Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A presentation from hell: when nothing else could possibly go wrong


NOTE: Cross-posted from the Infinispan blog where I originally posted the article, since, well, it doesn't have anything to do with Infinispan specifically.  :)

As a seasoned public speaker, I don't easily get flustered by minor glitches that inevitably occur when presenting or doing live code demos.  I expected a recent JUG and JBUG tour of the American mid-west to be no different. I was prepared to speak about JSR 107 and JSR 347Infinispan, and a wee bit on Hibernate OGM and NoSQL. All subjects I'm pretty familiar with, totalling to about an hour of yacking. Followed by a live coding demo to walk people through Infinispan's core API. Simple.

So where does one start when talking about what went embarrassingly wrong at the Madison Java User Group on the 29th of Feb? Well, I suppose mistaking my iPad VGA connector for the mini displayport to VGA connector for my MacBook when leaving London was a start. Mix in the fact that this realisation only happened in a room full of people, with a few minutes to go before the start of the talk. Nice. Unable to connect my laptop to the projector, I had no choice but to present off my iPad instead. Which was fine, except that ten minutes into my talk, my iPad spuriously decided to shut down. Epic fail. But who needs slides, right?  Not me, for sure - I'm way too cool for that.  So I continued on, unfazed. Now try explaining Eric Brewer's CAP theorem without any visual aids. Fun, right? I tried to use the whiteboard. No pens! The organiser rushed out to find some. And none of them worked! Even old-school technology was failing on me that day.

Then come demo time, I was able to borrow a Linux laptop from Red Hatter Jey Paulraj who was in the audience, and transfer my demo to it. Given that the laptop didn't have the tools needed to actually run the demo, the entire demo consisted of me just walking people through an Infinispan configuration XML file. For half an hour. Suspenseful and thrilling! Well, peppered with anecdotes about the life of an open source developer and several tangents on the architecture of various parts of Infinispan, the time did actually fly by (and the audience did seem at least somewhat engaged!)

The clincher, though - I had a PDF containing URLs where people could download the demo, and learn more about the JSRs and Infinispan. Bringing this PDF up on Jey's laptop, still projecting for the benefit of the room, resulted in his PDF viewer crashing. That's when I threw in the towel - any more information from me would require tequila, preferably delivered intravenously!

Now for the moral of the story, don't trust technology. Always be prepared to get your message across with no visual aids whatsoever. Oh, and don't forget your Macbook's VGA adapter. :)

Addendum: I repeated the talk a few times in Milwaukee and Chicago, and everything ran really well - after a quick trip to the local Apple store to replace my VGA adapter!

Addendum 2: I now am on a short break climbing ice in the Canadian Rockies, but will soon be presenting the same in Washington DC - drop by if you're in the neighbourhood!

Cheers
Manik