Confession of a Public Speaker book notes

The notes I write down this time are about the book “Confession of a Public Speaker“, by Scott Berkun. Public speaking is one thing I do time to time, but I’ve been doing since lot of time. I had my first talk in 2005 and it was about “802.11b Insecurity“. Good book, with lot of real-life considerations and suggestions, many of which I’ve learned first-person during those years.

Confession of a Public SpeakerIf I plan to do something in the presentation, I practice it. But I don’t practice to make perfect, and I don’t memorize. If I did either, I’d sound like a robot, or worse, like a person trying very hard to say things in an exact, specific, and entirely unnatural style, which people can spot a mile away. My intent is simply to know my material so well that I’m very comfortable with it. Confidence, not perfection, is the goal.

The slides are not the performance: you, the speaker, are the performance

It’s possible I’m not a better public speaker than anyone else – I’m just better at catching and fixing problems.

I admit that even with all my practice I may still do a bad job, make mistakes, or disappoint the crowd, but I can be certain the cause will not be that I was afraid of, or confused by, my own slides. An entire universe of fears and mistakes goes away simply by having confidence in your material.

Talking to some people in the audience before you start (if it suits you), so it’s no longer made up of strangers (friends are less likely to try to eat you)

Place matters to a speaker because it matters to the audience

You can play lecture drinking games with your friends, such as “ummmster,” where you do a shot of your favorite cocktail every time the speaker says “ummm.” With some speakers, you’ll be passed out in no time.

Most importantly, the density theory amplifies your energy. We’re social creatures. If five people – or even dogs, raccoons, or other social animals – get together, they start to behave in shared ways. They make decisions together, they move together, and most importantly, they become a kind of short-term community. The size of the room or the crowd becomes irrelevant as long as the people there are together in a tight pack, experiencing and sharing the same thing at the same time.

Ask the crowd if they’re too cold or too warm, and then, on the mike, ask the organizers to do something about it (even if they can’t, you look great by being the only speaker to give a care about how the audience is feeling).

Now I know I have to embody what I want the audience to be. If I want them to have fun, I have to have fun. If I want them to laugh, I have to laugh. But it has to be done in a way they can connect with, which is hard to do. A drunken toast at a wedding is often great fun for the toaster but miserable for everyone else. But great speakers are connection-makers, sharing an authentic part of themselves to create a singular, positive experience for the audience.

I’ve learned that by far the thing people seem angriest about is dishonesty. Show some integrity by speaking the truth on the very thing that angers them, or even acknowledging it in a heartfelt way, and you will score points. People with the courage to speak the truth into a microphone are exceptionally rare.

Request the names of three people to interview who are representative of the crowd you will speak to. See if your fears are real or imagined. Then, when giving your talk, make sure to mention, “Here are the three top complaints I heard from my research with Tyler, Marla, and Cornelius.” Including the audience in your talk will score you tons of points. Few people ever do this, and if the rest of the crowd disagrees with Tyler, Marla, or Cornelius, they can sort that out on their own after you leave.

The story is often told to suggest Lincoln’s brilliance – that he could just scribble one of the greatest speeches of all time in a few spare moments while riding on a train. It’s a story that inspires many to forgo preparing in favor of getting up on stage and winging it, as if that’s what great leaders and thinkers do. The fallacy of the legend is to assume that the only moments Lincoln spent thinking about the points he would make in the speech took place as he wrote them. That somehow he never thought about the horrors of the Civil War, the significance of human sacrifice, and the future of the United States except while he wrote down the words of the address on a random scrap of paper.

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What about a Community Leadership Summit in Italy?

I’ve been working with Italian tech communities very closely since years now, and I’m convinced that time has came for a new step forward: running the first Italian Community Leadership Summit.

What

An occasions to connect community leaders, organizers and managers that are interested in growing and empowering a strong community. To debate around the present situation, visions and tools, sharing the teaching and learning adventure, agreed on common initiatives to make the community more capable and effective. It’s a protected moment where managers can leave the leadership roles and be the perfect community members they’ve had in mind, to work together in refining the art of community management and make it better understood and shared by us all. Nothing new, although.

Why

I feel the Italian context has now the right level of maturity for an event of this kind: we already have established networks of communities, like GrUSP, GDGs, DotNet etc, acting as meta-communities for the organisers and working together country-wide(ish), but generally only the same type of groups are inside these networks, and the latter are disconnected each other. Not because of a particular devil will, but only because “We’ve never had the occasion to try“.

It has happened that, during events like Codemotion or XXDays or others, the community managers gathered, had fun together, complained about common issues, shared experiences and contacts and even worked on new ideas together. Having a dedicated moment, not just an occasion during another event, can potentially bring a huge value to all the attendees.

Take for example Milan, where the community density (together with a good collaboration spirit leaded by Daniele) allowed to create Milano Tech Scene. Big enough to offer cross-pollination occasions and small enough to still preserve an old, good, community mindset. Just to compare, the density in cities like Paris, London or Berlin is so high that this kind of initiatives wouldn’t be possibile, and Meetup rules :) It’s time to scale this mindset to the whole country.

Finally, I trust contamination as one of the key to evolve in the dev ecosystem, and so the community scene should reflect this approach. Shared mindset, practices and skills on how to organize a successful event, contacts, next steps about the evolution of the community ecosystem and much more can only help that evolution, and having the feeling of the existence of such network can help newcomers to grow quickly and experienced managers to refine their art.

Why I’m proposing that?

Simple: be the change you want to see. I believe in the usefulness of the format and in this moment as the right moment. Following a lean approach, the Summit is the MVP I want to validate. After an initial phase where I gathered ideas, impressions and thoughts, it’s time to test.

Then, I’ve another objective in mind: diversity, in particular gender gap. Until we simply complain about low female presence at tech events, considering ourselves out of the equation because “We’re open to opposite gender participation”, we’re not really doing a lot to improve the situation. All of us should add our own contribution for the cause, no matter what we can add. Just do it. So, my first contribution in pushing everyone acting, is to open registration to one person only if he/she can bring (along) another person of the opposite gender. Could be an organiser of the same community or a different one, I don’t mind until we don’t cheat, like involving partners that haven’t never taken part to the community life. Aiming for a balanced participation. Damn difficult, but moonshots are here for that.

When and Where

Probably around November or December, before is too difficult and I don’t want to wait too much time. In Milan or somewhere else, proposals are more than welcome!

So, now?

I’ve already in mind something about the agenda, but probably I’ll discuss in another post. Right now, I really want to know what you think about this idea. Lean methodology says that is impossible to create something for the users if the users aren’t involved (also) in the problem-definition phase. Not a problem this time, but an opportunity. So, YOUR comments and constructive criticisms are more than welcome.

Identify your Twitter followings older that 4 months

Spring is all about cleaning, the saying goes, so why don’t apply the same principle also the the accounts I follow on Twitter? Why? Because I would like to maintain their number under 400 and because I would like to grow my very limited Python skills.

With the help of TweetPony (among the many), the task was pretty straightforward. Final result is a simple script that checks for the people I follow, verifies their last tweet date and alert me if it is older than four months.

Configure the Python environment (Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty)

I don’t want to pollute my system-wide Python installation with libraries and dependencies related to a single project, so I created a virtual environment. Still not a master on that, so forgive my errors:

apt-get install python-pip
sudo pip install virtualenv
cd %projectdir%
virtualenv build_dir
source build_dir/bin/activate

From now ongoing, all the pip commands will be execute inside the (build_dir) virtualdev, and not at system-wide level. Time to install the TweetPony library:

sudo pip install tweetpony

Once installed, I tried some examples from the GitHub repo, to check if it worked. And yes, it did (even without api key and permission, see later), but a boring console message appeared every time the script made a call to Twitter API, caused probably by the old Python 2.7.6 version or libs I was using:

InsecurePlatformWarning: A true SSLContext object is not available. This prevents urllib3 from configuring SSL appropriately and may cause certain SSL connections to fail. For more information, see https://urllib3.readthedocs.org/en/latest/security.html#insecureplatformwarning.
  InsecurePlatformWarning

In order to solve it, I installed some dev libraries required to compile some other Python libraries (again, inside the virtualenv only)

sudo apt-get install libssl-dev
sudo apt-get install libfii-dev
pip install cryptography
pip install pyopenssl ndg-httpsclient pyasn1
pip install urllib3

and added these lines of code at the beginning of the main function of the script, before any Twitter API call:

import urllib3.contrib.pyopenssl
urllib3.contrib.pyopenssl.inject_into_urllib3()

They made the trick! But, as I said, probably you may not need all of these.

The script

The script itself it’s pretty simple. I took the basic code to create the TweetPony API object from the repo’s example folder and I was able to get user’s friends_id (the account the user follows). Then, cycling thru each one, I checked the status of that friend, watching for last tweet date. Some cornercases management (like private tweets or no tweets at all) and voila’, I had all I needed.

Regarding authentication, all Twitter’s libraries require a consumer key and consumer secret to work, in addition to an OAuth access_token and access_token_secret. What made me preferred TweetPony to other libs, like tweepy or python-twitter, was that TweetPony doesn’t required anything. Test consumer key and secret are gently embedded into the lib source, while OAuth tokens are created on the fly for you and persisted over a file, .auth_data.json. To use new credentials, simply delete the file and add somewhere, at the beginning of your code, these two lines, with key and secret obtained from Twitter Dev Console:

tweetpony.CONSUMER_KEY = 'xxxx'
tweetpony.CONSUMER_SECRET = 'xxxxx'

Final consideration about Twitter API usage: there is a limit of 180 calls every 15 minutes, so I added a sleep after every check. Slow, but it worked with my 500+ followers :)
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Converge Hackathon: developers + designers + diversity. Is it even possible?

One of the cool aspect of my current job is the freedom I have to experiment with what I think it’s valuable and important for the developer ecosystem. This time I tried to tackle two aspects, both under the diversity umbrella: expertise mix and gender gap.

In collaboration with frog design (thanks Laura and Alex for the help), we envisioned a platform to experiment and iterate around these topics, so we create the “Converge Hackathon” format. Let’s analyse the main idea and the first implementation, held at Google HQ in Milan, March 7th.

First, why an hackathon?

We all know what an hackathon is: a fixed amount of time for experimenting with new things, get in touch with smart people and have fun with passions. In addition, “Converge Hackathon” aims to improve the collaboration between designers and developers during the whole process of thinking, refining and realizing an idea. Hence the name. And because I viscerally love the hackathon format ;)

20150307 - Converge Hackathon 03

Don’t be shy and… present!

How the collaboration between developers and designers has gone?

Pretty much well, I would say.  This collaboration was one of the more acknowledged strength of the event. Here some of the attendees’ comments:
“Was challenging to work with stranger but at the same time interesting and funny. The best part was the division of the work”
“The collaboration was really good. It was my first time working with developers and I enjoyed a lot. Otherwise, I think it was needed a bit more of integration regarding with how the design and the coding could be merge”
“I’ve meet a lot of interesting people and different points of view on even the simplest thing”
“Good organization, very nice the initiative of mixing designers with developers and give an opportunity to work together”
Although it was challenging:
“I’m a designer. Speaking with Developer is very difficult because they only think in their square area.”
“At the beginning was difficult to know new people and get in touch with the developers”
To summarise: no pain, no gain when you start this kind of collaboration :) But the feedback showed that audience gained a lot, despite some small pain.
We balanced the attendees considering 2/3 of developers and 1/3 of designers, and frog carefully selected the latter viewing their portfolio, their profile, their activities. They wanted to be sure that the right profiles were part of the crowd. For developers, I let them in without any particular control. I trust in natural selection ;)
Another learning point was about the teams creation: such different crowd requires a focused pre-work for mixing the people in a proper way, something that goes beyond the quick ice-breakers we did in the morning, that work generally well in a standard hackathon. Dedicate the right attention to this aspect is crucial.
One final consideration is about the timing: one day only event makes hard to create something meaningful, and the ideation phase, that generally is very short during a normal hackathon because the attendees are eager to “get their hands dirty with code”, this time was fostered, and mostly led, by designers. The result was that final hacks were more elaborated that the average I’ve generally seen, but with the drawback of having prototypes less “working” than the usual. As note for us, organisers, next time we need to keep the ideation process inside a given timeframe, otherwise the risk is that, once the first half of the event has gone, teams are still thinking about what they can realise.

20150307 - Converge Hackathon 01

Diversity? Really not an issue for this team

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The Marshmallow Challenge: icebreaker and lessons teacher

The Marshmallow ChallengeI’ve found an interesting game that can be used both as icebreaker and for teaching a fundamental lesson about the importance of prototyping before fully committing a project (sounds lean? Oh yes, it is!). It’s called the Marshmallow Challenge and can be run by groups of 4, there is no age constrain and requires less than 20 minutes.

Each group has 20 spaghetti, 1 meter of tape, 1 piece of string and 1 Marshmallow. The challenge is to build with them, within 18 minutes range, a self-sustaining structure with the Marshmallow on top of it. The winner is the group that achieve the maximum height between the Marshmallow and the table.

Seems fun, and I think it is, and there are some important lessons that emerge from the game: more info in this TED 2006 talk and in a more recent one. But for me, both bring to the same conclusion: prototyping and a good team move ideas to success ;)

I’ll start adopting this icebreaker in my community meetings, and see what will happen. Sounds cool ;)

Advanced dev tips for the Android Wear

You first Android Wear app is finally complete. A working notification system, a couple of custom wear activities and an exciting voice input
control. Now what?
In this session, you’ll learn about some of the advanced Android Wear programming guidelines, code optimizations, useful community libraries, best UI patterns seen so far, brilliant watch faces, pitfalls to avoid and other “real world” Android Wear tips’nd tricks.


(Droidcon Turin, 9th April 2015)

The second screen world in the Google Cast era

TVs are the biggest, most beautiful screen in people’s living rooms. Google Cast is a technology that enables true multi-screen experiences for the users. Integrating Google Cast into existing applications is simple, and we’re going to cover the SDK and resources available to make your application Cast enabled really easily. Android, iOS and Web. Possibilities? Endless: not only casting video or audio, but also games where the TV becomes the new and high-tech game board or a variety of other apps to enjoy with friends, sitting together on the couch.


(Codemotion Roma 2015)