How to present something really boring and get away with it

Some wise person once taught me the correct way to present. You must structure your talk, and follow these three simple rules:
– say what you’re going to say
– say it
– say what you’ve said.

Now I’m not an expert in giving talks. No.

However, over the years I’ve built up a lot of experience at listening to mind-numbingly dull talks, whether lectures at university, technical demonstrations at the office, or the worst ever, wedding speeches.

The rules given above are an excellent way to give a REALLY BORING talk.
Please, do not follow them.

An awful talk usually goes like this:
– a pointless introduction “my talk today is about bananas”
– slide of contents. You read out all the items, often explaining the obvious. For example, “first I’m going to talk about peeling, which is the process of peeling a banana.”
– many slides follow, usually full of too many words and uninteresting facts
– finish up with a reiteration of the contents.

As an audience member, I would like to request that you stop. Just stop.
Here are three rules for a FUN structured talk:
– tell me why I should listen
– tell me a story
– give me something to think about.

This is actually a bit harder to put together, because you’ve got to start thinking. Why SHOULD the audience listen? What should they get out of it?

If you cannot answer this, do not give the talk.

But let’s say you’ve been told to give a boring talk. Hmm, lets pick something really dull for an example: your team has saved 10% bandwidth in the reverse proxy cluster.

Why should I listen? Well, maybe bandwidth is a real constraint. Maybe bandwidth is holding up feature launches. Maybe it costs money? There must be a simple layman’s explanation. If not, maybe you shouldn’t have done it!

So we’re saving money. Ok. And we’re the team lead. We have experience. This is getting better. Start there.

I like to start with some intrigue. “I’m Ralph, I’m the head of proxy reversals, and I’m going to tell you how we saved a baby giraffe.”

Now tell us a story. Add some jokes. Our story is that we’ve been trying to fix this for ages, but we were looking at the flange panel, when really the flux lever was jammed. Oh, how we laughed! Take us with you. Don’t rush.

Use one or two big numbers, if the numbers are impressive. Our reverse proxy cluster is the size of six elephants. We’ve saved bandwidth equivalent to downloading six thousand copies of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Now we just need to finish strong. A final slide, a final sentence. What was the lesson? Be rigorous, get it right? Ten percent savings means ten percent more bacon? If you can, revisit the intrigue from your opening. How did you save the giraffe? Give us a statement, say thank you, and never ever trail off with “and so that’s about it…”

Finally, practice your talk. Even if you’re alone, in a cupboard. It will help you pace yourself, to practice the timing of your jokes.

The greatest feeling ever is the stretch between setup line and punch line. The longer you leave it, the better the result. Trust me.

Next time you give a talk, look out at the audience. If they’re all checking tweets on their iPhones, you’ve failed. If they’re all hanging on to hear more, you’ve won.

And winning is everything.