Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rich Web Experience 2008: the Nate Schutta Sessions

Thinking back on the RWE 2008 last week, I realized there were a number of sessions that really stood out as being well presented and extremely informative. In particular, the sessions by Nate Schutta (check out his blog at http://ntschutta/jat) were among some of the best I've seen. They were all clear, well-thought out, in-depth, and engaging. A number of his presentations were introductions to various popular Javascript libraries like Prototype, YUI, and Dojo. These were particularly good because he showed not only why the libraries were useful but also how to use them. He didn't leave it at theory or sales pitch, though; in each of his script library presentations, he coded a number of examples using the libraries in question. And here's the best part: in each presentation, he built the same type of applications (a simple PIM app, showing how to use a date picker, etc) but using the library under discussion. It made for a good comparison of the strengths and APIs of each library. Also, he showed in his examples how the different libraries could actually work together, building on the strengths of each. All in all, the content of his presentations was excellent.

In addition to the excellent content, though, his method of presentation was right up my alley. He did what I consider the best thing to do in using slide presentations: he used the slides to initiate discussion rather than regurgitating the points from the slides. Some presenters tend to read their slides and that's their presentation. That gets old really quickly. As well, I remember one time when I was in the Army and giving a briefing to a warrant officer being told that people can either read your slides or listen to you, not do both at the same time. Nate kept his slides clean and simple, usually just a few words or phrases per slide, which allowed him to emphasize his points and guide his discussion of the topic without the listeners getting distracted by a lot of visual noise on the screen. He actually did something really interesting, too, for his final presentation of the weekend (A Software Engineer's Guide to Usability): he had two different slide decks. The first contained his simple slides described above, and the other had more content grouped in bullet points and images. I guess people had complained that the slides didn't make good take-aways (which is probably true, unless you're an extremely thorough note taker) since they were more for guiding the discussion than posting information. I think it was a good tactic. in fact, I actually found myself referring to his "note slides" earlier today when writing up some notes for some of my colleagues.

I know some people don't like this form of presentation. In environments like this weekend, I tend to be a more audio learner, so Nate's presentation style really worked for me. But for people who are more visually oriented and who want to get their information mainly from the screen, that "simple" form of presentation might cause problems. But overall, I'd say his presentations, from my point of view, were among the best there, and actually were among the best I've seen in attending other NFJS events, too.


Jeffrey Erikson said...

I thought I'd also mention a book Nate referred to a few times: Presentation Zen. It looks like an interesting read, but then like I mentioned in the post, that type of presentation appeals to me.

Unknown said...

Interesting points. I went to a couple of Nate's sessions, and to be honest, I got distracted because of the slides. I am a visual learner, so that supports your theory. I almost didn't go to his second session because of the slides. But his presentation was fine and in the end, I started to get used to his style.

What was missing for me in the slides was context. With only a few words on the screen, I couldn't place what he was saying in context with the topic. I didn't attend his last session, but I think if I had, I would have found the two sets of slides to be a nice compromise.