Drupalcorn and Humor in Presenting


Yesterday I gave a talk at Drupalcorn about my work porting Flag module. All in all, it went pretty well. 

I spent about two weeks of evenings and weekends to put together the slides. When I started writing the session, I was expecting it to be very code heavy, but it quickly became apparent that wouldn't work. Code is most expressive when you have it all in front of you. It's least expressive in the constrained setting of a presentation. You really can't expect your audience to absorb much of anything past a few lines for the minute that a sample is on the projector. Example module is also far more effective for Drupal 8 module code than any presentation. No, what people wanted from a presentation was structure and connection.

To me, communicating structure and connection is best expressed via diagrams and short stories told in comic book form. While I have a large library of graphics I’ve created for work, I decided to go for a far more simple look for my talk. The graphics are black outlines with white fill, and occasional color for emphasis. While it may look a bit cheesy to me compared to the stuff I write for my day job, it worked very well for this talk. It also played well with Reveal.js. To save time, I put the graphics together in PowerPoint rather than hand drawing each and every one. 

I practiced the session twice before giving it. I would have preferred to practice it a few more times to cut down on stumbling and rambling, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Despite not being in the best of health, nervousness, and lack of caffeine in my system, I managed to keep up my enthusiasm and momentum while managing to ad-lib in a bit of humor.

I received a lot of positive compliments afterward. It’s still an effort for me to accept them without trying to dismiss it as fortune or luck. I’ve gotten better at this in recent years with a lot of personal effort. It’s still quite difficult for me to internalize it. Two compliments in particular stuck out to me.

The first was from a member of the Backdrop project. My session was apparently the best and clearest session on Drupal 8 modules he’s seen. I was really happy to hear this, since I consider it a personal mission of mine to make Drupal 8 seem less scary to module developers. I’m skeptical of the Backdrop project, but I also recognize I’m just the person to be skeptical of it. I have an OOP and Enterprise background, so Drupal 8 feels like home to me. I have to take a step back and recognize that others find that intimidating. 

The second compliment was from a prominent Drupal mentor. The part that impressed her the most was how I was able to insert humor into the talk “without being offensive”. Thinking about this, I can credit my partners for this. We often watch MST3k as well as a pantheon of bad movies. I love movie riffing, but a lot of riffing groups take what I consider the easy way out and make adolescent quips often at the expense of disadvantaged groups. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have found that yes, you can be funny and not offend people. The problem is that it requires a lot of careful thinking, more than most riffers want to put into their commentary tracks. Admittedly, I don’t need to be funny in session talk, or at least all that often, but it’s possible. 

There’s another day of sessions today. I won’t be talking, but I’ll be taking the opportunity to try to listen, relax, and reflect.