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| Journal | The Personal Disquiet of Mark Boulton

The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Blog Category: speaking

My Do Lecture

In April 2013, I spoke at the Do Lectures in West Wales.

The video of my talk, about embracing change, is now available to watch.

I’ve written about being at the Do Lectures before; it’s a special place, an intimidatingly smart audience, and generally freezing. This video doesn’t do justice to how cold I was there up on the stage. Should’ve worn my coat.

If you fancy attending – some would say – a life-changing little conference, Do are running an event in Australia in April. Do yourself a favour and grab a ticket.

Filed in: Speaking, Dolectures, Process. on December 22nd, 2013

Conference organiser tips (from a speaker's perspective)

Following on from my post about speaker and audience tips, I thought I’d also share a few tips for conference organisers from a speaker’s perspective.

I’ve spoken at well over fifty events over the past few years to upwards of about four thousand people. Along the way, I’ve had mixed experiences of what it’s like to speak at conferences big and small. Mostly, of course, the experience has been great. Organisers are lovely people, who work extremely hard and appreciate you being there and look after you well. But, as always, the devil is in the detail. If you’re thinking about organising a conference this coming year, maybe bear some of these details in mind.

  1. Logistics. Well in advance, give the speakers the logistical details; who’s meeting them at the airport, where they’re staying and for how long, what time the parties are, what other commitments they have etc. If you don’t have them, let them know you don’t have them yet and that you haven’t forgotten them.

  2. Pay them. Even if it’s a small amount, but especially if your conference is for profit and relies on the quality of their talks to sell tickets. Of course, travel expenses should be covered. Now, this may not apply to some ‘community’ conferences with many, many speakers. But, for most, it applies.

  3. Arrange travel. Book their flights (and make sure you ask for their frequent flyer number), pick them up from the airport, ferry them around if need be. They’re not to be pampered, but don’t underestimate peoples anxiety in foreign countries.

  4. Put them in a nice hotel. Again, consider the details. Make sure the hotel has confirmed the booking, and they know when the speaker is expected to arrive. Once, when arriving late at a conference hotel, I was told I didn’t have a room and ended up sleeping in a meeting room on a makeshift bed for the night.

  5. Confirm with them the pre and post talk events. Is there a speaker’s dinner? If so, where, when, what time (and where) is everyone meeting.

  6. Sound and technical check. A lot of speakers like to get this out of the way before their talk. They will want the name of the person they need to report to – either a stage manager, or a conference volunteer – in order to sort that out.

  7. Dongles. Make sure you have every known projector dongle available. People lose them all the time. Also, spare clickers and batteries is a good idea. Most speakers will be well-prepared and carry their own, but just in case.

  8. Tea. This is personal. Not everyone drinks coffee, and I would like tea at my breaks.

  9. Alcohol. Again, this is personal, but not everyone likes a piss-up. So, the after party should not necessarily be at a club where you can’t hear yourself think with as much free spirits as you can drink. Consider attendees may want to talk amongst themselves in a grown-up setting after a long day sat down. We’re not all party-animals.

  10. Green rooms. It’s important that speakers have somewhere to go and work, or cram their slides, or be by themselves with their nerves. This is very important for me. Last thing I want to do before I go on is mingle. I’m generally nervous and want to focus on the job at hand. It has been known for me to hide in the toilets for a while.

  11. Rights. Don’t ask for exclusive rights over speaker’s content. This happens, and increasingly so, actually. A conference will explicitly say that you are not allowed to talk about the same stuff in other places. Nope. That will not do. A lot of speakers produce one or two talks for the entire year.

  12. Video. If you’re going to video me speaking, and charge for those videos of me and my content, you should explicitly ask me. Not because I’ll say no (not every time), but because it’s nice to be asked. And, sometimes, I may be talking about content which I want to actually use at a later date for myself in a filmed workshop, or talk.

  13. Get a good MC. If you have someone introducing each speaker – and you should – then make sure that person is energetic, funny, personable and just plain pleasurable to listen to.

  14. Have a stage monitor. I use scant notes in my talks, but the most important thing for me are my pace notes see point 14. If those notes are on my laptop screen all the way over on the lectern, it’s sometimes a bit unnatural for me to be flitting back and forth. It’s much better, if you can, to have a monitor on the front of the stage showing Keynote’s presenter display.

  15. Set the expectation for Q & A. If you plan on doing Q & A let everyone and the speaker know. If you don’t plan on it, then don’t – after the speaker has finished – say ‘thanks, Mark. So, any questions audience?’. Invariably there won’t be any, because nobody – including the speaker – was expecting it. Also: it’s generally a bit of a bum note after the rousing ending to a talk see point 11.

  16. Your conference is not your ego trip. Everybody, including the speakers, are incredibly grateful for the effort you’ve put in over the year to produce a great conference. But, chose a time and a place to thank people. In between each talk isn’t it. Also: my guess is that most people in the audience have bought tickets to hear what the speakers have to say, rather than as a favour to you.

  17. Your conference is not your platform. Building on point 16, I’ve been to a few conferences where there is an agenda – a point to be made by the organisers – either by who is speaking, or about what. If you have one, and that maybe fine, but please let speakers know before hand.

  18. Talk to your speakers about their content. This is important. Many speakers will not have their talk ready until right at the last minute (especially me). But, they will have a pretty good idea of what they will be talking about. Talk to them. design the conference and the material. Create an experience for the attendees on underlying threads in the talks. It’s my feeling attendees should feel like they’ve been to a show, than seen a collection of people speak. It should feel united.

  19. 360 Degree Feedback. As a speaker I’d welcome the opportunity to feedback to the conference organisers about the conference. Consider a method of gathering feedback from speakers.

  20. Feedback from the audience. Feedback on speaker’s talks is generally through Twitter, which is an almost immediate response and gauge on how you’ve done. Mostly, it’s a good tool in that regard. Other conferences use questionnaires. I find this a clumsy tool and metric on which to base a speaker’s performance. One glance at Twitter, and a few conversations in the hallway, should confirm to you if it was well-received or not. I welcome constructive feedback. I don’t welcome ‘I can’t understand this Englishman’s accent’, or ‘that was boring’. That’s not a conversation. It’s a verbal drive-by. I know people have quit speaking because of this type of ‘feedback’. It’s not helpful.

That’s it for now. It’s worth saying I’ve never organised a conference, but I do know how much time, effort and money it takes to do so. I’ve nothing but upmost respect for people who do. That said, I hope these few tips help in a little way if you’re thinking of giving a conference a go.

Filed in: Speaking, Conferences. on November 16th, 2013

Speaking and Audience tips

I’ve been speaking for a good few years now, and over that time, I’ve amassed a bunch of little tips and tricks I use to make it more of a pleasurable affair. This post was prompted by a colleague of mine, Nathan Ford, who, this morning, asked for some tips as he has a couple of speaking gigs lined up next year.

So, here we go. Some tips for speakers, and for audiences (from a speaker’s perspective).

  1. Smile. This is a fun thing to do and you are thrilled to be there (even if you want to vomit in your shoes at that point).

  2. Check your flies. You don’t want that breezy feeling half way through a code demo.

  3. Take off your lanyard. It can bang against your mike.

  4. Take off your earrings. If you have long, dangly ones they can interfere with headset microphones.

  5. Do a sound check and walk the stage. If it’s being filmed check for black spots on the stage and avoid them. Get comfortable with the size of the stage, especially if you plan on wandering around.

  6. Never apologise. You know your mistakes, your mistakes in your slides, things you forgot to say, technical issues. What the audiences doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt them.

  7. Make sure you have water. A bottle by the lectern is enough. But, don’t drink it all the way through your talk like some kind of nervous tick. It’s just there for emergencies.

  8. Use a good clicker. Check the batteries.

  9. Check your radio mike is off before you go for an emergency pee. You don’t want to do a Naked Gun.

  10. Don’t fall off the stage, but if you do, don’t acknowledge it. See point 5 to avoid this.

  11. Finish strong. Empower the audience. Encapsulate your main point in one sentence. That last sentence should stay with everyone. Pause. Then say ‘Thank you’. Then the crowd will clap.

  12. Don’t hide behind the lectern. It can feel like a barrier (or a safety net). Sometimes this is tricky if people are doing code demos or the like, but personally, I can feel like it’s a barrier between me and the audience.

  13. Gaffer tape! If you do stay behind the lectern, pack some gaffer tape in your bag. Lectern’s have a habit of having a small lip that Macbook Airs tend to ride ride over. On a number of occasions, I’ve had to tape my laptop to the lectern.

  14. Pace yourself. Put in pace notes in your slides. Just a simple 5:00 will do. Meaning, ‘At this point, I should be 5 minutes in’. This helps me know when to speed up, or fill. Plus, it’s a good barometer of your overall pace.

  15. Make your point, but don’t make it angrily. Passion can sometimes come across as shouty arrogance.

  16. Don’t say ‘can you hear me?’. If they can’t, they’ll let you know. Good sound crews will fade up your mike as you start speaking.

  17. Focus on your words more than your slides. Again, this maybe personal, but I’d rather listen to well considered points, than look at pretty slides.

  18. Find a friendly face in the first few rows. Try to block out the people looking angry, bored or just asleep. Yes, people fall asleep.

  19. If you finish early, don’t worry, it just means people get more coffee.

  20. Dress comfortably, not necessarily smartly. That doesn’t mean a suit, or a blazer, or a fancy dress. It means dress so you’re not thinking about your clothes. If you’re thinking about uncomfortable you are – for whatever reason – you’ll be off your game. People aren’t there to see what you have on, but what you have to say.

  21. Don’t sell yourself, your company or your product. It’s not the place. People will not listen and get angry.

  22. Questions and Answers. I’m not one for Q & A, but if there is, then make sure you repeat the question before answering it. Don’t take for granted everyone else has heard, plus, if your talk is being recorded, then listeners will need to hear it.

  23. Is it being recorded? If the talk is being recorded make sure, when referencing something visual, you also provide enough context over audio so that people listening understand. Less of ‘this thing over here’, more of ‘I’d like to draw your attention to the heading in this example’.

I think, above all else, remember that if you’re planning on speaking this coming year is to enjoy yourself. Yes, it’s stressful. You’ll be nervous, you’ll be thinking ‘why am I doing this?’, but there can be so much fulfilment in sharing your work with your peers. And, really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

And, now, if you’re attending a conference this coming year, then here are a few tips, from a speakers perspective, on how to get the best out of attending the actual talks.

Audience tips

  1. Be in the room. Personally, I’m not one for laptops, iPads or phones being on, but I understand people take notes on them. People also Photoshop pictures of the Queen and engage in Skype conversations with their mum. My guess is, these people aren’t listening.

  2. Try not to fall asleep. I get it. You’re tired, you were out late last night, it’s warm and dark. But, really, it’s quite off-putting if, as a speaker, you’ve spent weeks fretting over the next 45 minutes and some bloke is catching flies in the front row.

  3. Huddle up. Move along the row to the centre so people can get a seat.

  4. Don’t talk, or heckle. Only the most experienced speakers (and I don’t count myself in that group) can deal with that kind of interruption. Plus, it annoys the people around you.

  5. Be a friendly face. It means a lot to catch a friendly face in the audience. A disgruntled face can derail a speaker or a talk.

  6. Be on time. Get in your seat in plenty of time before the scheduled session.

  7. Listen and think before you tweet. I’d like to think people give talks the time to play out before forming an opinion. Sometimes, it can take 20 minutes for a speaker to make their major point.

Filed in: Speaking, Conferences. on November 15th, 2013

Beyond Tellerrand

This is eventual content for the speaking engagement

Filed in: speaking. on August 10th, 2012

2012 UX Bootcamps

I’m very excited to be running a Bootcamp again for UX Bootcamps in April next year. This year, it was great fun working alongside some talented UX-ers up their graphic design skills. And, considerable progress was made in just two days.

Alongside the Visual Design Bootcamp, there will be a Cognitive Psychology bootcamp in February with Joe Leech from CX Partners, and Information Architecture UX Bootcamp with Mags Hanley. Both of which, I’m sure, will be superb.

So, if you fancy any of them, tickets will be on sale from midday on 5th January 2012.

Filed in: design, ofinterest, speaking. on December 22nd, 2011

Web Directions & Typographic Structure

Last week I presented at Web Directions South 09 here in Sydney, Australia on Font Embedding and Typography. It’s a talk I gave at @media 09 in London over the summer. I enjoyed giving the presentation - despite AV problems which resulted in a ten minute reduction in time allowed and having to give the presentation without notes. But the show went on.

But despite that single hitch, Web Directions was quite possibly the best web conference I’ve been to. I was congratulating John and Maxine at a speakers BBQ on the Sunday following the conference, and it became evident it was down to their undying attention to every, single little detail, from the moment you register to the food you are served (which was excellent by the way). But the lasting memory for me was the buzz of the Australian web industry. It was very refreshing to visit a country not in recession and see an industry thriving on creativity rather than suffocating beneath a blanket of uncertainty.

But anyway, before this turns into a rant about politics, back to the presentation…

This was not a practical presentation full of hints and tips or a presentation about fonts. Or font embedding. Even though I touched on these two subjects briefly, this was a talk about typographic design and all of the aspects of the craft that I find important and how I relate to them in particular to this medium.

A core part of the presentation describes my understanding of typographic design and why font choice is only one of nine aspects that need to be considered when designing with type on the web. This is the third model of typographic design I’ve been working through now, and not only is it sticking, but as I’m beginning to explain it to other people, I’m not having to change it too much. It has almost passed the mother-in-law test. For me, it’s working as a way to explain what I do and I’d like to share it to get your thoughts.

Typographic Structure

Typographic design, as I understand it, involves nine elements:

Language

Language is entwined with typography. Type can be defined as the display and arrangement of language. As designers, we should care about this.

Typesetting

Typesetting is the process of taking raw text and marking it up. Making headings, lists, emphasised text etc.

Grid

The typographic grid is a foundation upon which layouts can be built.

Hierarchy

Conceptually, content has levels of importance. Typographically, Hierarchy visualises this.

Font

The font used to display the content.

Rhythm

How the arrangement and layout of the type aids reading.

Layout

Combining type with other graphic elements such as photographs, illustrations, video or other UI elements.

Colour

Colour, when discussed in typographic terms, can mean two things: red, green, blue etc. or dark or light typographic colour. Dark typographic colour is dense type—tight leading or line height, tight whitespace. Light typographic colour is the opposite.

Content

One of the unfortunate things on the web is that, generally, we’re designing not knowing what the content is. We have an idea of what the content might be, but when dealing with content management systems and the flow of data, it’s very difficult to know. But content is an important part of typographic design and this connection is one of the casualties of the web standards mantra of separating content and presentation. When we do that, it’s very difficult to tell stories with design.

Here’s a diagram:

Typographic Structure

As you can see, your choice of font only plays a small part in the overall typographic considerations. Of course, on the web, we’ve had our choices here limited to the point of almost removing the element of choice. And don’t forget that a number of these elements are also completely in the hands of the user to change at their will.

My point is this: font choice is only part of what makes good typographic design. The limitations that have been imposed on us—with only a hand full of fonts guaranteed on user’s machines—have nurtured fairly good typographic craft on the web. Generally, we care about the content; we mark it up with the correct intended hierarchy; some us care about typesetting ampersands, or bulleted lists. I’m not sure that the same level of care and attention is employed by some of our print cousins (and I say this having spent quite a few years on that side of the fence). Why is this? Well, designers are like magpies; we get distracted by the shiny.

When I was in university, I sent off for every type specimen sheet I could get my hands on. I pestered everyone from Monotype to Emigré. Receiving the canvas bags stuffed with font supplements from T26 was certainly a highlight of my first year. Why? Well, firstly, type supplements are normally beautiful things. They didn’t necessarily make me look at type any differently, but they made me want to collect type. I’m sure that mindset isn’t that rare in anyone who cares about type, but it’s a mindset that leads to a shallow understanding of the broader craft. You get distracted by the next beautiful typeface. You’re constantly on the search for the typeface that is just right.

Font choice is not the most important decision you make when designing with type. On the web, currently, it is way down on the list because of the constraints of the medium. With commercial font embedding just around the corner, we stand on the edge of an incredibly exciting time for the typographic web. In eighteen months time, I think the web will be starting to look very different. And about time too, but let’s not get distracted by the shiny.

Filed in: design, speaking, typography. on October 18th, 2009

A roundup of speaking

This year has been a pretty full-on year so far on the speaking front. What, with one thing another, I haven’t been linking them up. My bad. So, if you’ll indulge me, over the course of the next few days or so, I’ll be writing about them, posting links to the presentations in Slideshare. At least from what I can remember.

This post will act as a kind of index for the speaking i’ve done this year, but I’ll also link things up on my brand new ‘speaking’ page.

Filed in: design, speaking. Additional: speaking on October 4th, 2009