Experiencing CHI 2006: From a Practitioner’s Viewpoint: Part IV

August 28, 2006

Conference: Day 3: Wednesday, April 26th

Wednesday brought greater diversity in my experience of the conference. In addition to attending a course, “The Art of Speaking,” I checked out the Exhibits in The Commons, heard part of a panel discussion titled “The Route to the Sea for User Value,” and in the evening, joined the crowd at the Hospitality Events.

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Course: The Art of Speaking: Fundamentals for HCI Professionals: Part 1

Presenters: Deborah Boehm-Davis and Lisa Marshall

This half-day course, “The Art of Speaking: Fundamentals for HCI Professionals,” was Part I of a three-part series on public speaking for professionals working in human/computer interaction (HCI). While these courses weren’t really tailored specifically to the needs of HCI professionals, I thought the inclusion of professional-skills development courses on a topic that’s important, though not specific to HCI professionals was a good way of broadening the conference content and meeting the diverse needs of practitioners and academics. Boehm-Davis and Marshall presented an excellent course on the basics of planning, organizing, designing, and delivering a professional presentation.

Preparing for a Presentation

In describing how to distill a body of information into its “essential core,” Boehm-Davis and Marshall suggested that we should consider

  • how much time is allotted for the presentation
  • what would be of interest to the specific audience
  • what is the main message that people should take away from the presentation
  • what three to five key ideas best develop the presentation’s main message
  • what stories would illuminate its main message and main ideas

Marshall stated, “You need to be very focused on the message you want to convey. … People can easily digest a story.” Then, Boehm-Davis said, “Over time, early on, start thinking of stories.”

For example, according to Boehm-Davis and Marshall, a presenter preparing to present a paper within the context of a panel at a conference should:

  • Deduct time for introductions and Q&A from the overall time scheduled for the panel, then divide the remaining time by the number of presenters.
  • Determine whether the audience for the panel will likely comprise a variety of practitioners, specialists in a specific aspect of practice, academic researchers, or both practitioners and academics.
  • Tailor the content, including stories, to the needs of the audience.
  • Prepare a coherent, well-organized presentation.
  • Use images to reinforce your message.
  • After determining the presentation’s content, consider how to adjust the content
    • to reduce its length if the panel starts late
    • to avoid repeating information if someone who speaks first covers the same background information

Boehm-Davis and Marshall told us that a talk should “deliver a message, not a paper.” When developing a verbal structure for a talk, ensure that it comprises an

  • opening—An opening should be very brief, pithy, interesting, and memorable. Your very first words should capture the audience’s attention. Effective openings include surprising statements or statistics, rhetorical questions, analogies, quotations, and personal stories. Avoid using the following:
    • “a commonplace statement delivered in a commonplace way such as ‘My talk will be on…’ or ‘I was asked to speak about…’”
    • “an apologetic statement”
    • a joke or anything that isn’t related to your topic
  • introduction—An introduction should “bridge from the opener,” explicitly state the topic or purpose of your talk—its main message—and provide a brief outline of your main ideas. “When people learn, they must have a structure into which they can fit the information.” Because different people may absorb either visual or spoken information better, it’s important to have a slide showing your outline. However, a talk that is motivational in nature may not outline where it’s heading.
  • body—The body of your talk should introduce each of your main ideas in turn, providing facts and telling stories that support each idea. “To make your talk interesting, use a variety of different types of support” such as examples, statistics, definitions, illustrations, and stories. If your topic is complex or your talk is long, “give summaries along the way,” including only information that supports your conclusions. The appropriate organizational structure for the body of your talk depends on whether its purpose is to inform, persuade, or motivate, as follows:
    • informative—Possible structures for informative speeches include topical—with subtopics—chronological, or cause and effect.
    • persuasive—Effective structures for persuasive speeches include problem / solution or building from ideas that are commonly accepted to a controversial idea.
    • motivational—Motivational speeches often repeat the same key ideas, expressing them in different ways to appeal to people’s emotions.
  • conclusion—Your talk’s conclusion should briefly summarize and review its main ideas. Never include new information or future directions in your conclusion.
  • closer—A very brief closer should “signal that you’ve come to the end” and communicate the main message you want your audience to remember. “The best way to close is to make a reference to your opening. [Your closer] can be dramatic, rhetorical, emotional, or humorous.” Avoid weak closers such as
    • “a commonplace statement delivered blandly such as ‘That about wraps it up,’ ‘In summary…,’ ‘In conclusion…,’ or ‘Thank you very much.’”
    • “an apologetic statement like ‘Oh, I forgot one point, sorry; let me explain one more thing.’”
    • “solicitation of questions”

Delivering a Presentation

Boehm-Davis and Marshall cited a study that showed, when you deliver a presentation, the impact of your message comes from

  • “facial expressions and other body language”—55%
  • “vocal quality or tone of voice”—38%
  • “content—the actual meaning of the words”—7%

Stressing the importance of non-verbal communication when delivering a presentation, Boehm-Davis and Marshall told us, “Non-verbals speak volumes. Non-verbal communication captures the ear, eye, and mind.” Modes of non-verbal communication include

  • eye contact—“Eye contact creates a visual and emotional connection. This connection is critical in North America. Your eyes should be on the audience ninety percent of the time. … Eye contact is important even if you’re reading. … If necessary, look down at your computer, then up to speak.” They described how one should sweep the entire audience with one’s eyes, focusing on different members of the audience or, if that seems too intimidating, looking just above their heads. “Reach everyone.”
  • gestures and style—An “animated style” captures people’s attention. “Natural enthusiasm goes a long way. Remember to smile. Use gestures and pointing to support what you’re saying. … Podiums are the death of speakers. … Move your body, not your head. Pivot around the microphone. Come out from behind the podium, moving the microphone with you.” However, you should test this move in advance to avoid feedback. “The size of your gestures depends on the size of the room.” Marshall emphatically stated, “Laser pointers are more distracting than beneficial. Your PowerPoint® slides should focus attention.”
  • tone of voice—“Talk conversationally, normally, but in a slightly heightened way.” They quoted Adler and Towne: “Tone, speed, pitch, number and length of pauses, volume, and disfluencies together do a great deal to reinforce or contradict the message our words convey.” Vocal variety is important. “Speed equals enthusiasm (120–160 words per minute).” Your voice should be neither too loud nor too soft. “Conclusions and important points are slower and louder. Remember to breathe. Eliminate the non-words. Pausing is an extremely important technique for gaining attention,” though you should use it sparingly.

Boehm-Davis and Marshall told us to “focus on verbal, not written communication.” According to Boehm-Davis and Marshall, the two key aspects of verbal communication are

  • transitions—“Change slides in mid-sentence. Don’t look at a slide, then talk.” Instead, you should first introduce the next slide, then switch. It’s important to signal changes in topic, so your audience doesn’t miss transitions. Effective verbal and non-verbal transitions include “transitional words, a question, key-word repetition, physical movement, pausing, and introducing graphs or charts. … You can move to signal a new point of view.”
  • choice of language—“Choose language for the ear, not for the eye.” Boehm-Davis and Marshall recommended the use of
    • “short sentences
    • active voice
    • first person
    • fragments and contractions
    • dialogue, not monologue
    • concrete, colorful language
    • repetition, for important points
    • questions and phrases that refocus interest”
    • the names or work of audience members, if possible

To better hold an audience’s attention during a presentation, Boehm-Davis and Marshall suggested that, at the beginning of a talk, we offer to send handouts later via email rather than providing handouts then.

Developing an Effective Presentation

When speaking about developing presentations, Boehm-Davis and Marshall quoted Quintilian: “Aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.” They said, “Slides should be compelling. They should make your main points without you. … Often slides present too much or too little data. … Slides support you.”

Boehm-Davis and Marshall told us to consider the audience’s need to process both visual and auditory communication channels, the limitations on their ability to perceive information from each channel, and the limited capacity of their working memory, in which they can keep only a few words and images at once. To process the information in a presentation, people must first be able to understand it, then “organize it into a coherent mental structure and integrate it with their prior knowledge.”

Here are Boehm-Davis and Marshall’s guidelines for creating effective presentations:

  • Give each slide a title and/or a take-away message.
  • Include no more than three or four major points on each slide.
  • Guide the audience’s eyes to what is important.
  • Use a “mixture of text and images on most slides.”
  • Make the design of your slides consistent.
  • If it takes more than seven seconds to make a complex point, use a build or step through the idea over multiple pages.
  • Prepare a slide for display during Q&A that lists your affiliations, sponsors, or acknowledgements.
  • Ensure that the type is large enough for the audience to read it easily.
  • Use a sans serif font.
  • Never capitalize entire words or sentences.
  • Limit the number of different colors, fonts, and styles.
  • Use color appropriately.
  • Don’t use italics or shadowed fonts.
  • Avoid placing text at the bottom of a slide.
  • Use an appropriate background that isn’t distracting.

When speaking about creating effective visuals for presentations, Boehm-Davis and Marshall provided the following guidelines on using graphs and charts:

  • Provide a “well-thought-out title.” Don’t rely on figure text.
  • Provide a take-away message or conclusion in text.
  • To ensure the audience can perceive the data quickly, highlight where they should look.
  • Simplify a graph or chart, reducing it to only pertinent data.
  • If a graph or chart supports multiple points, consider using a build.
  • Include simple, readable labels.
  • To ensure the audience can correctly interpret graphs and charts, define their setup when introducing them.

In a screen shot or other image, “if content is too small to be readable, circle or highlight it, zoom in on the area of interest, and label or describe in a few words what it shows.”

Once you’ve completed a draft of your presentation, Boehm-Davis and Marshall recommended that you “perform an overall slide analysis”—on the first pass, looking at the presentation as a whole; on the second, evaluating each individual slide. When evaluating the overall presentation, ensure that your titles are both meaningful and specific. “From one slide to another, make sure the progression makes sense. Take out slides you can live without. … Slides should communicate only the message, not the details. The audience’s focus should be on you.” Also, check your text, graphs, charts, and graphic images for errors, and test your builds to ensure there are no problems. According to Boehm-Davis and Marshall, “Thirty percent of people will recognize errors, and fifteen percent will judge them.”

Overcoming the Fear of Speaking in Public

Glossophobia, or the fear of speaking in public, is the most common fear among people. Boehm-Davis and Marshall encouraged us to overcome our fears by focusing on and connecting with our audience and remembering:

  • “The audience is not waiting to see you fail.”
  • “The audience desires to listen and learn.”
  • “You are an expert in your field, have spent countless hours thinking [about your topic, and] you know more than they do about this specific topic.”
  • “It’s okay to make mistakes.”

To overcome our apprehension, nervousness, and anxiety about public speaking and improve our performance when speaking, Boehm-Davis and Marshall suggested doing the following:

  • Take advantage of every opportunity to practice and develop your presentation skills:
    • Take courses.
    • Join Toastmasters.
    • Speak often.
  • When preparing for a presentation:
    • “Write your main ideas, then practice each idea separately.”
    • Memorize the first and last lines of your talk.
    • For the rest of your talk, “remember your approach, not the words.”
    • Practice your presentation aloud, over and over again.
    • Note any points at which you get stuck, and write down and memorize exactly what you want to say at those points.
    • Practice the beginning and end of your talk even more than the rest.
    • Practice in front of a mirror, noting your eye contact.
    • Videotape your practice sessions.
    • Estimate the amount of time it takes to deliver each section of your talk.
    • Familiarize yourself with your equipment.
    • If possible, familiarize yourself with the room in which you’ll speak.
    • Visualize the entire process of giving your speech.
    • “Replace negative self talk with positive talk.”
  • Before delivering a presentation:
    • Relax your body. Avoid caffeine. Breathe. Move your body to get the kinks out and blow off any excess energy.
    • If you haven’t done so already, familiarize yourself with the room.
    • Familiarize yourself with any new equipment you must operate.
    • If possible, greet the people in your audience, so they aren’t strangers.
  • When delivering a presentation:
    • Be enthusiastic and energetic.
    • Find a friendly face.
      • Get into flow.
      • Stay conversational.

Boehm-Davis told us, “It’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach, but they should be flying in formation.”

In Conclusion

This course was packed full of useful content. Boehm-Davis and Marshall gave us many helpful tips and were highly skilled in the art of public speaking themselves. My only complaint is that the title and course description in the Conference Program led me to believe this course would focus primarily on the art of speaking, while in actuality, more than half of its content was on how to prepare an effective presentation.


In the afternoon, I took in the Exhibits in The Commons. The Conference Program listed 33 exhibitors, including

  • developers of software products
    • Ethnio—a Web application for remote usability testing from Bolt | Peters User Experience
    • software for the collection, transcription, and analysis of observational data from Mangold International
    • Morae—usability testing software from TechSmith
    • TaskArchitect—task analysis software
    • UserZoom—a remote usability testing tool from Xperience Consulting
  • a manufacturer of mobile and stationary usability labs, Noldus Information Technology
  • manufacturers of eyetracking technology
    • LC Technologies / Eyegaze Systems
    • SensoMotoric Instruments
    • TEA Intrinsic faceLab
    • Tobii Technology
  • publishers of books for UX professionals such as Addison Wesley, MIT Press, Morgan Kaufmann, and Wiley
  • sponsoring companies, including eBay, Google, Intuit, Microsoft, SAP, and Yahoo!
  • recruiters for hiring companies like FILTER/TALENT, Human Factors International,, St. Jude Medical, and VMware

Panel: The Route to the Sea for User Value

Moderator: Austin Henderson

Panelists: Lisa Anderson, Jeremy Ashley, Patrik Heuman, and Janice Rohn

Austin Henderson led a stimulating panel discussion among UX managers, “The Route to the Sea for User Value,” on how to ensure user value remains in products throughout the product development process. A true panel discussion—like this one, with well-selected panelists who have in-depth knowledge of the topic and are good communicators—is one of my favorite types of conference sessions.

Here are some highlights from the panel discussion:

  • “Small, incremental improvements in user experience don’t get you to the user value you want.”—Lisa Anderson, Intuit
  • “User experience needs to be part of the prioritization process.”—Janice Rohn, World Savings
  • “You have to start at the strategic level and align yourselves with your company’s goals.”—Jeremy Ashley, Oracle
  • “[User experience has] to be part of the company values. It’s not only getting involved at the executive level. Know your customer’s pain points.”—Lisa Anderson
  • “You need to be persuasive to get through to the ultimate goal from a design perspective.”—Patrik Heuman, Sony Ericsson Mobile
  • “Going into a prioritization meeting, first go around and make sure everyone is onboard. … We need alliances. Others you’ve influenced do part of the persuasion for you.”—Janice Rohn
  • “Nobody in the corporate world says usability isn’t important. They don’t understand what you do and why it takes so much time and effort or what the different steps are. We must educate.”—Patrik Heuman
  • “What does your company perceive innovation to be? Innovation is a managed process. It’s what matters most for a company.”—Jeremy Ashley
  • “At its worst, user experience is reactive. We can be strategic, innovative, and collaborate with our business units.”—Lisa Anderson
  • “It’s important to show how user experience maps to business goals.”—Janice Rohn
  • “Talk through issues with engineers, and next time, they’ll come to you.”—Patrik Heuman
  • “We have to be able to stand up for our beliefs and convictions.”—Lisa Anderson
  • “Find out what motivates people. Speak to that.”—Jeremy Ashley
  • “What is your business value, and what does your business want to focus on? If you can, get user experience goals as part of the product requirements.”—Janice Rohn
  • “Follow through on your passions. Usually, you can get through to someone.”—Lisa Anderson
  • “Get user experience requirements in early. Support business goals.”—Janice Rohn
  • “Often, we see requirements written as design. Look behind to solve the ultimate need.”—Patrik Heuman
  • “Take on anything that affects user experience.”—Jeremy Ashley

Wednesday Night: Hospitality Events

The Hospitality Events took place at the Hyatt Regency Montréal. Some of the parties—like the Microsoft party, where they held product drawings all evening to bring in a crowd—were so packed with people, the rooms were unnavigable, food and drink were in short supply, and the din made conversation difficult. Unfortunately, the Hospitality Events were disrupted when some bozo tripped a fire alarm, necessitating the evacuation of the entire building. Once the fire department had concluded that it was a false alarm, only Intuit resumed its event, which was arguably the best of the night anyway—in the nicest suite of rooms, with excellent company, a jazz band, shown in Figure 1, performances by roller skaters, and good food and drink.

Figure 1—Jazz band at the Intuit Hospitality Event
Jazz band at the Intuit Hospitality Event

After leaving the Intuit Hospitality Event, a bunch of us who had not yet had enough fun went to the Go-Go Lounge, on St. Laurent, to rock the night away to 80s music. Thanks to Isabelle Peyrichoux, user research professional and Montréal resident, for finding us a place to dance. 

Photo by Pabini Gabriel-Petit

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Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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