Product Management | 3 min read

Talk: They’re all just perspectives

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Start-up advice often comes in the form of populist phrases. Usually they’re are at odds with other valid phrases. Sometimes they’re at odds with reality too.

Goto phrases like ‘Release Early & Often’, ‘Ship It’, ‘Focus on customers’, ‘Ignore your customers’, ‘If they’re not paying you, they’re not a customer’, etc. only resonate with people who’ve experienced the opposite.

You can only learn when you’re ready to learn. If you’ve never experienced bloatware, it’s unlikely a post about feature creep will resonate. As Clayton Christensen says, questions are places in your mind where answers fit. So until you’ve asked “How did this product get so bloated?“, you’re not ready to hear about why you must say no.

Unfortunately these phrases are often clung onto by communities as their battle cry. Blinded by their own experiences, they believe their way is “The Way”, reality be damned.

The thing is that no one is right. No one is wrong. They’re all just perspectives.

On the 2nd of October 2012, I tried to make this very point. I opted to stand up at the Business of Software, in front of 400 of my peers & idols, amongst them Joel Spolsky, Kathy Sierra, and others. I had just 7 minutes and 30 seconds, 15 slides, and nothing else.

Here’s how it went…

What’s a Lightning Talk Like?

You hear your name followed by a burst of applause. It fizzles out after a few seconds and a hush falls over the room. The house lights dim. You walk on stage nervously, your usual swagger now a distant memory. There is no stand. There is no laptop. There is no remote. There is just you, and eight hundred discerning eyeballs expecting greatness. A barely audible beep draws your attention to the floor. 7:29. 7:28. 7:27. Fuck. That timer is for you. Better get going.

I like to think I can be pretty relaxed when presenting. Between my career as a lecturer & my short time as a conference speaker, I’d estimate I’ve spent about 1,000 hours speaking in front of crowds of all sizes. You’d think that would help in a circumstance like this. It does not.

Practice helps, but that’s table stakes. Everyone expects you to have practiced. In terms of practical tips I’d offer the following:

  • Pick an area where you have lots to say, this makes ad-libbing much easier.
  • Plan your talk as 12-13 consecutive points, each one building upon the previous.
  • Have an intro point where you explain what you’re going say, and and outro point where you re-iterate the main point.
  • Every practice saying each point in about 30 seconds. You will speed up when it’s for real.
  • If you can be funny, do. You’ll be stressed, and performing at speed. It can easily create a tense atmoshere. Humour dispels it.
  • Don’t get clever with Keynote/Powerpoint animations or effects. You won’t be using your own laptop and this is hard enough as it is.
  • Obsess about the ending. That’s the piece that people remember most. Your last sentences should be well thought out and make solid points.

Business of Software is a great conference, if you’re considering attending, I strongly recommend you apply to give a lightning talk. I wasn’t sure I could do it well, and I’m still not sure I did, but it was a great experience. Give it a try.