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Case for Lightning Talks

November 27, 2013

I always feel ambivalent about going to conferences or user group meetings. On one hand, you get to meet interesting people and get to know what cool things they’ve been doing recently. On the other hand, you get the talks.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great talks out there, certainly Baruco proved that true. However, most of the talks that I’ve experienced are just a (bigger or smaller) waste of time. Either I’m not interested in the technology being described, or I already know enough about the subject not to learn anything new. Or they’re a me-me-me type of talks that I’m particularly allergic to (a topic I’ll probably elaborate on another day).

I think that the vast majority of technical talks that we witness nowadays aren’t really taking advantage of the full-time format (either 30 or 45 minutes depending on the event). The audience gets gratuitous cat pictures or an unnecessary deep dive into some obscure technology that maybe 10% of them care about. Most of them would benefit from changing to a shorter talk format. I’m not necessarily talking about hardcore 5-minute lightning talks, but 10-15 minutes should be enough for anybody.

For one thing, it would expose the gist of the talk more clearly. You know the feeling where you get lost in the talk and realise you don’t really know what it’s about? It’s not your fault, it’s the speaker’s. If it’s a talk that presents a wide spectrum of issues, he shouldn’t dwell on any of them. If the talk has one clear point, he should make it known right from the start and skip any long digressions.

Also, it would mean getting rid of all the distractions like „let’s all stand up and do some physical exercises” and cat pictures. Seriously, time to let the cats go, this situation got ridiculous long time ago.

And the most important thing, it allows the speaker to prepare better. Rehearsing five times a 30-minute talk takes about three hours, while a 10-minute one costs you just an hour. And five times is the absolute minimum you should do before you present to anybody.

Lastly, remember that delivering a 30-minute waste of time to even 20 people in a user group meeting means wasting a total of 10 hours of programmer time. I don’t know what’s the going rate for 10 hours in your circles, but I’m pretty sure nobody would like to pay it from their own pocket.

Written by Wojciech Ogrodowczyk who takes photos, climbs mountains, and runs Brains & Beards to help companies deliver better mobile applications faster.

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