Wrestling language and pictures into coherent focus
Last year, two of my colleagues presented at the Mastering SAP Technologies conference in Sydney, Australia. I had hoped to be selected for the 2010 event, but my proposals were turned down. After Gretchen and Karin came back, saying what a wonderful time they had, I was interested yet not very certain of my acceptance. After all, Australia has Tony de Thomasis, SAP Mentor, Solution Manager expert bar none, and I’m more of a second stringer. As it turns out, I must have made a good impression on the committees behind the event, as I was asked to provide abstracts for two sessions, back in June 2010.
To help cover my bases, I prepared abstracts on 6 of the topics outlined in their list of focus areas. Some were probably a stretch from my daily job duties, but I figured I could talk about the experiences of my peers even if I was not a specific team member on the dozens of SAP and non-SAP projects I’ve been involved with over the past thirteen years. The submission requirements were very specific, more detailed than what I’m accustomed to from ASUG conferences, such as asking for photographs for the conference material, and our original SAP go-live date. Since my company started with SAP before I joined, and in fact before many of my colleagues joined, we scratched our heads on what date to choose. Was it the first pilot, or the first module, or the larger conversions of many modules that followed?
I was informed at the end of July, 2010 that they wanted me for at least two sessions. For the next few weeks, we corresponded about whether and how I would be involved with SAP Mentor events, and a series of workshops on the Wednesday at the end of the conference. Sue Keohan, an ASUG and Mentor buddy from the U.S. would also be going, as would other well known Mentors such as Thomas Jung, Ingo Hilgefort, http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/u/251951534 [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] (“Yojibee”). I was humbled to be in such august company. Good news for me, my wife’s schedule has allowed her to travel with me, meaning I won’t be as likely to be taking pictures of stranded batteries and water bottles on curbs from airport to bus terminal.
Though I knew what my topics are going to be, had provided an outline, and had some direction for what I will talk about, I didn’t have dozens of slides at the ready for this. And when Eventful Management said the presentations were due in March (mere weeks before the event, not the months of time typically demanded by SAP and ASUG), the final creations got pushed further and further back. Oh, I took a few screen shots, but that was more like at the beginning of 2011. I knew I had to buckle down and put words and pictures into the PowerPoint templates I had received in November I think.
After more time passed without me making progress in building a slide deck, I thought I should review what I had been thinking about during drives to work, sleepless nights (when the dog demanded to go out or the cats demanded to be fed at 4 AM) and put each presentation into an outline format. That would be different in style than what I gave to the event managers, but would not be so daunting as trying to create 100 slides without a plan. Within an hour, I had reviewed the presentation guidelines (“go from Situations to Actions to Results”) and captured what seemed to be a coherent story plot line. Nothing like what the audience members will see or hear, other than perhaps a few slide titles, but guide posts for me to fill in the remainder of my tales.
Then it began to get dark again. I flowed the ideas from the outlines to a few slides, but began to waver. I have to work on this content at home, because I don’t feel like this is part of my paying gig. But I was getting distracted, or unfocused, or just not able to capture what I thought I should say onto electronic form. I know that I cannot and should not write up the entire script as if it were on a teleprompter, but those sub-bullets began to dance around, waver, escape from me, and just generally not line up as I wanted.
As I’ve done a few presentations over the years, I think the easiest are based on project time lines. Here was the plan, here’s what went according to plan, here’s what did not, here’s what we might have done differently (“if we knew then what we know now”). These sessions aren’t going to be like that, as I am drawing on a number of sources and projects for my content. I’m struggling with telling a tale I think the audience will want to hear. I am less concerned about whether they like me at the end; I want to feel I’ve done right.
Near the end of February, I had 20 to 40 slides in each presentation. While I was aiming for 50 or 60 each, so far I just don’t have the cute pictures and graphs that could guarantee I’ve got more than enough to say. There’s nothing like speaking for 20 minutes in a one hour slot and simply drying up. I was getting unhappy about my lack of follow through, so I reached out to a few peers for guidance. My plan was to rehearse in the early stages, so that by speaking out loud I’d not only be confident with what I planned to say, I’d realize more quickly what I had thought about including but omitted. Jon Reed called my syndrome “content fatigue” since I’ve been looking at the same several dozen slides for weeks and was growing weary with my perceived lack of progress. I was growing the material slowly; I just knew I could do better.
Jon listened to me sketch out my ideas in 10 or 15 minutes each, and offered suggestions on what audiences would also like to know about, from my perspective, commented on catch phrases that were, well, catchy, and tried to foresee, as I have been doing, what the audience expectations will be. That’s another reason for having extra material – so I can go in the right direction.
The main wrap up of our conversation was my unfinished “audience take away” slides. I had ideas in the beginning of my content preparation, but as the material grew and evolved, so did my possible learnings. I put in a few cute (placeholder) bullets, and expect that with more peer reviews I’ll have concrete end goals to steer my narratives. There will be a long plane ride to think about these finally tweaks, from Baltimore, to Los Angeles, to Sydney.
In the meantime, as the clock ticks on, below are crops from a few images I will include. The first several are about patching, software support notes, and the idea that changes never end. The last is yet another hardware monitoring story gone bad. When I looked into our Solution Manager system for sample data, I discovered one more metric had flat-lined several weeks ago (OK, December). Take your eye off the gauges for an instant, and gremlins start gnawing at the wires. But that’s another story for another day.
Zero is a lonely number.
Oh, and late thanks to SAP Mentor and good friend Graham Robinson for words of encouragement (is the shrimp on the barbie yet?)