from That Conference.

Design Patterns
Here's the reason I compare this book to software design patterns. Design patterns are one of those things that programmers are already using, even if they don't realize it. But once we understand what those patterns are, we can start to use them more intentionally.

That was my experience reading this. I recognized some of the patterns in my own presentations, but I also saw a lot of places for refinement.

Four Storylines
Roam explores four different types of presentations: The Report, The Explanation, The Pitch, and The Drama.

And once he dives a bit deeper into each of these, I start to see the patterns in my own presentations. Primarily, I've been working with The Explanation and The Pitch.

For example, most of my talks that describe a technical topic, like Interfaces or Lambda Expressions, fall into pattern of The Explanation. These are designed to start out with what we already know and build step-by-step from there.

Some of my other talks are examples of The Pitch, including Clean Code and Unit Testing Makes Me Faster. Rather than explaining a technology, these are designed to encourage us to change our behavior.

The Details
Entire sections are spent on each of these storylines, as well as the PUMA model (I won't go into details of PUMA -- you need some reason to read the book).

And this is where I started to find places for improvement. Even though I was following the basic storylines in my talks, there are ways that I can handle the details a little differently to make them more effective.

And this is where I go back to the similarity to design patterns: now that I understand the patterns, I can start to use them more intentionally.

I'll stick in this gem from the final thoughts on The Explanation:
There is no such thing as a boring topic. There is only boring teaching.
And there's tons of great advice on how to make things engaging.

Looking for Improvement
Based on what I've read, I'm going to start reviewing my presentations. For example, I recognized a lot of the PUMA elements in my Clean Code presentation. My next step is to really review the talk (by watching this video) and picking out the elements one at a time. With that information, I will take a look at how I can re-order and enhance certain parts. The ultimate goal (just like with writing code) is constant improvement.

Challenge to Try Something New
One of the things that I've been thinking about a lot lately is Becoming a Social Developer (in case you missed it). In fact, one of the big things that I'm working on is a conference talk on the subject.

Originally, I was thinking that this would fall into The Pitch storyline. But after more consideration, I think The Drama is much better. This would change the way that I tell the story -- rather than starting with my eye-opening experience (like I often do when talking to other folks about this (because it seems the most exciting to me)), I should really start out with my low point -- how I was the loner at the conference for many years.

From the people I've talked to, I know that I'm not alone in this experience. Starting off with this helps build the idea of "you are not alone". Then moving to the discovery, the success, and (hopefully) the inspiration to see the world a bit differently and try things out for yourself.

Interestingly enough, this is roughly the pattern used in my original article, but I haven't been using it when talking to developers about it. It was really eye-opening to start examining these storylines to see how I can be more effective in my presentations.

And this has also convinced me that "Becoming a Social Developer" would make a great opening keynote for any developer event. If you'd like to help me with this, drop me a note on the website: Becoming a Social Developer.

[Update June 2016: I presented "Becoming a Social Developer" at NDC Oslo (read more or watch the video).]

A major part of the book is about how to tell your story with visually -- more specifically, with drawings. And this is what David Neal was talking about when he introduced me to Roam's approach.

I've been thinking about how to incorporate this into my presentations as well. I'll probably start off small and work my way up. But David talked about how he's been really successful with the drawings that he uses in his presentations. (And I've seen one of his presentations, and it is very engaging.) I'm looking forward to exploring this a bit more.

Wrap Up
I highly recommend Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations by Dan Roam for anyone doing presentations. I'm approaching this from someone who regularly does technical presentations, but this is useful for any type of presentation.

I really like these patterns. Now that I know about them, I can start to use them more intentionally.

Happy Speaking!

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