Category Archives: miscellaneous

Five tips for Delivering a Presentation

I wrote a few weeks ago on writing a presentation. This week, I offer a few thoughts on delivering one – in no particular order. I’m working on my sequel to my post on performance reviews — expect it next week!

Eye Contact

You want to portray confidence. You don’t want to mumble. You want to engage your audience. Here’s my simplest tip to achieve all three: make eye contact with the audience. Pick out a few friendly faces – people you know who want you to succeed or just people who look friendly – and look them in the eye. Move between those folks as you deliver your presentation.

The side effects are you won’t look down and mumble. You will face the audience and not the slides (the slides aren’t that interested in your talk). You won’t look like you’re only trying to impress your boss (it sure freaks me out when someone spends the whole presentation looking at me). You’ll look like you’re in command as you survey the crowd.

Body Language

Stand up, go to the front, take charge of the room. But don’t plant yourself in one spot – plan to move every few minutes; for example, stroll from one side of the projector screen to the other, or move from the lectern to center stage.

Don’t rock. Plant your feet. Don’t freeze your arms. Make a few gestures – you can even plan to do these every minute or two.

Change your facial expressions every now and then. But not as much as a news anchor – don’t raise your eyebrows every second sentence like they do.

Don’t Read Notes (or Memorize)

Don’t write out your speech. You’ll kill the presentation. Please. For the sake of everyone who is listening. If you must, write a phrase per slide on some palm cards.

Memorizing is the same as writing it down. You will kill the audience.

Only newsreaders can do this, and you are not a newsreader.

Don’t Read Slides

Don’t read the slides to the audience. They can read, and that’s why you’ve put the text on the slides. Again, you’ll kill the talk.

Here’s how I see the role of slides: they’re the key material, and your job verbally is to add flavor to what they’re saying. Relate a story, add an extra point that wouldn’t fit on the slide, point out a key fact, or summarize the key message that the slide is conveying.

The worst thing you can do is to read the slides and track the text with a laser pointer. I hate laser pointers.

 It’s (almost) Impossible to Speak Too Slowly

Earlier this week, I was watching the first election debate in Australia, between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It wasn’t a debate per se, more of a press conference. And as I was thinking about writing this blog post, I was watching and listening for their presentation styles. I noticed careful use of body language, eye contact, and saw the Prime Minister use notes in the form of phrases. Whether either is charismatic is in question, but they are certainly practiced speakers.

What I noticed most was how slowly they spoke. Try an experiment: watch this video (or any video of a leader), and count the number of words they speak in a minute. Now, at work or school, count the number of words a presenter speaks in a minute. Compare and contrast people you think are great, and those that aren’t – you’ll quickly see that the ones you like generally speak slowly.

About 150 words per minute is about right. That’s hard to execute when you’re up on stage – so my practical advice is just to slow down. Speak as slowly as you can – nervousness will make sure it actually isn’t too slow, you’ll go a little faster than you intend anyway.

A Word on My Personal Style

I always walk off stage thinking that I made a mistake in one way or another. That causes me to reflect on what didn’t go well – and to try and capture it, and avoid the same mistakes twice. Here are a few things that I’ve learnt along the way:

  • If I work in humor early, the body language of the audience becomes more positive, and I relax (and become confident, and present more effectively). I try to lighten the mood early – but only when it’s appropriate!
  • I always write my own slides. I can’t present other people’s slides with confidence
  • When I’m repeating a talk, the third time is always the best. Before that I am rehearsing, and after that I am going through the motions
  • When I’m nervous, I gesture too much and I touch my face. I think about putting my hands in a position (such as one hand in a pocket) and keeping them there, and allow them to move only occasionally
  • I practice the endings of my talks. Starts and middles I can do, ends tend to drift. One trick I use is to learn who or what is coming next, and to introduce it in some form. For example, I might say “I would love to spend more time with you today, but I know you are all looking forward to Jenny speaking to you about Hadoop internals. I hope you’ve enjoyed the presentation, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon”. Or something like that. I also clearly signal the end of the presentation verbally

I love to run surveys about large meetings that I run to see what I can learn. I also always ask people in person what they thought of my presentations. If there’s a video, I’ll skim that too (which is always painful – I don’t know anyone who likes watching or listening to themselves). I think I am pretty good at spotting my own flaws – most people are their own best critics.

See you next week.

Five tips for Writing a Presentation

I’ve had hundreds of chances to experiment with presentations, through teaching, invited talks, and day-to-day presentations at work. If there’s a mistake you can make in delivering a presentation, I’ve made it. Today, I’ll share with you the top five things I’ve learnt along the way — hopefully, they’ll help you write a great talk!

One major point

You’ve been asked to give a presentation that’s less than an hour in length. My advice: deliver one major theme or point to the audience – you want them to leave unambiguously ready to understand, believe, act, or follow the point you’ve made.

Don’t share two or more major points. The audience will leave with different key takeaways. Or, worse still, you’ll confuse the audience or seem rushed in your delivery. And you usually won’t land that key message that you want the audience to act on or evangelize for you.

What is a major point or theme? It depends on the length of the talk. If I was speaking for an hour, I’d design a talk that lands a broader theme than if I was speaking for fifteen minutes. For example, in an hour I might land “how to deliver a great presentation”. If I was speaking for fifteen minutes, I might land “tips for verbal presentations”.

What if you have to speak on two topics in one session? For example, your boss wants you to present to her boss on two topics next week. Write two talks: start and finish the first, change decks, and start and finish the second. Consider having question time between the two. Pretend you’re two different speakers coming up to the podium.

One slide every two minutes

Rule of thumb: one slide for every two minutes of presentation. A one hour talk, thirty slides maximum. A fifteen minute presentation, seven slides. Really.

If you fly through slides, you’ll seem rushed. If you stay on one slide, you’ll kill the audience with boredom.

If I’m speaking for an hour, I restrict myself to thirty slides maximum — I’m always tempted to have more, and every time I do I regret it. If anything, err on the side of caution: I’ve given a few one hour talks with twenty or fewer slides, and it’s worked out fine.

Keep the slides simple

A slide with the right amount of content

A slide with close to the maximum amount of content. I’ve delivered this one a few times, and it’s hard to get through it in two minutes.

I like to have four to six lines of text on a PowerPoint slide. I try to avoid sub-bullets. I definitely wouldn’t have more than eight lines of text; I know when I reach eight that I’ve got two slides of content.

I dislike quadrant slides, they’re too complex for a presentation. I dislike two-content slides too — the ones that have text on the left and an image on the right (or vice-versa). If I want to include an image, I typically make it the feature of the slide and accompany it with at most two lines of text above or below the image.

Signpost the structure

I include the following signposts in most talks I deliver:

  • A title slide, with talk title, my name, company, and contact information

    An example title slide with talk title, my name, company  and contact information

    An example title slide with talk title, my name, company and contact information

  • An overview slide that explains the structure of the talk to the audience; that way, they know what to expect, it helps them to know when to ask questions and what’s going to be explained

    An overview slide. Usually the second slide in my presentations, and there to outline the structure of the talk

    An overview slide. Usually the second slide in my presentations, and there to outline the structure of the talk

  • An occasional subsection slide that shows we’ve arrived at a major section in the talk

    A subsection slide that explains where we are in the talk structure. I'll typically include two or three of these in a longer talk, and they'll reference back to the overview slide

    A subsection slide that explains where we are in the talk structure. I’ll typically include two or three of these in a longer talk, and they’ll reference back to the overview slide

  • (Sometimes) A concluding slide that contains the key points from the presentation
  • A subsection slide that includes the phrase “Questions?” or “Q&A?”

    A final slide asking for questions (and doing a little advertising)

    A final slide asking for questions (and doing a little advertising)

I count these slides in my “two minutes per slide” rule; these don’t come as free extras.

Be careful with the colors, design, transitions, and builds

When you’ve got Microsoft’s Powerpoint as your tool (or something fancy such as prezi), it’s tempting to include lots of slide builds, transitions, zooming, and animation. Resist. These are very often a distraction — and can lead to your audience thinking you’re more about style than substance.

I particularly dislike builds. Why? Because it looks like you’re hiding something, and it doesn’t give the audience the chance to read, understand, and put what you’re saying in context.

Afterword

I was fortunate to work with Justin Zobel for many years, and developed my early presentation style with his coaching. His book is worth the money — highly recommended for anyone who needs to write and present in the field of IT or computer science.

See you next week.

Six months, fifty thousand visits

Thanks for traveling on my blog journey. It’s been fun to have you along. It’s great to be writing again.

I’ve had around 50,000 views of my 31 posts so far. Here’s a few other factoids from the journey thus far:

  • The most popular post was about eBay’s size and scale, which I published on June 26. It’s had around 5,000 views, and made it into WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” section. It’s also received the most comments and likes, and contributed to the blog’s busiest day, June 27
  • The least popular post was about my keynote at the PHP UK 2012 conference. That had 176 views
  • This story about Bing’s image search is one of my favorite posts, and my biggest surprise with only around 400 views
  • Referrals to the blog come from a few popular sources: Twitter (3500 referrals), Google (2200), Facebook (2300), LinkedIn (1400), and WordPress (1200)
  • Referrals to the blog don’t come from Bing (58 referrals), Ask (13), or Yahoo! Search (8)
  • I’ve had exactly 25,000 visits from the United States (where I live), 2600 from the UK, and 2400 from Australia (where I’m originally from)
  • When people search on Google (and subsequently land on a blog page), the most popular queries they type are: ebay.com, five variations of my name, query rewrite, and byte versus bit inverted index
  • There’s a few sites out there that occasionally highlight my posts, which I appreciate very much. The awesome highscalability.com has driven 900 views, Jason Haley’s great “interesting finds” blog has driven 58, and Y Combinator’s Hacker News about 80
  • If gossip in the corridors were a measure, this post about fitness and nutrition caused the biggest stir and got people talking the most
  • Ardent Logophile has offered the most comments on the blog, and thoughtful ones at that. Thanks Ardent!
  • A bizarre factoid: someone translated this post of mine on successful teams into Japanese, and added cool pictures (including Star Wars stormtroopers having a meeting)
  • This is far from the most popular site I own. That honor goes to the (no longer maintained) webdatabasebook.com that I built as a companion to my first book

The open question is what I should write about next. More on search engines? Management? Fitness and nutrition? eBay? Something else? Your thoughts?

Have a great week.

Explaining Baseball to a Cricketer

I grew up watching and playing cricket. I’ve since fallen in love with baseball. They’re similar games: baseball was born from cricket. They both have subtlety, subplots, the ebb and flow of a long game. The games often contain something you’ve never seen before. I couldn’t find an interesting explanation of baseball for those who understand cricket — though I offer no promises of wikipedia’s (dull) comprehensiveness. This’ll be the first of two posts.

Getting out

You’ve read this far, so you must know some basics. There’s nine innings, each team bats in each inning, three outs and you change teams. When you’re out 27 times, it’s all over (unless it’s a draw – more on that later).

You can get out lots of different ways, just like cricket. The common ones are being caught, struck out, forced out, and tagged out. There’s also obscure ones – both cricket and baseball share rules around how long you have before you’re out for not batting in a timely fashion.

Australia playing the Seattle Mariners in 2009 in Peoria, Arizona. Australia was warming up for the World Baseball Classic, and the Mariners had just begun their Spring Training for the long season ahead. Australia won 11-9. The first game for Ken Griffey Jr with the Mariners in his second, unsuccessful stint with the team.

You get a strike against you as a batter when you swing the bat and miss, the ball passes through the strike zone without you hitting it, or you foul it off by hitting it outside the field of play (behind the lines that are on each side of the field, often marked at the ends by large yellow foul poles). You strike out when you do any of these three times – except you can’t get a third strike on a foul. Striking out is analogous to being bowled.

You get a free pass walk to first base if you’re hit by the ball (rather different to cricket). You also get a walk if you receive four pitches (so-called balls) that aren’t in the strike zone, and that you didn’t swing at. The strike zone is subtle: in the way LBW is subtle. It’s roughly knee height to just below the writing on the jersey, and roughly as wide as the home plate that sits on the ground.

You’re forced out when you have to advance to the next base, but you don’t make it. You must advance when you hit the ball into play (it always tippity run), or when you’re on a base and there’s a batter behind you who’s advancing to the base you’re on. Force outs typically happen by a fielder standing on the base you’re headed to and having the ball in their possession. It’s just like a keeper knocking the bails off in a run out, except it’s a run out where you were forced to run.

You’re tagged out when you’re touched by a fielder who’s holding the ball and you’re not safely on a base. This usually happens when you’ve decided to run to the next base when you weren’t forced to. This is a bit subtle: as a spectator, you have to know whether the runner is being forced or has chosen to run, so you know what to expect the fielder to do to get the out. This tagging the runner thing is something you don’t see in cricket.

There’s nine players, but sixteen 12th men

There are nine guys on the field when you’re fielding. One’s the pitcher, one’s the catcher (a wicketkeeper-like guy), and there’s seven fielders (position players). I’ll explain later where they all stand.

You can take any guy off the field, and replace him with any one of sixteen “12th men”. The catch is the guy that comes on the field really does replace the guy who left – he’s out of the game, and the new guy bats or pitches or both. The guy who left can’t come back – he’s a spectator until the next game. (I think this bears resemblance to the “super sub” they’ve experimented with a few times in cricket.)

In practice, there really isn’t sixteen 12th men. There are twenty-five guys on the team (“the 25 man roster”), but probably five or six of them won’t play on any given day. They’re usually pitchers who’ve pitched recently and are having a rest day, or are going to pitch tomorrow. And there’s always a backup catcher or two, which the team won’t bring into the game because they’re keeping him in reserve in case of injury (a bit like the backup goalkeeper in soccer).

So, really, you’re probably looking at ten guys who could come into the game: probably five or six pitchers, and four or five batters. In practice, you might typically see anywhere between zero and six of them. I’ll explain more on that topic later.

There’s an exception: in September, you’re allowed to have a 40 man roster. This is to allow teams to try out young players, and give the senior players some rest time before the postseason.

Batting order

Since there are nine guys per team, nine guys bat. They’re listed in a batting order, much like cricket. One bats at a time, there’s no non-striker’s end.

A lineup card that shows the batting order. These are exchanged between the teams before play — just like in cricket.

Once all nine guys have batted, they return to the top of the order, and the first guy bats again. There’s no limit on the number of times you bat – you just go around and around the batting order until the game is over.

If you follow Major League Baseball, you’ll know there’s two Leagues: the American League (which has 14 teams) and the National League (which has 16 teams). Most of the time, teams from each league play only teams from that league. The major exception is the World Series – the final, championship games of the year, where the best team from the AL plays the best team from the NL to be crowned world champion. (There’s also this thing called interleague play, I’ll ignore that for now.)

Anyway, the point I’m getting to is this: the pitcher in an American League team doesn’t bat. So, instead of having nine players on the team, they actually have ten: there’s a guy called the “designated hitter” (or DH) who bats in place of the pitcher. Technically, the DH could bat for any other player, but it’s always the pitcher who doesn’t bat. The DH doesn’t field, he just sits around, and gets probably four or five chances to bat in the game.

In the National League, there’s no DH, and the pitchers bat. Pitchers bat about as well as Murali or Glenn McGrath. There are no all-rounders in baseball.

It’s odd that the two leagues have different rules. You’ll find baseball purists like talking about this. Try expressing a strong opinion on the topic.

As an aside, cricket has played around with a DH-like rule in domestic cricket competitions.

There’s a lot more baseball

Baseball purists are staggered that test cricket matches last for five days. That freaks them out. They’re used to games of baseball that are two or three or (wow, that was a long game) four hours.

I’m more freaked out by baseball: the Major League Baseball season has 162 games per team per year, and that’s not including the postseason (the finals). They play from April to September, and so most teams get maybe three or four days without a game each month. That’s a lot of baseball – there’s pretty much baseball on all day, every day – in fact, there’s 2430 games per season.

Seattle Mariners 2012 schedule. 162 games, always 81 at home and 81 away.

Because there’s so much baseball, you can get a ticket cheap. Only the Boston Red Sox routinely sell out their stadium. A cheap seat might be $6.

Failure is vastly more common

A few ducks in a row, and you’re probably going to get dropped from your cricket team. Not in baseball. Failure is expected, at least it’s ok for quite a while.

A very good batter in baseball does something useful about 35% of the time. The other 65% of the time, he’s out without doing anything useful – kind of like a duck in cricket. What’s something useful? Well, that could in the extreme be scoring runs – anywhere from one to four (the maximum you can score by hitting a home run when there’s three other guys on the three bases). At the other end, something useful is getting yourself to first base – so that the next guy can help you work on getting around to score a run.

Strangely, something useful can sometimes be getting out – in baseball, the ball isn’t dead when you’re out (unless it’s the third out, in which case the inning is over). If you hit the ball a long way, it’s caught, there’s a guy on second or third base, and he can run around to home, he’ll score a run.

Interestingly, while 35% success is very good, 20% success is very bad. This is a very fine line: succeed 1 in 3 times and you’re amazing, succeed 1 in 4 times and you are ok, and succeed 1 in 5 times and you’re a disaster.

The ball doesn’t bounce

I guess everyone knows the ball isn’t supposed to bounce in baseball. If it does, it’s referred to as a “pitch in the dirt”, which sort of means it was a useless yorker. Since there’s no stumps. there’s no point in trying to sneak the ball under the bat.

The ball not bouncing means that movement off the pitch isn’t a factor in baseball. Instead, baseball is about movement in the air and varying pitch speeds – which you also see in cricket. Movement in the air in baseball is imparted by spin and seams, which in turn is controlled by hand and finger position on the ball. Most good pitchers in baseball have at least three pitches that they throw – a fast ball (they’re pretty much all fast bowlers), and a couple of “off-speed pitches” (slower, deceptive pitches that move around or don’t look slow out of the hand).

Draws don’t happen

There are no draws or tied games. After nine innings, if the score is tied, the game goes into a tenth inning where both teams get a chance to bat. If it’s still tied, it’s time for the eleventh. A ten, eleven, or even twelve inning game is reasonably common. I was at a 15 inning game once, you won’t see that often. The longest professional game went 33 innings.

There’s no overs

Pitchers pitch until their manager decides to take him out of the game and replace him with another pitcher. Baseball has managers who’re in charge of team (rather than a head coach) – they really do make the decisions. You’ll see them come out and visit the pitcher, and let him know he’s done for the game.

A starting pitcher (the guy who starts the game) will typically pitch around 100 pitches, maybe up to 120 if he’s a strong, veteran pitcher. That’s between 17 and 20 overs in a spell! Of course, if he’s getting hit all over the place, anything’s possible – he might last as few as 20 or 30 pitches.

When a starting pitcher is replaced, he’ll typically be replaced with a guy who pitches harder and faster for fewer pitches – a so-called relief pitcher. You might see one to four relief pitchers in a game, depending on how many innings the starting pitcher pitched. Relief pitchers are quirky, and they often have specialty roles. For example, there’s often a guy who’s a left-hander who specializes in throwing at left-handers, and he may throw only one pitch in a game before being replaced (the call these guys LOOGYs, lefty one out guys).

A starting pitcher warms up for quite a while before the game, probably more than you’d typically see a bowler warm up. There’s really no looseners in baseball – pitchers pitch at their top speed from the first pitch. To start each inning, a pitcher gets precisely eight practice throws to their catcher before the first batter steps in to bat.

The catcher is closer

The catcher in baseball fields like a wicketkeeper standing up to a spin bowler. The difference is the pitcher is always a fast bowler, and he’s about 6 feet closer than a bowler in cricket. A typical pitcher throws between 88 and 100 miles per hour (as the ball leaves the hand). Only the fastest fast bowlers have ever hit 100 miles an hour.

The umpire (in black), catcher (in red), and batter (in blue) in close proximity. It’s normal for the umpire to lean on the catcher.

This means that the catcher has to know where the ball is going to go, because he hasn’t sufficient time to react to the pitch. If you watch carefully, you’ll see the catcher tell the pitcher what pitch he should throw before each pitch. He does this by wiggling his fingers between his legs. If the pitcher likes the idea, he’ll nod and pitch. If he doesn’t, he’ll shake his head and the catcher will try another idea. The signals tell the pitcher what kind of pitch to throw (speed and spin), and where to throw it (high or low, in or out).

I’ll share more thoughts on the (subtle?) differences between the games next time.