Feb 10, 2010

TEDx Event in Hyderabad: Lessons & Experience

I was among those fortunate people who were invited for TED x Hi-Tech City, an independently organised TED event at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. TED is a great platform for amazing people to come and share their ideas which make a difference to the world around us. TEDx is a program run by TED which allows local, self-organized groups to organize TED-like talks.

The Experience
I went to TEDx with a lot of expectations. After having seen so many TED talks online, I was expecting some good stuff here as well. And I was not at all disappointed. None of the speakers except Nagesh Kukunoor, the famous film director, was a known celebrity. Yet each speaker was doing something in life which was so very different from normal people like us. They all had a great story to tell. How well they told their story, is where their presentation skills come to play.

Lessons I Learnt as a Presenter
I am not going to talk about the life lessons I learnt from each speaker. Let me talk about the lessons I learnt as a presenter. I critically evaluated every speaker on stage and here is what I make out of it.

1. Getting audience attention: Karuna Gopal used a simple trick which I really liked. Suddenly in the middle of the presentation she said, "this is the most important slide of my presentation." This really got my (and everyone's attention) to whatever she showed and said next. You should use this trick once in a while. Use it just once in your presentation though.

2. Simplifying technical presentations: Syed Maqbool, one of the talented men behind the Indian Moon mission, talked about how the Indian scientists actually went to the Moon. His topic was interesting but his presentation became too technical. He also tried to cover more than what the time permitted and hence could not explain all the complex terms and the technology which took the probe to the Moon.

I have a simple suggestion for people who present technical stuff to laymen. "Show your presentation to a group of people who know nothing about the topic, who are like your audience and then take their feedback. Then tweak the presentation to make it easy to understand."

3. Transitions do look good: Deepak Menon from Microsoft showed to the large audience at ISB and to me that transitions can be made to look great. After seeing his presentation, I have had a change of heart (and opinion).
I have always recommended people to stay away from transitions. Rather than wasting time thinking about it, use the time to rehearse. But seeing Deepak present, I also felt like playing with transitions in my next presentation.

He used simple transitions after every slide. Once the slide is complete, the entire slide moves up and gives way to the new one. Something like a 'Push Up' transition effect in MS PowerPoint 2007. He used it less and used it very well to add drama to his content. Another speaker Sharath used a simple 'Fade In' and it looked great.

4. Credibility booster: Dr. Neeraj Raj is working towards digitalising content for MBBS courses in India. So that students get access to best in class medical teachers sitting anywhere in India.

While he was making his point, he showed us some news clippings; scanned articles from newspapers. I don't remember what topic it was, but it did help him add credibility to his point. If you are stating some facts which might not be so obvious to your audience, rely on external sources of credibility like newspapers to drive the point home. The audience surely trusts the national newspaper more that it trusts you.

5. Humor works: Everytime a speaker used humor effectively, there were smiles all over. Film director Nagesh Kukunoor used it, Jyotirmaya Sharma used it, Animator Prosenjit Ganguly used it and so did Kanthi. But all these people used humor differently.

While Nagesh talked about some unknown facts about the industry which made people laugh, Kanthi played with words. Jyotirmaya's humor was at times self-deprecatory. Prosenjit created humor by his behaviour and his funny videos. One thing that I learnt from all of this was, humor works. Use it the way you are comfortable. Everyone has a sense of humor. Use humor the way you do it with your friends and colleagues; the natural way.


The next time there is TED or TEDx in your town/city, make sure you visit it. Even if you have to pay for it.

8 comments :

  1. Vivek,
    That was a very nice post on the presentation aspects of the talks at TEDxHitechCity

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  2. I was present in the event as one of the volunteers... I totally agree with you on the points you mentioned.. Though Syed's topic was interesting but use of jargon made it a bit dull.. and it also showed the difference between presentations of scientists and engineers.. former is full of details, latter is more entertaining :)

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  3. @sriks7
    I have tried to summarise all that I learnt in short. Congrats to you for organising the event so well.

    @Anshul
    I dont think we can generalise and comment that all scientists are not great presenters. Syed's presentation was exciting, his passion for his work was evident, he just needs to reduce his content and make it easy for the layman.

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  4. Regarding the technical presentation, perhaps some technical people should use images more. Images can often convey concepts much quicker and easier than verbal explanation.
    Einstein often used images to communicate his ideas to others.
    I suppose it depends on the topic, the goal of the presentation, and the topic being discussed. But my experience of working in IT in the past, is that some technical people could improve their presentations more by adding more tools / props (such as images).

    Lots of good points here.

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  5. @Edmond
    Interesting point. It demands some exploration.

    Images are useful in every presentation but I wonder how far can they explain a technical point. May be they can only be one more tool for the presenter to enhance the understanding levels of the audience. To at least see rather than just visualise.

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  6. Vivek,

    Sorry, should have been a bit more clear about "images". I didn't mean images of objects or literal representations (yes, often technical presentations are about just imparting information i.e. in an educational programme).
    But often, of course, technical presentations are more than just imparting educational information. They're about getting people to think about the technology in a wider context i.e. the overall business goals, development goals, who is going to be using the technology and (user experience), and so on.
    Also, could be to get technical people to think creatively in order to work out a technical solution to a technical problem. And so on.

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  7. Hi Vivek, only now do I have time to read many presentation posts again, so that's why the delay :-).

    Very awesome that you went to a TEDx event! I'd like to go to one, but I think the next one is at least 5 hours away.

    But I pre-bought the domain for my city... thinking about co-organizing one :-).

    Regarding the transition slides, it is true, you can make some really cool and useful effects with that one. Just be careful not to overuse it.

    Oliver

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  8. Vivek..
    Wonderful job done. Though I fully agree that I try to cover more than the time permitted and hence fumbled a bit. I must say that you cant describe CHACE in any other form than CHandra's Altitudinal Composition Explorer. I have addressed to few tens of thousands of children and "boom" I struck the right chord.

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