Reflections on my rhetorics

Written on 2018-09-30 in 1542 words. Part of reflection presentation

Quite some time ago, I wanted to do a reflection of my rhetorical skills. I present quite often at local meetups and sometimes at local conferences. I present in German (DE) or English (EN) with a preference to the latter. But I am not really satisfied with my skills. In essence, I think I can convey a certain extent of enthusiasm about a topic, but my use of language is still somewhat limited. As a result, I watched all recordings of my previous public talks and reflected upon them:

  • GnuPG - GLT 2013 (DE):
    • ”ähem“ is my most common filler, I use too much.
    • Due to my train of thought, I sometimes cut sentences. This happens if my thoughts are faster than my mouth is.
    • I observe my personal recurring pattern when speaking German: I switch between very formal descriptions in standard German and casual language (with more ähem) in my Carinthian dialect.
    • Compared to other German speakers, I pronounce stop consonants rather harsh making listening to me unpleasant
    • IIRC it was one of the first times, I applied my ”lecture content as a sequence of concepts“ approach. In general, I think it worked. But you need to be aware that everything can be considered a concept. You need to define its scope and applicability. Furthermore all concepts must be semantically related. Then this approach can work out.
    • I talked 6 min about the project, 17 min about IT security including its societal/ethical consequences, 14min about GnuPG on the CLI, 6min about Enigmail.
    • I regret claiming “und ich glaube insbesondere im Bereich der Emailverschlüsselung ist es schon eigentlich recht benutzerfreundlich”. Usability is a vague, empirical topic and these days I would rather prefer not to judge on usability.
    • I didn't include the audience. I could have taken questions in between every section of my talk.
    • Personally speaking, I can easily see that I was well-prepared and therefore relaxed
  • Die Python Programmiersprache - GLT 2014 (DE):
    • ”ähem“ is still my most common, annoying filler.
    • I use a lot of gestures in this talk. It is personal, but somehow awkward.
    • I ask the audience for their Python experience. So there is at least a little interaction. I spent the last 10 minutes taking questions.
    • After 4min, I begin with the tutorial. For 9 minutes, I talk about variables and types. For 9 minutes, I talk about unicode, bytearrays and their differences in python2/py3k. I talk 4 minutes about [im]mutability. I continued with collections, string operations and other concepts.
    • I ridiculously jumped between novice and advanced concepts. Basically I am not well-prepared and explain concepts prematurely, because I don't remember when they will occur.
    • I shouldn't use bitmask and bytearray synonymously. That is just wrong.
    • list comprehensions introduced before a for-loop? That is awkward and difficult to follow.
    • I screwed up my unicode explanations. It is somewhere between unavoidable and highly technical. It is difficult to convey. Today, I would address this issue by a short, concise technical description followed by moving on. My fault, back then, was not to plan ahead my explanations and my impromptu approaches were bad.
    • It is difficult to explain an entire programming language in 45 minutes. I only addressed programmers with experiences.
    • I remember this talk as the worst of all. I am surprised that it is not so bad, but still: I was badly prepared. I should have invested time better and made some trial runs to estimate my time progress.
  • Reguläre Ausdrücke für Fortgeschrittene - GLT 2015 (DE):
    • ähem, ähem, ähem
    • I think it is fascinating that I changed some gestures. They originate from some speaker, I know. I imitate this speaker.
    • Sometimes I showed a slide, smiled and waited for the audience to react. In the meanwhile, I looked away and made fun of my slide's content. I think this presentation style is acceptable, but today I prefer a more formal approach. I would introduce the slide as funny, make a concise description and move on.
    • I asked the audience for correctness/errors in regex. There was quite some interactivity.
    • Again, first I explain that “a regex is a string representing a set of strings“. Later on, a slide shows up containing this exact phrase.
    • “And who are we going to discuss that?” … damn, fix your English!
    • I spent 9 minutes with a revision of the basics. I spent 6 minutes with advanced regex operators. I spent 4 minutes with parsing theory. I spent 14 minutes to introduce regex engines and their differences. In
    • I definitely should have shown practical examples of those advanced regex operators. Maybe even a regex quiz?
    • On the contrary, I should have removed the parsing theory section. It is simply too theoretical for this audience.
    • I received feedback that instead of showing practical applications, I introduced awkward impractical scenarios. Except for the previous points, I reject this conclusion. I interacted with the audience on the basics, I talked about some advanced stuff and made collected some practical data. I think the talk design was well-thought through. And necessarily, this talk was well-prepared.
    • It is the first time, I consciously presented a table of data and waited some time, so the audience can digest its content.
    • Public feedback:
      • Ein paar Operatoren ohne Hintergrund; langatmige Drumherum-Erklärungen; kaum praktischer Nutzen; Zeitfenster massiv überzogen: Sorry, da konnte ich sehr wenig mitnehmen, zumal es ja "Regex für Fortgeschrittene" hieß. Erwartet hätte ich mir schon ein paar Recipes für fortgeschrittene Use Cases…
      • Der Sinn des ausfuehrlichen Vergleiches der regexp-Engines von verschiedenen Sprachen hat sich mir nicht erschlossen; die Zeit haette man besser fuer eine genauere Erklaerung der tatsaechlich wichtigen Inhalte (lookaheads/lookbehinds) nuetzen koennen. Folien waren toll gemacht!
      • Super spannender Vortrag, danke auch für den online zur Verfügung gestellten Code!
  • XeLaTeX - GLT 2016 (EN):
    • There is not recording
    • The talk was properly prepared, but lacked interest by the community
    • On the other hand, the topic was not fancy either
    • No public feedback received.
  • restic - GLT 2018 (EN):
    • My first lightning talk
    • I got/pronounced some numbers wrong (while presenting, I cannot read numbers apparently!)
    • I got stuck while presenting several times
    • Especially for lightning talks, it should be easy to make complete, thorough trial runs. I didn't.
    • Public feedback:
      • Thanks for explaining the basic principle behind restic (cluster, ...). Otherwise, it would have just been yet another backup tool.
  • Don't forget to remember - GLT 2018 (EN):
    • I use vivid gestures, but they show a certain affection/interest towards the topic
    • Personally, I like my English voice better.
    • In English, I don't use fillers so much. Sometimes I use “uhm“. I sometimes stretch “and“ between sentences.
    • I could have prepared the demonstration of Anki[Droid] better. Considering the circumstances of the organization of this event, I still think I did a great job.
    • The definition of spaced repetition was out-of-place (too late)
    • I talked 1 minute about me, 8 minutes about motivation, 7 minutes about neurosciences, 15 minutes about a custom implementation and usecases, 13 minutes about the Anki software stack and 2 minutes about conclusions. I think this is a very good sectioning!
    • Public feedback:
      • SW Anki und auch das Thema war für mich neu. Da ich Lernschwierigkeiten habe (bin auch schon 53 Jahre), sehr interessant und nützlich! Das Thema motiviert mich sehr, die SW auch im beruflichen Kontext einzusetzen. Dem Vortragenden ist es gelungen, die Freude und die Motivation auf das Publikum zu übertragen! Super!
      • Thema und Vortragender waren für mich Neuland. Wurde Alles super rübergebracht. Bin nun sehr motiviert, mir das nächste komplexere Thema auch mit Anki zu erarbeiten. Besonders gut haben mir die strategischen Erläuterungen der Herangehensweise des Vortragenden gefallen. Es ging nicht nur darum, wie man etwas tun soll, sondern warum wir es tun sollen! Das ist wichtig, wenn man die Zuhörer motivieren möchte. Vortrag war für mich ein toller Abschluss der Linux-Tage 2018. Danke!!!!!

I just cannot handle slide notes.

I should find better phrases to transit from one slide to another. I need to remember what comes next and should find some good English phrases.

My major focus with preparing slides is to avoid inconsistencies. I do a good job in that regard, but in the future I need to get past this and additional provide a good storyline.

It is annoying to hear “in general” if the speaker does not explain what is different in practice.

Often in the feedback, I find that my approaches are very theoretical (hey! I read psychology papers about memorization?!). I agree, but more often I lack depth in the talk of other people. I think I have a nice tradeoff between theory and practice.

It is very difficult to get two things straight:

  1. do not use vocabulary, you did not define yet and will be introduced later during the lecture
  2. every community (for a certain topic) has its controversial topics. You need to be very sensible for picking the right vocabulary.

The former is something academics practice a lot in lectures. The latter can only be done by people with a depth in knowledge.

  • Do not turn around if you want to take a look at the slides. Showing the back to the audience implicitly signal the audience that you do not pay attention to them
  • Prepare a larger font size for your terminal beforehand