Three conferences in three weeks

For someone who hasn’t travelled or done much conference speaking for the last two years, this past three weeks have been pretty busy with both. I’ve spoken at three conferences and hosted two workshops and I enjoyed every one.

The Web Is…

After speaking at last year’s very successful Handheld Conference in Cardiff, this time around at The Web Is… I was booked only to host a ‘CSS3 For Responsive Web Design’ workshop. With only a few weeks remaining before the event, Craig Lockwood asked me if I’d be willing and able to step in and speak at the conference too. Even though I knew that I was over-committing, I said “yes.”

I’d been working on a new talk, about advertising, art direction and creative soul in web design, since September. In fact I’d scheduled all of that month away from client work to allow me to write it and a new version of my workshop. Sadly even that best laid plan didn’t allow me to finish everything. Two weeks before The Web Is… I was panicking and I realised that I needed to prioritise completing the workshop over a talk at The Web Is…

Preparing my day-long CSS workshop involved writing a narrative around the lessons that I taught, creative and technical, and illustrating that story with working HTML and CSS examples. Then came the task of making what would ultimately become 375 Keynote slides.

That amount of content could fill a short book and technical editing becomes really important. Who better to help me with that than Sara Soueidan, who’s literally writing the book on CSS Shapes? With Sara I knew I was in good hands, but even so we cut it too fine to be comfortable and completed the workshop only a day before I stood up to teach it.

I knew a few weeks before that my talk wouldn’t be ready in time for The Web Is… The conference came at the end of Geek Mental Help week, so it made sense for me to host a panel discussion about mental health instead of giving a talk. I was fortunate that Christopher was already at the conference, and pleased that Cole, Relly and Clare all agreed to take the time to come to Cardiff to join me for what became a well-received discussion and an episode of Unfinished Business.

Beyond Tellerrand

I’ve wanted to speak at a Beyond Tellerrand event and visit Berlin for years. When Marc Thiele asked me to speak and host a workshop at his first event in Berlin, I jumped at the chance. My CSS workshop had gone well in Cardiff and needed only minor changes to the content and timing, so I didn’t have that to worry about, but I was still worried about my talk at the conference.

I know that I’m more confident on stage when I have confidence in the material I’m presenting. For the last two years I’ve written more detailed notes that have, over time, turned into a script that I now rehearse from. This time, the script ran to 11,000 words for a full sixty minutes.

I felt that my script needed help so I tried something new and asked my regular editor Owen Gregory to work on it. Not only did he help shape my talk for the better, he also challenged many of the points I make and in doing so helped me to improve them. I’ve seen the approach of working from a script become more popular and I hope that having talks professionally edited will become popular too.

My talk included examples of successful British advertising campaigns and while Beyond Tellerrand’s audience wasn’t familiar with them, the points I made, about today’s web design needing more art direction to help it find its creative soul, were well received.

UX Brighton

When Danny Hope emailed me earlier in the year to invite me to speak at UX Brighton 2014, I genuinely thought that he had me mixed up with Andy Budd. Andy’s well-known for speaking about user experience and runs a company that does that too, so surely there must be some mistake?

Danny explained that he’d heard the episode of Unfinished Business where Jeremy and I argue about advertising and would like me to expand my thoughts into a talk. I thought that was a great idea and that talk became ‘Counting Stars: Creativity over predictability’ that I gave in both Berlin and Brighton.

Mostly, conference organisers ask for talks to fill sixty minutes or slightly less if there’s Q&A. Occasionally some ask for a forty-five minute talk, so this time I came up with a structure for ‘Counting Stars’ that would allow for both. I split the talk into four connected sections, each lasting fifteen minutes. For shorter sessions I can simply drop one part that’s least relevant to the audience and for both Beyond Tellerrand and UX Brighton that was part three covering creative briefs and hiring an agency.

I wasn’t just nervous about giving ‘Counting Stars’ for only the second time, I was also nervous about the reaction to it from UX Brighton’s audience of user experience professionals. I needn’t have worried. While I know that many people didn’t agree with me, everyone I spoke to appreciated my role as a counter-point to other speakers and gave me some incredibly useful feedback on how to improve my talk the next time I’m asked to give it.

UX Brighton was my final talk of 2014. Thanks to everyone who invited me to speak and who came to listen to me this year. I’m already looking forward to 2015.


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