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Presenting without slides

I tried something the weekend before last at the 3rd Mid-Atlantic Code Camp … I went slideless! I presented 3 sessions during the day and I did not have a single slide, not one, nada, nothing. The good news was the audience loved it. I took a few polls during the day and the response was definitely positive.

Pros:

  • Definitely an adhoc, adlib feel to the sessions – it was “real”. I even started the first session (The Tao of Test First Coding) by offering 3 choices of things we could build and opening the floor to other ideas – perhaps the audience hadn’t consumed enough caffeine by 9am to appreciate the dynamic nature but it was still fun – unfortunately the whole Tao thing was a little lost too. Not exactly the best idea to pair TDD (a process that takes a long while to truly grok) with an abstract concept like the Tao but I thought it was neat.
  • Less tedious preparation since I could just focus on the fun bits – the communication with the audience and the code.
  • Less conventional format – everyone seemed to wake up in their seats as if to say “Oi! What’s going on ‘ere?” – certainly got people’s attention!

Cons:

  • Difficult to convey essential information (the whiteboards were on the side of the room – no, the back row can’t see orange and it definitely takes longer to write things than to click Next)
  • No flow to fall back on. I tried to have the flow of the session mapped out on a piece of paper that I kept to myself but it was less intuitive than simply following a deck.
  • Nothing to post afterwards. I had a few people come to me afterwardsasking for slides sincethey had unfortunately missed the sessions – can’t help them a whole lot!
  • Hard to improve the session. Usually you improve your deck based on feedback – this will be tricky since the session becomes so adhoc it is difficult to remember format.

Conclusion:

I definitely enjoyed the format more since I enjoy process and thinking on my feet. The audience definitely preferred the code first approach and adhoc nature. I think I will continue this format but need to figure out how to structure an overview so that I can:

  • improve sessions over time
  • have something to give attendees who miss the show
  • keep some kind of structure

Next time you give a session, go slideless! It is fun.

Jonathan Cogley isthe CEO and founder of Thycotic Software, a .NET consulting company and ISV in Washington DC. Thycotic has just released Thycotic Secret Server which is a secure web-based solution to both “Where is my Hotmail password?” and “Who has the password for our domain name?”. Secret Server isthe leader in secret management and sharing within companies and teams.

  1. preishuber
    June 24, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    there is no 100% solution in the world.
    Presentetions without slides are “old” stuff. Don Box is doing it with vi or whatever but never with ppt.
    1) you must know 110 % of your topic and should never do that at the frist time per topic
    2) the risk running in problems or miss some important facts rises
    3) also if the audience love it, the benefit is less

    my suggest: dont present without slides to be cooler. Think about the audience, they need some visualization, what you are intend to do

  2. thycotic
    June 25, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Hannes,

    I think it definitely comes down to being prepared. Slides are usually a good way to prepare since they force you to think about the structure of your presentation – the content and the time available to deliver it. They provide a framework for putting together the presentation – not using slides makes it harder to get that framework feel.

    I saw a presenter use index cards a few weeks back with just penciled in notes – he spent about 4 minutes per index card and encourage debate on the topic. From time to time, he stepped up to draw abstract ideas out on a paperpad. It seemed to go well but didn’t have much sparkle since (almost) everything was verbal. He did have structure and content though.

    Thanks for reading.

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