Saturday, February 12, 2011

4. Hitting the Open Stage

I spoke after a wacky (Games:) session where Steffen Walz came on stage singing a song and spoke about gamification. The games people were naturally a less subdued bunch, as we had the affable Etienne Mineur speak about books as a computer platform, along with David Calvo's truly poetic talk on going beyond transmedia.


My Open Stage talk was pretty surreal. We were requested to send the powerpoint slides 4 days ahead of time for loading into the master system. So, I regretfully did not have the chance to subtly tweak the slides as sometimes I like to in order to complement the meta discussion of a conference. During the lunch break before the session, the stage manager gave me a run-through of the physical layout, noting what each screen meant, the chronology of events, and most importantly, where not to step/look, lest one's foot fall through into the dark abyss below!

Continuing with the theme of this blog series: FIVE minutes. It was an interesting experience giving a Pecha-Kucha/Ignite style talk about an ethnographic project. As Steve Portigal tweeted during the presentation:

steveportigal: #lift11 @cheeflo giving 5 min talk on 6 country 7 week ethno study of the cultural context of online gaming #execSummaryParExcellence

and indeed, there was something playful about attempting to do that, but as good a time as any! As I viewed it, I was giving a sample. The 20 minute talks give more freedom to elaborate on points to make a more self-contained presentation, but I would touch upon various things and if people wanted to find out more substantive material, they would know where to find me!

If you're curious, see the videos for yourself. The Klewel version of the talks in addition to mine are here. This version has dual coverage of both speaker/slide, which in a short presentation viewed online is important for not missing slides in a fade slide in, fade speaker out, type of production.

**UPDATE: Here is the new "Lift-ified" video website with all the videos that have been previewed and tagged, like in "Games." My video is here>>

This was the livestream version that was available on the Website during the conference:
Watch live streaming video from liftconference at

And a visualization (mind map) that was done realtime.
Tips for speakers in this kind of venue:

Question: Was it nerve wracking addressing such a large crowd in person and joining by live streaming? Not for me. I actually like playing big crowds and little groups--it's the in-between stuff that drives me batty. In a big crowd, you can't even see anyone because the light is shining in your eyes and it all looks dark beyond the stage. Nonetheless, it is important to attempt "eye contact" with your imaginary audience. Incidentally, I was fighting the vestiges of a chest cold, and so was attempting to make it through the entire time without a coughing fit. Success though. No coughy on stage. That would have been very embarrassing (and cut into the already limited time!)

Due to the impromptu nature of the talk, there was no stage rehearsal as there was for the 20-minute talks. So these are tips on working with the stage hardware that I picked up in observations during the first/second days. Useful for keeping in mind during big TED style talks, as one may note in the videos.

The microphone: Men, it probably doesn't even occur to you but here goes: On the first day, I was a wee bit mortified when I saw one of the females speaking on stage with the top portion of her jumper dress down. I realized that it was due to the technicality of the mic receiver--that it needed to hang from a belt and despite the fact that there was a female assistant off stage who could secure it to one's under-things, this was ultimately what resulted. So, plan on a 2-piece outfit, or they will find something else to hang it from! Like for ladies who wear dresses, their bra. Seeing this, I was glad to have brought my suit (because I forgot and was planning on a 1-piece, actually!). Even so, when it came time to hook me up to the system 10 mins before my 5 minute talk, a nice female was put in charge of connecting the wire through my shirt and securing it to my waistband in the back.

The stage and monitors:
On a raised stage, I was mindful of not talking to my slide screen and countdown clock down below, but with such a quick presentation it is all too tempting. My favourite design of a speaking venue is still the (relatively intimate) Wosk Centre in Vancouver, that is designed for high-level talks but the slide screen is visible to both speakers and audience. In this way, one also typically defaults to craning one's head up instead of down (making for at least better photo ops fyi). Because, really, you will get really unpleasant photos of everyone when capturing them from below, with the added factor of their heads being craned down (those pics say hello, I'm your tired speaker, and check out the suitcases under my eyes! Not ideal for promo.) Cosmetic, but not inconsequential and a little less inspirational, non?:)

Breathing: As noted, I was trying to keep from having a coughing fit, but in normal circumstances, remember to take metered breaths with the diaphragm so that one inhale/exhale is not noticeably larger than the other. When the mic catches everything, it catches EVERYTHING, even exasperated sighs, slight mutterances that might be humourously received in more intimate venues just don't work as well when addressing a large crowd. Speaking in slower sound-bitey sentences is definitely called for here, especially with the live translation and video capture afterwards (that I am glad to have for this artifact self-critique).

Stay on stage: Lastly, I wanted to take a note from acting training: stay in the scene until the director says cut. Same thing here. I see so many speakers finish, and just rush off stage, all to be ushered back on for question period, or have question period occur with the chair of the session slightly off to the side. Finish, acknowledge the audience, and wait.

The Lift crowd was an interesting combination of all types of interests, and I'm glad to have had the chance to be involved as a speaker in this way. As I mentioned to Laurent Haug afterwards, doing this in the finishing stage of my PhD feels similar to the talk I gave at MIT at the end of my Masters. It helps get me in the mindset of talking about my work in terms that would interest a mixed audience, make louder "finishing noises" with regards to my thesis, owning the hot seat at my defence, and most importantly: thinking about what's next.

Up next: The visit to CERN

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