Train Text-imonials

My train times site is just over a year old. While I’ve picked up a handful of users, it’s fair to say that it’s not exactly gone mainstream. And that’s fine – it’s difficult to get people excited about a website that only has one function and doesn’t look visually appealing (by design).

I wanted to present trntxt at JSOxford‘s Show and Tell in May, but I knew that a black and white website wouldn’t make much of an impact. So I wanted to jazz up my talk with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and memes.

Normally, the format of JSOxford’s Show and Tell session enables people to show off their personal projects by opening the live site in a new tab, without any slides, in about 2 minutes. And while this would have been OK, I really wanted to demonstrate the functionality on a smartphone, which is kind of difficult to do when there are about 50 people to present to.

Instead I used my slot to demonstrate trntxt in more of a ‘lightning talk’ fashion.

17 slides in 3 minutes.

trntxt presentation at jsoxford
Photo by Ryan Brooks

Now I’ve been to enough tech events to know what I like and what I don’t like about lightning talks. I hate presentations which have slides that are just walls of text – I can’t read and listen at the same time, so I don’t expect anyone else to. I like talks that are illustrated with pictures – if you can use a picture instead of a bullet point, all the better. And I like talks that are funny – that doesn’t mean they have to be full of jokes, you just need to be over the top enthusiastic about it and people will laugh. If your project doesn’t even excite you, how can you expect anyone else to get excited about it?

I made a bunch of slides that told the story in pictures, either screenshots or images completely unrelated to my web app. I also added a screen recording of my iPhone using QuickTime on the work Macbook. The video was originally in a proprietary format that wouldn’t stream on PowerPoint Online (classic Apple), but then PowerPoint offered to convert the video into an HTML5 compatible format. Hooray!

The problem is I’m terrified of public speaking. If I don’t know exactly what I want to say (word for word), I’ll panic. And if I forget any of those words, I’ll panic. It’s happened before, it wasn’t pretty. So for previous presentations I’ve written down exactly what I wanted to say, indicated when I needed to click*, and read directly from those notes using the presenter view in PowerPoint. It’s basically autocue – TV presenters use it all the time, so why can’t I? That method has worked really well for me in the past, but I only had to give a 3 minute talk this time. I didn’t need to have my notes with me, I could just learn everything word for word.

So that’s what I did. In the same way as before, I wrote down everything I wanted to say, including where to click, and whenever I had a free evening I would go through my slides, rehearsing exactly what I was going to say. And I knew that I had to present with almost as much enthusiasm as Matt Parker has for spreadsheets.

And it totally worked!

I think that went pretty well.

That night, I tweeted out a link and got a few nice bits of feedback from people who weren’t even at the meetup!

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