Monday, 6 October 2014

Should You Mention Your Bio When Speaking?

The day before I was due to speak at the Agile on the Beach conference a re-tweet entered my timeline suggesting that mentioning your biography during your talk was pointless. The premise seemed to be that people came to hear your content, not your life story. And anyway they can see your bio in the programme so just “get on with it already”.

I’m not sure exactly what had happened to cause that tweet but I found myself reflecting on part of my own talk just hours before I was due to give it, which was mightily uncomfortable. I reasoned that perhaps what they had seen was someone dedicating a significant amount of time, say 10 minutes, to reeling off their CV. If that was the case then I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. However, in case what they did was only a minute or so of back-story, then I’m going to dispense my $0.02 on the topic, for what it’s worth...

Context is everything, especially when you’re trying to understand what the presenter’s trying to say and how they may have come to their conclusions. I feel my Test-Driven SQL talk requires a bit more background that the other talks I have given in the last because I am not normally a part of the community for which it is intended, or from the community which you might normally find someone to present it - I’m a C++/C# application programmer by trade, not a SQL developer or DBA. The entire basis of the talk is about how I came to apply the same set of principles from my normal programming endeavours to the world of the relational database. Although what I say makes sense to me and my colleagues (who also apply it), I know it may seem unnatural to a native from that side of the software development fence.

In a world where one size never fits all it is the constraints (or lack of them) on the speaker’s subject matter that allows us to put the content they are presenting into focus. And as such we can either identify ourselves with those constraints and therefore become more attentive, or realise it comes from a different world (or a least one we are unlikely to face in the shorter term) and just enjoy the talk as another bit of background knowledge to bank for when the relevant time comes.

For example, a common disparity exists between the start-up and enterprise cultures. Anyone from a garage start-up reading my recent “Developer Freedom” article will probably wonder what all the brouhaha is about. Similarly they may also ignore any notion of formalising a SQL-based public interface to their database because time-to-market matters, and anyway they only have a single product so there aren’t any “data leeches” to worry about.

Like all headline grabbing tweets the truth is no doubt much murkier than it appears on the surface. Personally I welcome some relevant knowledge about a speaker’s background in the talk as I’m generally too lazy to read all the abstracts and bio’s before picking a talk to listen to, at least at a conference. However, I feel that the information must provide some useful context for the presentation they are about to undertake to be worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. FWIW I tend to agree. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this.
    I've certainly sat in presentations where the speaker spends too long on introducing themselves (even 5 minutes is almost always too long) - and it's put me off the rest of the material.

    On the other hand I've seen talks where I would have liked to have known more about why the speaker feels he or she is qualified to talk on the subject.

    Personally, when I give talks, I usually try to paint a very brief picture of what I have done that is relevant - and that varies a lot. I recently presented to an F# meet-up group - where I am virtually unknown, and very much a beginner - so I felt it necessary to talk a little more about why I was up there talking.
    Other times it's, "Hi, I'm Phil Nash. This is my twitter handle..." and then straight into the material.