Dr. Maritza Johnson completed her PhD in Computer Science at Columbia University in May 2012. While at Columbia, she studied both writing and presentation skills with me. Maritza thought I would be interested in how she used the idea of backward buildup to organize and practice a talk she delivered at the 2011 Grace Hopper Conference in Portland, so she sent me her hand-written notes — all 10 pages of them — documenting the process. She has graciously given me the go-ahead to share her notes, so I thought it would be interesting — and inspiring — for all of you to see how Maritza started with an idea and finished with a beautiful presentation at GHC2011.
We highlight the three major steps in Maritza’s talk preparation: Step 1) The story takes shape. Step 2) Backward buildup. Step 3) Practice and debriefing.
1) The story takes shape.
“Iteration 1: Start with my time limit and a rough cut of the material to cover.”
“Iteration 2: Expand a bit on the rough cut of material to cover.”
2) Backward buildup.
“This is how I implemented your advice on planning the talk backwards. I broke down my time into chunks that I used for choosing content and practicing sections. fyi – a pom = 25 minutes. I set a timer and try not to multitask while it’s running.”
“For each chunk in the diagram above, I selected content based on what questions I should answer in that chunk and the amount of time available.” (Content development notes for Part 1 are shown below; the process was repeated for Parts 2, 3, 4 — notes not included.)
“After I expanded on each section, I made a rough draft of the slide deck.”
3) Practice and debriefing.
“Then I practiced each chunk based on the diagram on page 1. I think I practiced mouthing the words at first to get a feel for what I wanted to say and how much time I could take.”
“I practiced each section aloud with a timer several times and took notes on which slides worked well with the flow, where I fumbled and wasn’t sure what to say, and which slides needed changes, animations, or should be deleted.”
Following the actual presentation, Maritza did her own talk debrief. Here are some of her notes: