Fresh Voices

Like the weather, we complain about a lack of fresh voices at conferences, but what do we actually do about it? In anticipation of this week’s call for proposals, a few of us ran a workshop to encourage folks with limited speaking experience to go to Denver and kick some ass.

You’d have to ask those who participated in the Cranky Talk Workshop for New Speakers if we delivered the goods, but it sure felt like success.

Dan Brown during Cranky Talk
Dan Brown & the group at the Cranky Talk Workshop for New Speakers

Of course, we won’t get the real measure of success until early March when we see how many of the 14 students proposed Summit sessions, how many of those who proposed were accepted and how many of those who spoke truly kicked ass.

Everybody at the workshop learned something. I learned why some people don’t propose sessions:

Some people hesitate because they think they need to create an entire presentation before submitting a proposal. (I could never invest that kind of time because a majority of my proposals get shot down. I only build out the proposals that I know I’ll get to present.)

Some people agonize over their proposals. (Proposing should be the easy part; the real agony only comes after you get accepted.)

Some people get distracted worrying about what kinds of proposals reviewers are looking for. (I never figure out what reviewers are looking for, even after a conference is over. Worrying about that is like trying to make your car proud of you.)

Some people try to propose what they think they should be presenting. (What the hell is that, anyway? You should only present about things you find utterly fascinating. Audiences can tell when you’re passionate about your content and more damaging, they can tell when you’re not.)

Find your passion. Propose. Present. Kick ass. It is that simple.


First time proposing a session for the IA Summit?

If you have never presented at the IA Summit, we are particularly interested in what you have to say and how you can help us make the 2011 more interesting and diverse. And if you haven't had much occasion to present before, this is a great opportunity: We have a group of experienced volunteers eager to work with you one-on-one as you frame your content, coach you on its delivery and support you while you develop your presentation. So don't delay, propose a session now.



Comments (15)

  1. I was lucky enough to get to participate as a member of the faculty and you should know that us “experts” were every bit on the hot-seat as the students. It was great to give people a chance to question and comment on what we were teaching.

    The story that summed up the event for me occurred afterward at the pub. I was speaking with one of the participants and she expressed her concern over what she thought was an appropriate subject for the Summit. We continued to talk and I eventually asked her “what really pisses you off?” I got my hair blown back with a summary that was so deliberate and specific, the air around her crackled!

    I told her “If I heard anyone open a presentation that way, you couldn’t drag me out of the room!”

    There are lots of tips and little things you can do to polish a presentation but if you don’t feel strongly about the subject, everyone in the room will know it. There’s no sure-fire recipe for great presenting. Dan Willis looks for ways to break convention. You could even say he’s an anti-presentor. With Russ Unger you get more of a personal conversation even in a room with 200+ people. Either way, they’re truly excited about whatever story they’re telling.

    I don’t choose topics based on appropriateness. I’ll have a months-long stretch where I don’t feel like I’m generating anything worth disscussing and then I’ll have 2-4 ideas running around that I can’t get into words fast enough. Whatever really amps you up can probably be contextualized for this venue.

    Information Architecture, User Experience, Experience Design whatever you call it, all try to understand and speak to the human condition in one context or another. That’s a pretty broad palette to work from for a topic.

    What really pisses you off?
    Why don’t you tell us about it?

  2. When I ask people if they are proposing a sessions I hear a lot of “I don’t know if other people will be interested”. The thing is, it is impossible to tell that as mind reading is not a prevalent skill in our profession, so it’s a very self-defeating way to think about it.

    Consider this: If your topic is so horrible and disinteresting, don’t worry, it will not make the cut. But the likelihood that it’s bad is really really small. Seriously, it’s so small that I can count on one hand how many submissions were simply “not good” every year. In fact, when I review session proposals for the IA Summit (and I have been doing this since 2004!) the primary reason a talk doesn’t get into the program is because there is simply not enough time to fit all the session proposals received. It is NOT because the talks are not good.

    Now that you know that, consider this other important factor: The cost of entry is very low. You literally just need to sit down to think for a while and answer a few questions. Proposing a session is like planting a seed, you hope it will turn out but you really don’t know. It’s not about harvesting the entire crop. That may or may not come later. And you won’t have to do that alone even!

  3. I was a participant of the Cranky Talk Workshop, and I must say that it was nice to find out that all of us were in the same boat, and honestly the only thing standing in our way is our own fear.

    Our lizard brain (read about the lizard brain here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/01/quieting-the-lizard-brain.html) keeps telling us all the reasons why we SHOULDN’T propose. We begin to get that sinking feeling – you know the one – its the same one that creeps up on you every time an airplane hits turbulence. Yeah, like you clutching your chair handle is going to help the airplane stay up in the air. But we still feel it, that fear. So when the excuses start coming and your feel a bit tight in your stomach, that is your signal to actually go for it!

    Dan Brown provided a great structure for a proposal that I think everyone should utilize. It is a 3 paragraph structure:
    First paragraph: What is the problem
    Second paragraph: How I contribute to the topic
    Third paragraph: What will the audience get out of it

    It’s time to face the resistance!

  4. Wendy A F G Stengel

    I was one of the “trying to propose what I think I should be presenting” folks, who kept getting wrapped around the wheel of trying to think of something my employer might want me to present to advance company whatnot…

    To heck with that. “Present what you’re passionate about” was one of the best take-aways of the Crank Talk Workshop.

  5. I was really fortunate to be a participant at Crank Talk and as a result I submitted my first IA Summit proposal this week, have plans to present a similar session at UX BarCamp DC, and will be writing proposals for every UX conference I could attend.

    The basic message from Dan and the crew was really simple. They hadn’t gotten to be the sort of people who give IA Summit and SXSW presentations except by pitching, being rejected, or doing really poorly at previous years’ IA Summit and SXSW presentations.

    So there was no need for me to wonder if my topic was interesting or if I knew enough. I’ll propose whenever I can, present whenever I’m asked, and learn by constantly doing.

    See you in Denver!

  6. I was thrilled to be a participant in this class. I agree with Alla about the tips and encouragement they suggested for getting started. The faculty was amazing and I’m grateful for the mentorship they’ve been providing since the class ended.

    Three main takeaways for presentations:

    1) PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
    - do research, practice, tweak, practice, rinse and repeat

    2) Have a clear story
    – you should be able to give your preso in a dark cave, with no lights AND still have a clear message

    3) S p e a k “S L O W L Y”
    - you probably can’t speak slowly enough to give the audience time to absorb what you said

  7. The CrankyTalk Workshop was a tremendous experience and I hope Dan et al. turn into a regular event so that others can participate.

    Alla’s comments pretty much sum up my internal struggle — I spend half the time sure I have a brilliant idea that deserves to be shared with the world, and the other half convinced that my presentation topic is boring, shallow, and irrelevant. I have to keep reminding myself that all presenters feel the same way and trust that my ideas will be fresh and exciting to at least a few people in the audience.

    The CrankyTalk experience reminded me that any audience I’m likely to present to will be rooting for me to succeed. It’s not a competition or a popularity contest — we’re all just trying to share ideas and help each other be smarter practitioners.

  8. I was also a participant in the CrankyTalk Workshop, and the thing I took away from it is that we as students were no better off, in many respects, as the Faculty that taught the workshop.

    They have their fears of presenting in front of people, they get turned down for presentations and they think their topics aren’t always good ones. Outside of having more speaking experience, they aren’t much different than the rest of us.

    I’m going to submit at least a workshop and a talk (and possibly a poster depending on what if anything gets selected). You never know until you try, and as Livia said, “Proposing a session is like planting a seed, you hope it will turn out but you really don’t know.”

    You never know until you try, if one or both makes it, YAY!, if neither makes it, the IA Summit never turns down a poster idea. ;) The great thing about the Summit is that your ideas can always be heard, it may just not be in the format you want. That’s a positive thing.

  9. Ian

    What about the people who were rejected from attending the Cranky Talk workshop?

  10. David Panarelli

    The Cranky Talk workshop has been invaluable, and I think my colleagues above have covered a lot of the reasons why.

    I am one of the people described above, agonizing over a proposal. Lessons learned in the Cranky Talk workshop were invaluable as I reached out to others for feedback and implemented it in rapid succession.

    I just submitted my proposal, and I’m keeping my cranky fingers crossed!

  11. Jo Anne Wight

    I was also fortunate enough to participate in the Cranky Talk Workshop. What I learned is that we all had a common fear that what we had to offer wasn’t “new” or “good enough.” As the faculty pointed out….that’s ok! Every participant in the room had a unique perspective or experience to share. We were fortunate to be able to share it in a supportive environment to help overcome our initial fears.

    I’ve submitted a talk, but even if it is not accepted, I’ll be refining and practicing at other UX venues and I’ll be excited to see what new voices will be at the Summit. Each of us have something to add to the professional body of knowledge. Share your ideas and passion.

  12. lynn boyden

    I’ve been attending the summit most every year since 2001 (missed a couple of years in there because I was having and raising babies) and while the old favorite speakers are great, some of the best and most appreciated presenters were first-timers who brought passion and insight to a topic.

    All this talk about new voices has gotten me to submit my first speaking proposal this year. We’ll see how it goes! At least this year I won’t be wearing a pirate costume, or coming from the future.

  13. The Cranky Talk workshop has been invaluable, and I think my colleagues above have covered a lot of the reasons why. I am one of the people described above, agonizing over a proposal. Lessons learned in the Cranky Talk workshop were invaluable as I reached out to others for feedback and implemented it in rapid succession. I just submitted my proposal, and I’m keeping my cranky fingers crossed!

  14. I was also a participant in the CrankyTalk Workshop, and the thing I took away from it is that we as students were no better off, in many respects, as the Faculty that taught the workshop. They have their fears of presenting in front of people, they get turned down for presentations and they think their topics aren’t always good ones. Outside of having more speaking experience, they aren’t much different than the rest of us. I’m going to submit at least a workshop and a talk (and possibly a poster depending on what if anything gets selected). You never know until you try, and as Livia said, “Proposing a session is like planting a seed, you hope it will turn out but you really don’t know.” You never know until you try, if one or both makes it, YAY!, if neither makes it, the IA Summit never turns down a poster idea. ;) The great thing about the Summit is that your ideas can always be heard, it may just not be in the format you want. That’s a positive thing.

  15. The Cranky Talk workshop has been invaluable, and I think my colleagues above have covered a lot of the reasons why. I am one of the people described above, agonizing over a proposal. Lessons learned in the Cranky Talk workshop were invaluable as I reached out to others for feedback and implemented it in rapid succession. I just submitted my proposal, and I’m keeping my cranky fingers crossed!