The Whiteboard Essays. #3, “Bringing It.”

Jump To:
Essay 1: Feedback // For the whole story, start here.
Essay 2: The Do-Over // The Helpful Safety Tips start back here.
Essay 4: Training Montage!

[Written a week after Essay #2]

So, the third and fourth whiteboard talks have come and gone, and I believe I’m finally getting the hang of these. My pacing is better, the presentation flows reasonably nicely, and I’m generally better at talking about the material.

Observation: The name of the game here is not to “absorb and recite all the information ever”. First off, it’s a pretty unrealistic goal, and secondly, no one cares about my ability to regurgitate a large body of knowledge; most of my colleagues do that five times before breakfast. Rather, the goal is to come up with a strategy for understanding (and then teaching) an overwhelming amount of new material. Once I figured out a strategy, it was about rendering down the Sap of Knowledge to the Grade A Dark Maple Syrup of Wisdom, and then lovingly pouring it over the French Toast of Customer Expectations.

Other random things I’ve learned and/or done:

I bought a watch. There are many ways to keep track of time, but having to fumble at my phone every time was ungainly, and it discouraged me from doing time checks with the frequency required to wedge in a lot of material. So, I bought a watch, the process and results of which are a posting in and of themselves. Short form: large plain face w/ second hand, narrow circular bezel, thin profile, and is in proportion to my wrist and arm. Also, I like wearing a watch, and haven’t done it since I wore a Swatch in high school.

Control the complexity level. I picture a successful whiteboard talk as occupying a very tight band of complexity. Within that band, the customer will go along with the narrative, with the understanding that they’re being given the whole picture at a certain level of abstraction. If the band is too large, the presentation gets very hard to follow due to the amount of domain-specific knowledge needed to keep up. If I break out of it too high, I’m handwaving and will invite questions to probe my knowledge (and assert status). If I break out of it too low, I’ve painted myself into a corner and no one is actually getting the information they need.

Avoid negation. This is more of a general debate skill. People tend to forget the articles in a sentence, so saying “We will not melt down your pet rock” works out to “We… melt down your pet rock”. Even if intellectually they know that you put a “not” in there, it crossed your mind that you might want to melt down their pet rock, else why would you have said it that way? Find a way to state your assertion positively, e.g. “We will protect your pet rock.”

The fifth whiteboard talk is tomorrow, and it promises to be the trickiest one, yet.

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