Experiencing CHI 2006: From a Practitioner’s Viewpoint: Part V
Published: August 28, 2006
Conference: Day 4: Thursday, April 27th
On Thursday, the last day of the conference, I attended Part III of the three-part series on public speaking for HCI professionals and the closing plenary session.
Course: The Art of Speaking: Advanced Skills for the Lecture Hall and the Hallway
Presenters: Deborah A. Boehm-Davis and Lisa B. Marshall
Another half-day course, “The Art of Speaking: Advanced Skills for the Lecture Hall and the Hallway,” covered some special challenges of public speaking, including how to handle question-and-answer (Q&A) sessions, overcome presentation disasters, give an elevator pitch, present a poster, and organize and chair a panel session. Boehm-Davis and Marshall’s advanced course on public speaking skills was also excellent.
Handling Q&A Sessions
A Q&A session follows most presentations, but some speakers prefer that people ask questions during their talks. Boehm-Davis and Marshall had the following suggestions for handling Q&A sessions effectively:
- “Anticipate and rehearse tough questions.”
- Establish ground rules
for asking questions, for example:
- Encourage people in the audience to either wait to ask questions until the end or ask them during the talk.
- Have people in the audience write down questions.
- Request people to stand in a queue at a microphone to ask questions.
- Initiate the Q&A session yourself or have a moderator facilitate it.
- If necessary, use a commonly asked question to get things rolling.
- Prepare some slides giving more detail on certain points.
Here are Boehm-Davis and Marshall’s tips for answering questions:
- Maintain eye contact with the person asking the question, actively demonstrating your interest and attention.
- Concentrate and listen to the entire question.
- To make sure you understood the question, repeat or paraphrase it.
- If necessary, “ask a question about the question.”
- “Take time to think before every answer.”
- Don’t compliment the question.
- Keep your response focused.
- Organize your response in one of the following ways:
- past / present / future or vice versa
- problem / solution
- pros and cons
- similarities and differences
- levels in a hierarchy, phases, or steps
Boehm-Davis and Marshall showed us how to handle difficult questioners, acting out a variety of situations we might encounter:
- a rambler—“First you need to stop him from speaking. Say, ‘Alright, then,’ and hold up your hand” in a stop gesture. If the person asked a question, say, “If I heard you correctly, you asked…” and succinctly paraphrase the question. Make eye contact and answer the question. Otherwise, say, “Thank you for your comment. Does anyone else have a question?”
- a stage hog—If someone asks too many follow-up questions, answer only the questions you choose to answer. “Just because someone asks you a question, that doesn’t mean you have to answer it. You have to remain in control,” said Marshall. After answering concisely, break eye contact and move on to the next questioner.
- an interrupter—If someone interrupts and asks you a question about a topic you intend to discuss later in your talk, say, “I’ll get to that later.” Usually, it’s best to follow your planned sequence. However, you can give a brief answer, then cover the topic in full later.
- someone asking a question
- that isn’t relevant to the audience—Either say, “That’s really beyond the scope of this presentation,” or answer very briefly.
- about work with which you’re not familiar—Say, “I’m not familiar with that,” then either ask, “Could you quickly summarize?” or suggest that the person talk with you after the Q&A session.
- for which you don’t know the answer—Just say, “I don’t know.”
- a hostile questioner—When dealing with hostile questioners, “don’t get defensive—remain calm and focused,” said Marshall. “[If you] get defensive, the audience will get uncomfortable. Let them say whatever they want. Listen while they vent. Paraphrase what they say and feel, without being condescending. Ask probing questions to get at their real issues. Disagree without becoming disagreeable. Remain in control. Don’t respond to the attack. Just assume the guy had a bad day and move on.”
When you respond to the question, break eye contact and turn away from that person. Boehm-Davis and Marshall gave us some possible responses to hostile questions, as follows:
- “So, what I heard is this: You disagree for these reasons…. Allow me to respond.”
- “While we agree on …, it is clear we disagree about ….”
- “I know what your issues are. Now, I’d like to respond.”
- “Let’s discuss this after the presentation.”
Boehm-Davis and Marshall said, “Value the thoughts and feelings of the questioner, and the audience will respect you.” Let the audience know when time is running out by saying, “I’ll take one or two more questions.” Then, “if you get a hostile question, take at least one more question afterward.” If more people have questions, offer to talk with them after the presentation. In conclusion, “thank the audience for their questions and comments.”
In response to questions from the audience, Boehm-Davis and Marshall also demonstrated many effective techniques for moderating meetings in situations when many people want to speak at once.
Overcoming Presentation Disasters
When speaking about how to overcome presentation disasters, Marshall told us, “You’re not supposed to tell the audience when you have a disaster. There’s no need to draw attention to it. If you relax and keep smiling, the audience will respond the same way you do.” Possible disasters and solutions to them include the following:
- You have much less time for your presentation than was planned.—Your presentations should always include “nice-to-knows and should-knows.” Hide the PowerPoint slides you won’t be using.
- “You lose your train of thought mid-sentence.”—“It’s okay. … Just move on to the next point” or say one of the following:
- “Where was I? ”
- “I’m just going to backtrack a bit, so we can get back on point.”
- “Your throat dries out.”—Drink some water. If there isn’t any water, bite your tongue to get some saliva flowing.
- “The projection equipment dies.”—“Always have a printed copy of your presentation with you, so if your computer goes out, you can go on. Ask someone else to solve the problem. Physically remove yourself as far from the distraction of the problem as you can, so people focus on you, not on the activity involved in fixing the problem. You’re competing for attention, so exaggerate your gestures; raise your voice. People will be impressed if you can carry on well.” If you get your slides back after a few slides, “quickly show the slides you’ve covered, then go on. If there’s no one to help, say, ‘Let’s take a five minute break to fix the problem.’ Don’t try to multitask. Never try to solve a problem yourself. That’s not your job. Your job is to communicate.”
- “You planned to work through a handout page by page, but people are moving ahead at their own pace.”—Say, “We’re now looking at slide number….”
- “Several people start a side conversation while you are speaking.”—“Look at them or walk toward them.” If necessary, say, “I must have said something confusing. Can I help clarify anything?”
- The audience is much larger than you expected.—Relax.
- “You are face to face with a sleeper.”—Look at someone else.
Giving a Hallway Talk or Elevator Pitch
According to Boehm-Davis and Marshall, to increase your credibility, you should be able to describe precisely what you do—or want to do—in 45 seconds or less. Such sound bites are useful in all kinds of situations—for example, when speaking “with someone who is not knowledgeable in your specific field” at work, fund-raisers, or mixed meetings with people having varied backgrounds. They also make great introductions when you’re a guest lecturer. As an exercise, Boehm-Davis and Marshall had each of us write out a description of what we do professionally, using the following format:
“I work in the area of [A] …”
(A = Your field, broadly speaking.)
“Specifically, in the area of [B] …”
(B = Your specific field or area of interest.)
“This work is important because of [C] …”
(C = How your work provides benefit.)
“My specific work is [D] …”
(D = The specific problem you’re solving or your specific work.)
“So far, the results have shown [E] …”
(E = The very specific or quantitative results of your work.)
Optionally—“Which has been [F] successful.”
(F = The degree to which your work has contributed to success.)
Boehm-Davis and Marshall gave us the following tips on creating effective posters:
- “Determine the one essential concept you want to get across.”
- Read instructions and requirements for posters carefully.
- Design your poster
- “grab your audience to come closer and look”
- “tell a story”
- “be understandable without oral explanation”
- be consistent and “free of distractions”
- “Distill and focus on a few key points.”
- Communicate clearly, using as few words as possible.
- Follow this rule of thumb: 20% text; 40% figures, graphs, and tables; and 40% whitespace.
- Make your title banner readable from 15 to 20 feet away; text, from 3 to 6 feet away.
- Use bulleted lists and keep each point brief.
- Edit your text ruthlessly, trimming away any unnecessary words.
- Use illustrations to tell the story.
- Make your graphs and other images simple, clear, and large.
- “Give graphs and tables short, descriptive titles” and labels.
- Favor graphs over tables, because graphs are generally clearer than tables.
- Use layout, colored backgrounds, arrows, or numbered sequences to guide viewers’ eyes.
- Use whitespace to separate or unify information.
- Use color to emphasize or unify ideas.
- “Proofread your poster several times.”
Printing posters is costly, so Boehm-Davis and Marshall admonished us to carefully review a poster before printing it. Have other people who can offer intelligent criticism review your poster, too. When reviewing the poster, ask the following questions:
- “Is the central message clear?”
- “Is there any text I can eliminate?”
- “Are there any graphic elements I can eliminate?”
- “Do the main points stand out?”
- “Is there spatial balance?”
- “Is the pathway through the poster clear?”
- Can people read the poster from a distance?
- Are there any errors in the text or images?
Once you’ve created your poster, there’s more to do in preparation for presenting it. Boehm-Davis and Marshall suggested doing the following when preparing to present a poster:
- Prepare and practice sound bites of various lengths—30 seconds, 60 seconds, 5 minutes.
- Create a handout or brief paper that provides more detail about the subject matter of your poster and includes your contact information.
Here are Boehm-Davis and Marshall’s tips for presenting posters:
- Greet people with a smile and make eye contact. Then, break eye contact and give them a moment to look at the poster.
- To help you understand your audience, ask people questions about their specialties or areas of interest.
- Monitor people’s body language to judge their continuing interest or detect confusion.
- Balance your attention between your current audience and new arrivals.
- “Give everyone a business card.”
According to Boehm-Davis and Marshall, one should consider the following when preparing to moderate a panel:
- What are your panel’s objectives?
- Who is your audience?
- “How will you describe your panel?” This description will be your opener.
- What will its title be?
- “How many speakers will you invite?”
- “How will you participate? Using what style—even-handed, nurturing, participating, questioning, provocative?”
- How will you handle participant introductions? Use a parallel structure for all introductions.
- “What format will you use—panel, discussion group, debate, free-for-all?”
- What questions will you ask?
- What will be your policy for questions from the audience?
Boehm-Davis said, “A panel should have connectivity. … Be careful about how many people you invite. This is a function of time. Make sure speakers know how many minutes they will have to speak and the sequence you’ll follow. … Make sure all speakers are aware of the objectives” and “know the format for the panel.” In advance, prepare some questions for the panel.
Boehm-Davis and Marshall provided these guidelines for moderating a panel:
- Ask the panel a question to get things started.
- Encourage the audience to ask questions, but use your own questions, if necessary. “Go with the flow.”
- “Keep the level of energy high. Play devil’s advocate.”
- Repeat the questions people in the audience ask, if they aren’t using a microphone.
- Pay attention to the panelist’s answers.
- Discourage both panelists and audience members from monopolizing the conversation.
- Particularly, “pay attention to the people farthest from you.”
- “Pay attention to body language.”
- “Be firm.”
- “Have fun.”
They also cautioned us against seeming uninformed, being disengaged, failing to exert control, being rude, or letting things get boring. Boehm-Davis told us, “As a panel moderator, you have a more active role to play than as a session chair.”
Boehm-Davis and Marshall advised us to do the following when organizing a session:
- “Contact speakers to confirm that you will run the session.”
- “Inform them of the time allotted for the talk and questions.”
- “Request biographical information for use in your introductions.”
- “Confirm their audio-visual needs.”
- “Ensure that needed equipment will be available.”
These are Boehm-Davis and Marshall’s guidelines for chairing a session:
- Before the session begins, “inform speakers how you will signal remaining time.”
- To indicate how many minutes are remaining, use “5, 3, 1, and STOP cards.”
- Once a speaker’s time has expired, stand up.
- If necessary, walk toward the speaker.
- “Start the session on time.”
- Announce to everyone when you will take questions.
- Manage the Q&A session.
- If necessary, repeat questions.
- Once the allotted time has expired, end the Q&A session.
- “Keep sessions on time.”
- “Thank speakers and the audience at the end of the session.”
More Tips for Speakers
Allowing some time to cover other topics of particular interest to the audience, Boehm-Davis and Marshall provided the following tips in response to audience requests:
- Use a power supply for your computer rather than its battery.
- Place a shortcut for your PowerPoint slides on your desktop.
- Always bring along any special cables your computer requires—for example, an extra-long VGA extension cable.
- Use a wireless mouse to remotely control your slides.
- Follow these guidelines for introducing speakers:
- Have each speaker write his or her own introduction. Then, using their introductions as your source material and expanding or contracting the material as necessary, write introductions that have consistent structures. The maximum length for an introduction should be one tenth of the length of a speaker’s talk.
- Write out each speaker’s full name—phonetically, if a name is difficult to pronounce.
- Write out the explicit title of each person’s talk.
- Introduce the speaker, giving his or her name and biographical information, then announce the title of the speech, repeat the speaker’s name, and turn the stage over to the speaker.
- When giving a speech, provide your own introduction to the moderator and say something like this: “I don’t expect you to use all of this, but you can choose some key phrases from it.”
- When a moderator introduces you, say, “Thank you for inviting me.”
Boehm-Davis and Marshall also demonstrated the proper way of shaking people’s hands: “First the webs meet, then wrap hands. Start talking, linger very briefly, then pull your hand away.” They told us we should seem “confident and self-assured” when shaking hands. “Seniority doesn’t play a role. It’s fine for either party to initiate.” They also noted the differences in how one should shake men’s and women’s hands. In either case, handshaking no-no’s include the two-handed shake, the “bone-crusher” shake, and the “dead-fish” shake—an excessively soft handshake. Not shaking hands or shaking hands too softly communicates you don’t want to meet someone.
This advanced course provided a wealth of useful information for anyone who speaks in a professional capacity, as many HCI professionals frequently do, either within the workplace or at conferences. Deborah Boehm-Davis and Lisa Marshall made the class fun, too.
Closing Plenary Session: Digital Comics: An Art Form in Transition
The final event at CHI 2006 was the closing plenary session, shown in Figures 1–5. Gary Olson, Conference Chair, announced that 2363 attendees from over 40 countries had participated in CHI 2006. Then, he introduced Scott McCloud, who spoke about digital comics.
Figure 1—Gary Olson closing CHI 2006
Figure 2—Introducing Scott McCloud
Figure 3—Scott McCloud giving the closing plenary address
Here are a few of Scott McCloud’s remarks:
- “Comics all tell stories in a series of panels. I prefer to think of them as a series of choices—choices of moments to put in or leave out; frames that zoom in or zoom out; images or words; flows that guide readers through the panels; calls and responses. The reader imagines what appears between the panels.”
- “In the early 90s, people were trying out different forms of comics. I was looking for a durable mutation.”
- “As you introduce sound and motion, you’re interrupting the seamlessness of the presentation. Space equals time. The seamlessness of the medium begins to vanish. When you introduce time, it’s no longer seamless. ”
- “Everything in hypertext is either here, not here, or connected to here.”
- “We were asked to jump back and forth between being author and user. The creator of the game has abdicated to the user.”
- “Multimedia, at its best, gives you a bird’s-eye view.”
- “We have the challenge of using principles of traditional comics and taking advantage of digital media.”
- “By 1450, the essential ideas of comics were already in print—sequences of rectilinear panels. In the 1800s, there were word balloons and captions.”
- “Before print, sequential art had an unbroken reading line. As soon as you hit print, adjacent panels were no longer adjacent moments. Stories could literally take a turn. Parallel narratives could be parallel lines. It was as if I’d invented a flying squirrel that could jump from tree to tree, but the planet was covered in molten lava.”
- “A durable mutation—a successful mutation—implies that the mutation has its own ideas. Nobody is driving the bus.”
- “With digital comics, there were a lot of creative innovations. People started taking different approaches. Inertia was plowed aside. Web innovations found their way into print comics.”
- “The problem of the page was still there. It was still a page metaphor.”
- “Some looked at comics as an opportunity for pure, transparent storytelling. There were classicists, animists, formalists, and iconoclasts.”
- “The tension between form and content was being played out on the Web.”
- “We’re going from amplitude modulation to frequency modulation.”
- “Most design models follow the model of seamlessness.”
- “Why aren’t comics extinct? Why not have them be movies? No! That’s the comic exit ramp! I like comics, and I’d like in 20 years for there still to be comics.”
- “Diversity is one of the great mutations right now. Diversity occurs when we’re not limited in resources.”
- “On the Web, you have the phenomenon of people who come through side doors—from any topic.”
- “There’s no reason comics should have different storytelling standards than other media—story structure, content. There are no boundaries that don’t already exist for film.”
- “Switching tools can be quite traumatic.”
- “There are three great nations of comics: Asia, the Franco-Belgian school, and the North American tradition. In Japan, there’s a strong sense of reader involvement; in Europe, world building; in the United States, vaudeville.”
- “Sometimes we have this sense of manifest destiny, but things might have gone radically differently. One person really can make a difference.”
- “Tufte has really been influencing me a lot lately.”
- “Different devices would change things dramatically.”
- “We’re the R&D wing of comics, so of course, we’re creating useless stuff.”
- “I want to be able to sling my screen view careening in any direction, and the canvas will go in any direction till I put my hand down again. As you’re interacting with parts, you have a sense of the whole and experience the parts. With comics, you have the sense of spatial organization. There are two very powerful modes of organizing information. One is spatial—the sleeping giant. I believe these constructions of sequential art will be big and beautiful. Sequence is part of comics’ DNA. A non-sequential matrix is another form of art.”
Figure 4—McCloud’s comics
Figure 5—A close-up of McCloud’s comics
Scott McCloud is a personable and amusing speaker. He is also passionate about his work. While I found his talk enjoyable, its content was not memorable.
Following McCloud’s talk, an organizer of CSCW 2006 told us about the Computer-Supported Cooperative Work conference, which will take place in Banff, Canada, on November 4–11. Bill Buxton will give the plenary address. Next, we enjoyed a multimedia history of CHI. Lastly, the organizers of CHI 2007 announced that the conference will occur in San Jose, California, it will celebrate the 25th anniversary of CHI, and its theme will be Reach Beyond. In closing, the organizers of the conference sang the Bacharach tune “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.”
Photos by Pabini Gabriel-Petit