This week was Cisco Live 2012 in San Diego and I had the pleasure of being able to present to our customers, clients and partners on the topic of FCoE. There’s probably quite a few blogs and tweets about product launches, announcements from all parts of the ecosystem. Any many of you, my readers probably sat in quite a few sessions and walked the World of Solutions. In this entry, I’m not going to talk about what I presented on, but I though I’d answer the question:
What is it like to present? What do you see while you’re up there?
My session, BRK-1044 FCoE for the IP Network Engineer, was scheduled for Tuesday. Which meant that I arrived on Monday to sign in, get my badge, find my scheduled room and so forth. This year all speakers were to wear a crisp, long sleeve blue shirt. You probably saw quite a few of us walking around in these. A change from previous years where we wore black polo style shirts. Anyhow, given that these shirts were folded, they had that deep set of creases that made your chest look like a recently unfolded road map. (For those that have never seen a road map, it’s like Google Maps, but in paper form, without the annotations, details, zooming, scrolling and is generally limited to a specific area. Also, once you unfold it, it’s almost impossible to fold it exactly back the way it came).
But I digress.
Anyhow, I did decide to iron the shirt as I might as well look presentable to my audience. One never knows who will be in attendance. Maybe the Queen of England will be stopping by after her Diamond Jubilee celebration as rumor has it (started here) she has an interested in FCoE and storage networking.
Lesson #1: Always check the steam holes in the iron for old crusty, starch, before using. Otherwise, you’ll add these odd white spots to your otherwise dark blue shirt.
So Tuesday comes and my session starts at 4pm. I checked out my room location on Monday such that I would know ahead of time that my room was approximately 3 miles from the front door to the convention center. So I get to my room about 15minutes before the session starts to load up the presentation onto the screen, check that the mic works, and pour a cup of water. Oh and one important lesson learned from previous years..
Lesson #2: Turn off your cell phone. You may think it’s annoying when an audience member’s cell phone goes off during a preso, it’s worse when it happens to the presenter. Who’s hooked up to a microphone and has two 500W speakers attached to it. Nobody wants to hear your ring tone while you go over the finer points of end device FLOGI and fibre channel nameserver propagation.
Audience members slowly file in to the session and take their seats. Recall that it’s 4pm. Therefore for a pretty good population in this session, it’s after hours for them. I seem to recall taking an evening class back in college and it was pretty rough, and those were one hour long. Cisco Live sessions are, in general, two hours. Not too easy for the guy from Maine who for him it’s 7pm or the woman from London for who it’s 9pm, or if someone came from Asia, it’s 7am the next day.
Observing the audience throughout the presentation you realize a couple of things.
- You have no idea what their experiences are, prior to getting to your session. Have they been in presentations all day long and are exhausted. Are they managers and you have gone too deep in your frame by frame protocol analysis? Are they engineers and your market-share, ROI calculations are driving them to wish you would go faster and get back to optical frequency optimization. This leads to my second observation.
- The audience will go though the “bath tub” model for audience attention span. This means that at the beginning and the end of your presentation, they will pay the most attention. However, in the middle, you’ll spend quite a bit of energy trying to keep them paying attention. Remember, 35 minutes into a 2 hour presentation, they may be struggling to stay awake. It may be that the material that you are presenting, while riveting to you and some of the audience members, may be down right boring to others. You can prevent this, by a) not speaking in a mono-tone, b) not reading your slides, c) changing your pitch, volume and speed of your voice and d) breaking up the monotony of slides by telling a story/case study etc.. This leads me to
Lesson #3: Check your ego at the door. If they fall asleep, let them. If they walk out the door 5 minutes into your session for which you prepared for 9 months for. Let them. Maybe they have no interest in your topic, or thought it was about something else. It happens. They didn’t walk in and realize, “Great, Seth Mason is speaking, I’m outta here.” This could be their 3rd session of the day and they are tired and your voice covering packet traces is the perfect sound to lull them off to dream land.
True Story: A few years ago when I was presenting at CiscoLive in Anaheim, California, I had a gentleman in the front row. He came in early, introduced himself to me saying how excited he was for my session since his company was investigating the technology I was presenting on. Five minutes into the presentation, he was asleep. 25 minutes into it, he woke up, asked a really intriguing question, that was a) interesting to the audience and b) was perfectly on topic. And then promptly dozed back off. An hour later this same gentleman, with 15 minutes left in the presentation when I was covering architectures, and asked another perfectly on topic question. I’m not sure how he did this, as he was most definitely asleep due to his light snoring, but how he was paying attention at the same time, to this day amazes me.
It always seems like the time slot you get is against you.
- Early morning. You’re hoping your audience got a good night’s sleep and had their morning cup of coffee. Otherwise your reverse token passing scheme will send them back to bed.
- Before lunch. If they skipped breakfast, they’ll want to duck out early to get to lunch, and if the food is good, which it usually is, they’ll want to get there before the crowds and lines form.
- After lunch. Food Coma.
- Mid afternoon. You’ve actually got a good spot, they’ve got energy from lunch and for almost all attendees it’s not early morning or late evening.
- Late afternoon (4pm, which is what I had). They’ve been in sessions all day listening to blue shirts like yourself talk about upstream network optimization inspired by the migratory patterns of Northwest Pacific Salmon spawning runs. If there’s an event that night, like the customer appreciation party, they’ve got other things on their mind.
Lesson #4: Have fun. If you appear to be enjoying your session, smiling, making eye contact, genuinely interacting with the audience, they’ll enjoy the session more. Watch out on the jokes though, not everyone will find them funny. However, when you are the only storage person in a room full of LAN engineers, a drop of anti-SAN humor can go a long way.
People often ask me what’s my favorite part of the session? My answer is the end. Not because I am done, but because that’s the point whereby the audience members can walk up to you and in a small group of often 5-10 people, ask you a few questions. You can go to the white board, you can have a conversation with them and you can go into more detail in your answer than you can if someone asked you in the middle of your presentation. To me, if we could skip the lecture portion with a hundred attendees and put all the tables/desks in a circle and with a large white board go through every single question they had and have a dialog, not a lecture, this would be perfect.
And maybe that’s what makes the Live in CiscoLive so great. It’s that you get a chance to meet with your industry peers in a live setting, not a video conference, not a concall, not a VOD or online streamed video, but all your peers from different companies, different segments and different industries, all getting together for a 2 hour lecture, where quite often, you the presenter can learn just as much from the audience, from their questions, concerns, perspectives and observations as they do from you.
And that my friends, is why I look forward to next year.