Seth Godin’s recent blog post, Rehearsing is for cowards, makes the point that presentations work better when the presenter hasn’t rehearsed but rather “explores” the subject. That’s possibly true for presentations on soft subjects or those given from the heart, although I’d argue that you have to at least have a goal of hitting certain points and moving in a certain direction or else you’re just rambling. However, that’s just wrong for presenters doing technical topics.
Even those new to technical conferences, such as the upcoming Southwest Fox, can spot the difference between rehearsed and unrehearsed sessions. The former go smoothly, the latter are embarrassing and painful for everyone involved. “Hitches”, as Seth calls them, in a technical session do the opposite of “help[ing] us leap forward”. Instead, they convince the audience that either the presenter didn’t care enough about them or their own reputation to ensure they gave a quality session or that the topic is so difficult that even an expert can’t get it right.
One of the worst sessions I ever attended was by someone who had spoken before so had no excuse for his shoddy preparation. This clueless speaker spent half of the session looking for the menu items that lead to the dialogs he wanted to show. It was excruciating watching him move the mouse to the first item, move up and down the list, then move to the next one and repeat the process. Practicing the session even once would have eliminated that problem. The result: I got nothing from the session other than the resolution to never hear him speak again.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem you’ll encounter at Southwest Fox. Every speaker is a professional. By “professional”, I don’t mean someone who gets paid to speak. Rather, I mean someone who cares about their craft and their audience enough to work and polish and tune and hone their session until it’s as good as can be.
Now, I don’t think rehearsing means you don’t vary your sessions. Every time I present a session, I think of different ways to get the point across, different jokes to tell at certain places, and sometimes (not too often) even different samples to show. After all, you wouldn’t want to see a completely canned session given by a robot. In fact, I’d argue that practicing your session until you have it down cold gives you the freedom to improvise when appropriate because you have the confidence you can stay on track.
Southwest Fox starts four weeks from today and I can’t wait!