I spoke at a Smashing Conference

A couple of months ago, Smashing Magazine’s Vitaly Friedman, Marc Thiele and I were talking over email when he asked if I’d fill an open speaking slot at Smashing Conference. I was already hosting two ‘Fashionably Flexible Responsive Design’ workshops there, so I hesitated because, as you might remember, I’m cutting down the number of conferences I speak at and I’d planned to speak at only An Event Apart in Austin this year.

Being in Austin had rekindled my enthusiasm for speaking. My ‘Bringing A Knife To A Gunfight’ talk about design tools and process had been well received and it seemed like a good opportunity to present it again at Smashing Conference. So I happily said “yes” to Vitaly’s kind invitation.

The historic venue for Smashing Conference was incredible. The night before the conference, the speakers gathered there to test slides and walk on the stage. I saw what some of the others had planned and I started to panic.

I’ve seen Jeremy talk about ‘The Spirit Of The Web’ before so I knew he would cover around 30% of the same content almost word-for-word. That’s not surprising really, we’ve spoken together at dozens of conferences over the last few years. Then, although Stephen’ and I disagree about some details, the theme of our talks was similar enough for him to comment that we shared the same brain. I didn’t want to sound like an echo during my keynote on Tuesday morning, so I started to think about a risky alternative.

On Monday morning I watched Jeremy and Stephen do two amazing talks, both of them ‘owning’ their subject. I decided it would be wrong to do ‘Bringing A Knife To A Gunfight’ and without anything to replace it I knew I had to write something new.

I went back to our hotel, slept for an hour and then woke up with a clear head. I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. I sat in the restaurant with tea and a blank iA Writer document and started to make notes. Within an hour I had the outline of a brand new talk.

It normally takes me weeks to make a talk; deciding on key points, constructing a narrative, illustrating it with slides. A forty-five minute talk can often include more than double that number of slides, but I decided to ‘go commando’ — that’s no slides, not no trousers — so that I could focus on talking instead.

In the new talk, I wanted to make three points, then improvise and tell stories around them. Each fifteen minute section would be about:

  • Responsive design is not (just) our problem
  • The client participation process is broken
  • How to call your client an idiot, to their face, without getting fired, then have them thank you for it

On Monday afternoon I ran through my notes with Aarron and Josh whose help made the talk more balanced. By the end of a second hour, I felt more confident and excited about speaking than I have in years.

I hope that excitement showed in my presentation. I made fun of the W3C, so-called UX professionals and French people. It was the first time I’ve mentioned Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, SpongeBob Schwammkopf and our future Queen Of England’s boobies all in the same talk. I felt it went well and nice people have said nice things since.

I could so easily have said no to Vitaly and Marc’s offer to speak. I could so easily have repeated my talk from Austin, but I’m really glad I took the risk and did something different.

Smashing Magazine will be posting videos of all the talks, including mine, in the next few weeks.


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