Archive | February 2011

Do a better Bettakultcha

The next Bettakultcha, the seventh, is just over two weeks away, an exciting period of waiting for all involved – organisers, suppliers, spectators, and presenters. It’s a great night, the combination and culmination of some lively minds across the board. The recent shifts in venue have added to that.

While the organisers Richard and Ivor are the instigators, the catalysts, for me Bettakultcha is centred around the presentations. Without the presentations as they are, Bettakultcha would feel quite a hollow affair. Luckily there has been a strong ream of presenters and subjects from the off, and there are likely to be many more. We are limited here only by people wanting to do them.

It’s a chance to escape
There are many great things about doing a Bettakultcha presentation, and a couple of people have asked me how I go about doing one. Most importantly I find Bettakultcha gigs a great spectacle to attend, but presenting is an additional release. Working in an industry (marketing) which has a reputation and prides itself on polished presentations, Bettakultcha gives me the chance to “riff” that I wouldn’t normally get. Most importantly, it gives me the chance try to connect and educate people, even in a small way. Entertaining isn’t a primary focus for my presentations – it’s just a convenient by-product of my topics and style. It’s a chance to escape, to let a genie out of the bottle for an audience.

What is it?
First, a quick bit of background to the format. You’ve five minutes to present a series of 20 slides, each slide being projected onto a screen for 15 seconds before automatically moving onto the next. You’ll be presenting to an audience, but it’s a warm, supportive, and ever-receptive audience.

You provide the presentation as a Powerpoint presentation, on a subject you have decided on (and “written”) and Rich (one of the organisers) worries about the timing on the slides. The structure set down is tight enough (there is a defined limit and the change in the slides helps with the rhythm) and yet loose enough to allow you as much control of a presentation as you’ll ever have.

What does this mean as a presenter? It means planning, writing, constructing, and then presenting is easier than it could be. This doesn’t automatically embellish you with a great presentation or fill you with confidence, but let me share some pointers that can help you out – so you are prepared for the night.

Choose the right subject
The structure is key to Bettakultcha, but so is the subject you choose. People I have talked to have found it easiest (most comfortable) to choose something that actually interests them, usually something they have talked about with other people before in an informal environment.

Knowledge and experience are your friends here! Use them! This means that nattering for five minutes, whether within a loose structure you have set out in advance or to ad lib will be easier. It should also help you on a confidence level, especially if you are not used to speaking, to a crowd or otherwise. As to what you choose, that’s down to you.

Connect with the audience
A glance through the Bettakultcha website will give you an idea of the variety of topics previously branched. I will say this though: make sure whatever you choose you can connect with the audience.

For a couple of months I have struggled with doing a Bettakultcha on Australian Rules Football, and I eventually parked the idea on this basic point: I cannot work out a way of making the audience connect with the subject matter. I must point out, I think this is more of a failing of mine than anything, but bear this in mind. Will the subject capture the audience?

At the end of the day that is down to you. Test the water – in conversation with a mate talk about the topic and see if you feel comfortable. It’s better to realise early on what you are doing in wrong and change direction. And it is also better early on to have the confidence to know you are going to be just alright.

Can you do it in five minutes?
First things first, make sure you choose a topic that is suited to the five minute length. A quick way to do this is with paper. On a sheet of paper write down notes of key points/imagery you want to make. I call these “beats”. The key for Bettakultcha is that you don’t script everything. You have a loose framework, Each beat should be on a separate line, but don’t go into too much detail – a snappy statement or question even. You need about twelve beats from this list for your presentation. If you’re struggling to fill the sheet of paper with these twelve then consider the topic. Has it got any legs? The other side of this is are you trying to say too much? Cross out and add as needed. Write the list out again if you need to. You can then look at ordering the content.

Structure
For the next step I start with a sheet of paper (A3 for me), which I divided into a four by five grid. Each row equates to a minute. Each box is 15 seconds – a slide basically. I write along the top of the box or draw out the beats (words and pictures remember), cut the grid out, and put them on a table. (Another method is to use Post It notes.) This means they are easy to arrange, rearrange, add, and take away from the presentation’s “timeline”.

You need an overview
Remember, you are not trying to script everything you are saying, just taking the essence of each beat. It may be each beat actually becomes several slides, but you can easily organise it here. What are you going to say? Have an internal monologue or, better still, don’t be afraid to actually speak aloud. Also remember the goal is you will deliver all this – count this as early practice. Use your natural tone and speed. If you’re a naturally slow talker take this into account with your structure – five minutes can pass very quickly!

Bookending: start and end
Hang on, you’re already thinking, what about the other eight slots? I keep those for what I call “bookending”. I strongly believe that you should bookend your presentation. The opening slides, whether it is one or four, should introduce the audience to your subject matter, but more importantly to you. It will also give you the chance to become used to the environment: the screen behind you, you with the microphone (on the stand or in your hand), the laptop, the space around you at the front, and then the audience beyond that.

The last two to three slots are for “closing”. By that last thirty seconds your audience has been on a journey with you, so try to reward them with some closure, whether it is a statement, a final thought for them to consider further, or a punchline (or all three!).

Creating your presentation
With your structure and content laid out, be realistic about how long you need to spend in front of the computer to pull together your presentation. I give it about three hours. Three hours? Yup, three hours. The action is pretty simple, inputting all the “beat boxes” into Powerpoint, just need to remember you will be typing out any text, searching and scanning images, and then crafting all of this within the presentation.

Don’t put too much on each slide. It’s there for fifteen seconds and the audience needs to take that in as well as keeping abreast of you. And at the end of your Powerpoint session run through the presentation two times, tweaking if needed.

I then leave the presentation a couple of days, and go straight back into it to see how much of my Bettakultcha presentation I can do from the off. This is in effect my very first rehearsal. I stand up and I try to imagine the audience beyond my computer screen as I do this. This helps me understand how I can “naturally” deliver it, make sure I address the audience enough rather than the screen, and how much of the loose structure I have assimilated.

In my two previous Bettakultchas I have edited my presentations at this point and removed a slide from each to give me the room to talk “more at ease”. I found that one slide needed more than 15 seconds I had planned – it is easier to slow down than to cram in.

And this is as much preparation as I do. I sometimes sit for a couple of minutes afterwards here and there to try to hone a slide or two in my mind, to get what I am going to say spot on, but I don’t want to script my show too much at all. It’s just for those awkward slides when I need to make sure people understand. I want it to come naturally, flow from within, bringing with it any emotion in the process.

On the day
When I said earlier it is a gig, I wasn’t joking. It is a gig. It is a live performance, but it is fun. You will be watching other people in action, the feeling in the crowd is one of support and anticipation, not one of wanting you to fail. It’s an easy environment to be sucked into and to feel at ease. This will help you when you walk down to the front no end. If you’ve done your preparation you should have no worries. Just get down there and talk, and have fun while doing it.

You’ve just finished…
Enjoy the applause. This tells you everything you need to know. It is your final reward. As a presenter you will be acutely aware of any slight ‘hiccups’. Don’t kick yourself when you walk off if you feel you have missed a couple of things out. Will the audience have known?

Go away and know you have had a go and remember that applause. What you said was probably far better than you think anyway. Ask a mate what they thought. People tend to approach you and let you know what you think – and usually to talk to you about your topic. Know that you have delivered something that you care about, you are sharing. If some people didn’t like it, so what? Fuck ’em!

Give it a go – your way
These aren’t fast and hard rules. I am not saying “go away and do these”. But I hope these can help some of you preparing to do or thinking about doing a Bettakultcha. They’re not easy, but they’re not hard, they just need some investment from you. If I have convinced some of you that it is easier to present and to invest time in the preparation, then my job here is done.

You can watch my two previous Bettakultcha presentations over on the Bettakutlcha website:

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They grow up so quickly (an education in photography through a decent digital camera)

It’s my daughter’s birthday the week after next. She’s very into the arts, darling. She’ll be eight. She’s very technologically adept. She loves using my getting on Sony point ‘n’ click camera. She has great fun swiping my iPhone to take a few snaps here and there. Hey!, yes my dear wife, getting her a camera is a great idea!

Except it isn’t that straight-forward.

The wife reckons “a pink Hello Kitty one” will be just right. It’s only twenty quid, which is attractive in these hard times (ie. the financial aftermath of Christmas). I looked at the camera’s spec, increasingly sniffily. Wife thinks our daughter’s young, she’s bound to break the camera, and we’ll get her a “proper” one later on.

I obviously do not agree with this.

Me, I am thinking, my daughter is not a tech-fuckwit nor is she clumsy. A camera, while not for life, should be something that you can record life with. With a decent lens. At a decent resolution. And in pink. I feel I am, we are launching my daughter into something that has given me a lot of joy over the years (with no “nudge nudge, wink wink). This must be possible at a cheap price, surely?

So I am currently Googling “pink cameras“. I am currently looking into brands I’d never have considered before, the type of brands I see out of the corner of my eye as I wander into the Asda at Pudsey. Like Vivatar and Pratika. And looking for the cheapest pink option. It has to be pink.

There’s this for 26 quid, and that for about 40 notes, and there’s also this Fujifilm Hello Kitty effort. And I’ve not even had the chance to look on eBay. I am still no closer to finding something. But it can’t be that Hello Kitty VGA monstrosity, it can’t.

I need some real world interfacing, some proper consumer experiential stuff. Hands on. Face to face. Probably with a salesperson who knows far less about cameras than I do.

So now I am off into Bradford to grumpily dismiss cameras that aren’t cheap enough and also not worthy enough of my daughter’s burgeoning talents.

Ah, fatherhood!