Organizing Your Talk for Grace Hopper 2011

Sometimes the task of organizing a talk seems more challenging than the material that you will talk about. Here are some things that might be helpful as you prepare your Grace Hopper 2011 presentations –

1. Story

Compose a logical story for your audience. Select the precise body of material you want your audience to learn and “know” as a result of attending your talk or panel — include only the content that is directly applicable to this particular talk. Divide your story into the sections that you will cover, like “introduction,” “concept 1,” “concept 2,” “questions and answers,” and so on.

2. Backward buildup

Backward buildup is a way of thinking about your talk from the perspective of what you would like the audience to understand by the time you finish speaking. Distributing your content in the backwards direction ensures that your story ends where and when you intend, that each section is balanced and builds to the conclusion, and that the story in its entirety “fits” within the time you have been allotted.

Working backwards from the end of your talk, assign a chunk of time to each section of the story. Work all the way back to the first minute of the talk. Example – “My total time is 1 hour. I want the audience to understand 5 aspects of rhetorical positioning — audience, purpose, genre, tone, and style; I want to discuss a sample text; I will end with questions and answers.” From the end of the talk to the beginning, the sections in the example talk are –


8 Questions and Answers 10 minutes

7 Group analysis of a text 18 minutes

6 Style 5 minutes

5 Tone 5 minutes

4 Genre 10 minutes

3 Purpose 5 minutes

2 Audience 5 minutes

1 Introduction 2 minutes

60 minutes total

As you work through the backward buildup process, you may find that there is not enough time for all of the material you wanted to cover. If this happens, go back and delete the non-essential stuff, and repeat the backward buildup until you have a solid time plan that embraces your material. The sequence of topics in each section and the articulation across sections should have a logical flow.

3. Timing

All of the sections, including the question and answer period, must add up to no more than the total number of minutes allotted for your talk. When organizing the timing, you must account for possible technical problems, ideas that come to you in real time, and appropriate anecdotes, so leave some breathing room in your plan. Your talk should be thorough, interesting, and maybe even inspiring!

4. Selection of visuals

Go back to your story and the timed sections. Ask: “Are there any visuals that will help elucidate this section?” If no, move on and tell that part of the story without visuals — audiences love this approach. If yes, then select only the visuals that advance your story. Maintain your love and attachment to other slides you may have prepared, but use only the slides that promote understanding and inspiration of your audience’s experience.

5. Visuals

The guiding principles when incorporating a slide into your talk is that the slide must advance your discussion, it must add an illustration and representation of an important concept, and it must be crystal clear. Each visual should be easy to navigate and understand from the point of view of the audience member. Don’t crowd your slides — “Less is more.” The language on each slide should be grammatically perfect; choose a font and use it consistently; build the slide from left to right and top to bottom.

6. Delivery

Have fun and don’t rush. Do not repeat — keep things moving forward. And think about this perspective: You are the reason the participants are there; your connection with the material and with the audience is the important ingredient. It does not matter one bit if you delete a few details from your talk. It is more important to respond to questions and points of interest that the participants raise — they have traveled long distances to learn from you and they deserve your direct attention.

7. Enjoyment

Your presentation experience at Grace Hopper 2011 should be as enjoyable for you as it is for your audience members!

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