Geertjan's Blog

  • July 21, 2006

Pauses That Never Happened

Geertjan Wielenga
Product Manager
The first presentation I did for NetBeans was on 12 October 2005, at the NL-JUG's JFall Conference in Holland. It was pretty terrible. I think the main problem was that I tried to cover waaay too much material. I thought that by covering a lot of material, it would be interesting for a wider range of participants. However, it all ended up being pretty chaotic. One thing I learnt there was to focus on a very specific part of the product and to really try and go into some depth. And to pick one very specific demo that goes into a wide range of the features you're describing. So when I was there again at the NL-JUG's JSpring Conference recently (15 June 2006), my presentation was pretty different (plus I'd done variations on the same presentation about 5 times in the interim).

One cool thing about the NL-JUG conferences is that they publish the results of the on-line evaluation forms that participants are asked to fill in. Dutch people are known for their directness, so some of the comments one sees in those evaluations are pretty direct (for example: "boring, pointless, devoid of content"). It's pretty encouraging to see that the comments (and the points) of the two sessions I held at the NL-JUG onferences show a lot of improvement (or that I forgot to bribe them the first time round): These are the evaluation results from 12 October 2005 and these are from June 15 2006. (If you're interested in seeing my results, just search for "NetBeans" and you'll find the evaluation and the comments, in Dutch.)

What's also helped is that at JavaOne I had a great speaker coaching session (I would highly recommend it for anyone doing presentations at JavaOne, they're free and one-to-one and last about an hour). The main thing I learnt there was to pause instead of saying "so" or "uhhh". Pauses are good, giving the audience a moment to reflect on what you've said. In the words of the speaker coach: "'So' and 'uhhh' are pauses that never happened." And the more pauses a speech has, the more room you're giving your audience for absorbing what you've said. They're most likely to be absorbing whatever you said right before your pause. So, that's why it makes sense to pause right after saying something important. Or when listing something. For example, when you say: "First we will do A, then we will do B, and then we will do C", make sure to pause at each comma, so that the audience can reflect for an instant on what you've said and mentally prepare themselves for what you're going to do. Otherwise, they're likely to remember only the last thing in the list, instead of each indivividual item. (And... speaking slowly is important: better to not get through all your material than to get through it all, but so quickly that no one learnt anything from it.) And always remember to drop the "so" and "uhhh". Just, whenever you have nothing to say, pause. There's nothing wrong with that. So, thanks a lot, Mr. Speaker Coach from JavaOne (I'm sorry I didn't get your name). I learnt a lot from you and the NL-JUG evaluation results reflect that.

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Comments ( 2 )
  • Ivan Sunday, July 23, 2006
    Hi Geertjan, the number and length of pauses depend on audience. But you're right, it's better to keep silence for a while than saying this ugly 'uhh'.
  • Gregg Sporar Monday, July 24, 2006
    +1 on the importance of pauses. Reminds me of the quote (attribute to Claude Debussy, and others):

    "Music is the silence between the notes."
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