Genii Weblog

Who are your "can't miss" speakers?

Fri 8 Oct 2004, 01:24 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I was talking to a couple of gentlemen recently and mentioned that I was in the Penumbra group with Andrew Pollack (I don't even remember the context), and they both started talking with great animation about his talk on the admin client at last year's Lotusphere.  One said, and the other agreed, "Whatever he is speaking on this year, I'll go hear it."

That makes me think about the "can't miss" speakers I have watched for at Lotuspheres past.  Mussie Shore and Bob Balaban are two that come to mind.  I would look at topics, but I'd go to topics that were well outside my area of interest if one of these two was the speaker.  

So, as a service to Ed Brill and Rocky Oliver and all the good people at Lotus making decisions about who should speak this year, who are your "can't miss" speakers?  Who would you go to listen to, practically no matter what they were presenting?  They don't have to be people who speak at Lotusphere, necessarily.  My wife tells me that Ed Hundert, president of Case Western Reserve University, is her "can't miss" speaker, but she has never been to Lotusphere anyway.  So, what is your "short list"?

Copyright © 2004 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

219.1. Duffbert
(10/08/2004 11:52 AM)

From within the Lotusphere perspective, for me it was Ken Wax. Incredible speaker, and one that I would listen to regardless of subject. If I wasn't interested in the material, I'd be taking notes on presentation techniques... The guy is a pro.

219.2. Ben Langhinrichs
(10/08/2004 12:13 PM)

Andrew - I agree about the "outside the box" thinkers. The Google guys would be great.

Tom - I have never seen Ken Wax, but I sure have heard a lot of people who swear he is the best. When was the last time he spoke at Lotusphere, do you remember?

219.3. Christopher Byrne
(10/08/2004 02:07 PM)

awwww, but that might hurt people submitting abstracts who you have never heard make an "outside the box" presentation before. And I have been told by someone in the know to be careful about submitting an abstract that is too far outside the box in terms of content for a Lotus audience. Not that I know of anyone like that who is submitting an abstract of course;-).

My worst experiences, whether they be at Lotusphere, Advisor DevCons, or wherever are those that:

1. Hide behind the podium and do not move around.

2. Those that speak in a monotone.

3. Those who are constantly apologizing during their presentations.

4. Presenters tied to their PowerPoint presentations.

5. Those who make less than a subtle sales pitch for their services at the end of a presentation (I paid to hear expertise and experience not a commercial. If you did a good job, I will remember you and you do not need to give a sales pitch).

The first two are really key for LotusPhere. The rooms are dark, many times crowded, and people may or may not be fully alert because of a rough night at the ESPNZone, singing Karaoke, going to the Engineers party, etc. You have got to show energy so the people will be involved in your presentation.

Also, the best speakers are the ones who engage their audience through questions to them and such.

Watch the speakers from IBM Senior Management and see how they do it. They are very well schooled.

And yes it is tough to get away from the laptop when doing a technical presentation. So get someone to assist you much like Rocky had Allison helping him last year.

And above all, dress the part by knowing your audience. You are representing yourself and possibly your company in fromt of an International group. Blazer, button down shirt and slacks are a good rule of thumb. But then again, I wore school uniforms my whole life:-).

And one last thing: Practice, practice, practice. Give a dry run to colleagues at work or your spose/significant other. But do something to get feedback. My goal would to be able to make a presentation without having to look at each slide for content/speaking points more than once per slide.

If people who get abstracts accepted would like me to look at the presentations for business/is control issues and COBIT objectives that can be tied in, please let me know.

219.4. Stan Rogers
(10/08/2004 02:15 PM)

Perhaps, but a blazer, button-down shirt and SHORTS will have all of the metalheads in the audience hanging on your every word, hoping to hear a guitar solo.

219.5. Andrew Pollack
(10/08/2004 02:20 PM)

I agree with some of what Mr. Byrne has said, but not all. In fact, I'd guess he would both love and hate my presentation style at the same time.

Personally, I think the most important thing you can do is empathize with the people you're talking to, and try to figure out what would be useful for you in their shoes.

In terms of style, treat them as equals not students, and talk to them not at them. If you can, be yourself.

219.6. Christopher Byrne
(10/08/2004 02:28 PM)

What no Elvis impersonators? That is what I mean about the audience. If you are doing an IT Management track presentation, you will have a very different audience than what you will have in the Best Practices Admin/Development tracks.

Presentation styles really are biased by peoples expectations/views. I just know what drives me batty. It might be interesting to have people who are Toastmaster members sit in the presentations and give feedback to people.

As long as a speaker engages an audience and d-o-e-s n-o-t s-p-e-a-k i-n m-o-n-o-t-o-n-e, I am usually good to go.

My biggest challenge is speaking slowly:-)

And my Dad is Mr. Byrne;-)

219.7. Declan Lynch
(08/10/2004 14:46)

The 'm-o-n-o-t-o-n-e' speakers always make me leave early.

One thing you learn as a CLI is to keep your audience interested. I remember doing my first notes course as a student and the instructor spoke in monotone and read ever line from the Instructor Guide. It was one of the worse courses I was ever on.

When I started teaching myself I only looked at the IG to see what I should be talking about and then taught it the best way I knew by talking about the subject and giving examples etc. Keep everybody interested and everybody learns.

Now, if I could think of something interesting to talk about at l'sphere then I'd submit an abstract..

219.8. Andrew Pollack
(10/08/2004 05:34 PM)


I think your template design would be a fabulous BOF to submit.

Maybe a developer session centered around creating templates that are re-usable and avoid hardcoding of file and image names and the like.

219.9. Duffbert
(10/09/2004 06:15 AM)

Ken has been MIA for the last two years, I think. I know he wasn't there in 2004 and 2003, and I wasn't there for 2002. So I think the last one I know of was 2001.

219.10. Duffbert
(10/10/2004 09:31 AM)

Actually, I just remembered... I have a tape of Wax from one of the Lotuspheres... If you're interested in seeing it, drop me an email.

219.11. Brian Benz
(10/11/2004 02:08 PM)

Ken Wax was a great speaker, and Duffbert has a Wax Tape, I have some of his excellent slides printed out (Wax Paper?). I also enjoy Rocky Oliver, Larry Whipple, and Tony Higham, all great speakers that really know their stuff.

One point I have to make, seeing all the gripes here (isn’t this thread supposed to be about your favorite speakers?). Having spoken for most of the major Lotus/IBM conferences since 1998, I want to speak up a bit on behalf of ALL speakers, and ask everyone to have a little appreciation of any speaker willing to get up there and share.

Most of these guys are up there with the best of intentions – they just want to share their knowledge. If they have anything valuable to share with their peers, their background and expertise is probably technical, so they may not be the best communicators. If you think their presentation skills are lacking, remember that you (probably) came for the content, not the speaker. And picture yourself up there. Chances are that they’re trying as hard as they can.

And as for self-promotion – remember that most independent technical speakers are not compensated at all, or if they are, the compensation does not even come close to covering what it costs to develop the material, get there and speak. When I spoke I described how I make a living for probably 10 or 15 seconds out of a one-hour presentation. I rarely gained any new customers from speaking, if that’s any consolation, and most speakers rarely do, no matter how good they are. Some may not appreciate the brief commercial interruption, but maybe someone will, and if you liked their content, and the speaker can make money from their products/services in between losing money speaking at conferences, they will come back and you can see them again!

There, I feel better now. :)

219.12. Ben Poole
(10/12/2004 01:13 PM)

Agree with Brian: I doff my hat to anyone with the chutzpah to stand up and talk to IT people... as a crowd we can be *very* snarky ;-)

219.13. Declan Lynch
(12/10/2004 13:21)

Andrew, thanks for the vote of confidence but I think a whole session, even a BOF, on Blogsphere would not hold everybodies interest.

What would be nice would be a developer session on 'Hints & Tips For Web Development' that could be presented by the developers of all the blogging and wiki templates.

If that wasn't a runner then maybe a BOF on 'Anything You Can Do, Domino Can Do Better' showing how Blogging and Wiki were invented outside of domino but brought into the domino world and then expand that out to include other real world apps that have been moved to the domino world like webmail, crm etc.

219.14. Declan Lynch
(12/10/2004 13:31)

Forgot to say...

I did stand up at the OpenNTF BOF last year and talk about BlogSphere after Bruce decided to introduce me to everybody. ( my own fault for arriving late with a can of beer in my hand... Typical Irish ) That was an interesting experience, thankfully the BOF was very informal.

219.15. Rock
(10/13/2004 04:35 AM)

re: "outside the box" - when choosing topics/speakers for the BP track we look for a mixture of sessions - some core stuff, maybe presented in an interesting manner (think Joe and Duffbert's "Java for Domino Developers"), some stuff that hasn't been covered before (think Andrew's Admin Client session - incidentally, that was the first Best Practice session for what is the most complex client - ever), stuff that may be topical (the spam session we did a couple of years ago), and then we have the "must see" speakers (including Bob Balaban).

But we always leave room for the "surprise" submissions - stuff we didn't even think about, but that have broad appeal (the spam session was one of those). When choosing sessions from "new" (to us) speakers, we look at their abstract - was it interesting, but not stoopid? Did it convey what they are going to talk about in a consise, easy-to-grasp manner? Did it "hook" me? If it is someone I am just not familiar with at all, and we're interested, we may even set up a phone talk with them to see what they're like, if they have the personality and drive to be a good speaker.

For me it has been very important to make sure the BP track is intersting, topical, and fun to attend. I want "buzz" about that track, and I try to minimize the "bad" speakers, because as we all know a bad speaker can easily ruin an otherwise good session. BUT, that doesn't mean that we don't take new speakers - I look for new blood every year (Andrew and Joe/Duffbert were new last year; Gabriella Davis was one of the newbies the year before; and so on). So, if you're interested in being a speaker at Lotusphere, then you should submit early and often. Make your Abstract interesting - make sure it conveys what you're going to talk about, but make it interesting to read. It is ok to let some of your personality come out, but don't force it - we can spot that a mile away.

As for attire - well, I haven't been the best with that, have I? ;) I am a geek, I am talking to geeks, so when I speak I dress like a geek. In fact, here's a funny story: a few years ago at Lotusphere they quit handing out LS shirts to non-IBM speakers. They told us to wear "our corporate shirts". At the time I didn't have a corporate shirt, neither did Newbs or Bob. So, we decided that for us, our "corporate" shirts were going to be Hawaiian shirts. And that is why you always see Bob, Newbs, and myself wearing Hawaiian shirts at Lotusphere when we speak.

One final thing: The best advice I can give to a speaker is this. You need to talk to the audience as if you were telling the same stuff to your geek buddies, but without the expletives. :)

I wrote a post about speaking awhile back - maybe I'll dig it out and freshen it up a bit since call for abstracts is out.

Sorry so long a post!


219.16. Richard Schwartz
(10/13/2004 09:16 PM)

Hey, Brian! Great to see that you're blog is back in action! And, not to flatter you excessively, but you're a "can't miss" speaker, for sure! Like Andrew, you seem to have a knack for going places that other speakers wouldn't dare, and you both seem to pull it off with ease. (I know that it's really a lot of hard work though. Hat's off!)

Sadly, a number of my "can't miss" speakers have left the Lotus speaking circuit. Charlie Kaufman, Gary Devendorf, and Ned Batchelder amongst them. I sure do miss Don Bulens, too. Of current IBM Lotus speakers, Ed Brill is almost too obvious to mention. I seem to always be scheduled up against him, too, which burns me twice because he attracts too much of my audience, and because I don't get to see him! I think Bill Andreas is one of the best presenters from IBM in Westford these days, and amongst the non-IBM folks let's not forget to Newbs, either. He's definitely in the same class as Rocky and Bob.