A Gift for Presentation

I wrote a while back about what I do for a living. Electronic discovery is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but it takes years of seeing and stomping through the myriad evolving details to become good at it. What’s more, you really have to be passionate about it to care about it at all, and you really have to take being a geek to unheard of heights to think jokes about it are funny.

Case in point: today, we ran into an issue with a tool that creates load files (a file that guides documents into a databasee) and we figured out that it had been designed to use text and field delimiters – commas and quotation marks – that were also commonly included in the data. It’s not smart. I blurted out, “Pipes and carets!” Which prompted my friend Lori to say, “It sounds like you’re just yelling out random words.” She knew what I meant, but I said I had a case of technological Tourette’s. At random intervals, we both yelled things like “1024!” or “One oh one oh one oh!” for a while.

That’s probably not funny to you unless you’re in my industry. Make enough of those jokes, though, and you stop caring. You embrace your inner nerd. You find humor where it arises because you have to vent the stress of carrying technology solutions to pressurized trial lawyers where you can.

Which leads me to yesterday’s Lunch & Learn, led by one of the office’s specialists, a guy named Leon. Of the many un-sexy concepts we deal with, up there on the list is search syntax. We have four or five ways of finding terms and concepts within extracted text, and it’s really important to know the difference, but I didn’t expect it to be at all interesting. I was going for the free food.

As it happened, the food was great. Surprisingly, so was the presentation. While everything was getting underway and people were helping themselves to sandwiches, there was a video of the cartoon version of the Pink Panther showing. Leon explained that we were all becoming sleuthes like Inspector Clouseau. He then segued into a visual of Angela Lansbury (of Murder, She Wrote fame, of course).

The next slide was a preview of the presentation, but again, atypical. He flashed up a graphic that looked like the nutritional information on food packaging, except that he’d broken up the good and bad things he was going to cover by carbohydrates, protein, fat and sodium. Daily recommended allowances were weighted as to how much time he intended to spend on them. And he recognized that there were differing skill levels in his audience, acknowledging he’d be covering things that some in the room already knew with, “I apologize if I’m teaching any of you to suck eggs.”

Because if there’s a skill set that some people already have down, it’s … wait, what?

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time around English people on their own turf, you know that they have a good time with language. Leon used constant verbal gooses to keep people entertained. He punctuated things that weren’t optional with, “Full stop.” He demonstrated searches across a database by looking for dirty words and phrases. When he started talking about the big-guns technology, there was the Matrix background going. At one point – and it would take me way too long to explain why it was hilarious, but it was – the clown from Stephen King’s It made an appearance. Leon didn’t just go online and show us what he needed to show us. He made it a game. He demonstrated that even the parts of our job that we don’t necessarily think are fun, can be. I think my next presentation is going extra-geeky, thanks to a dose of in-office inspiration.

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7 Responses to A Gift for Presentation

  1. pithypants says:

    Dude. I’m envious. I pride myself on my presentation skills, but don’t think I’ve ever managed to weave this much fun into one. Noted.

    • popdialectic says:

      There’s always a better mousetrap. I kind of like to think I teach things well, too, but this one was so good that I felt like I had to trumpet his mad skills.

  2. bonnie says:

    I wish I’d been there. And after reading this post, I had to go look up the origin of the phrase “suck eggs”, which I thought I had learned from Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn. Turns out, according to a UK website, the first recorded instance might have been from a translation in 1707, by J. Stevens of Quevedo (Spanish Playwright), based on a common recognition through history that old people usually became toothless, therefore developed skill at sucking their food. (Maybe I’m a bit geeky too.)

    • popdialectic says:

      He could have said, “Sorry if I’m teaching you to scratch your armpits,” and I would have thought it was hilarious. The etymology of that particular phrase gets better with every interpretation I learn of it, though. Thanks!

  3. Barbara says:

    Have you ever heard of a book called Presentation Zen? I had to read it when I was working with Frontier – terrific, quick read on how to make presentations 10x more interesting with the use of single phrases, images, etc instead of charts, graphs, and line after line of text. I also have a quick presentation I could send you on how to avoid Death by Powerpoint, but the thing is that some of it may not make sense without the presenter (i.e. me) to explain it, which is sorta the point.

    Another approach is called Pecha Kucha – 20 images, 20 seconds each – making the entire presentation 6 minutes and 40 seconds. This keeps presentations concise and the interest level up.

    • popdialectic says:

      I have heard of Pecha Kucha, although I think it sounds better suited to presentations when you’re pitching something rather than teaching. Even for people who pride themselves on their educational abilities, I’m not sure what could be covered in six and a half minutes that would really require a teaching presentation in the first place. Will definitely check out the book, though. Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Crawl Across the Finish Line | The Popdialectic

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