Friday 20 December 2013

Presentation Purpose

As speakers, we get varying periods of time in which to make an impression. Over the past three months I have often been standing at the front of the room. When I speak I am usually talking about an approach to testing that most in the audience do not follow. I've been thinking about how to best present a new idea within a given time and what outcome I should try to achieve.

10 minutes - Doubt

This week I was invited to speak at a mini-conference that was run within a large organisation. Each speaker had 20 minutes; we were requested to present for 10 minutes then lead an open discussion on our chosen topic. I decided to frame my slides within the context of a problem that I was fairly confident at least some within the audience would be facing. My presentation included functional coverage models using mind maps, session based test management, automated checking, and how to combine the three effectively in a scrum development framework to pop the testing bubble.

On the day I was nervous. I wasn't sure that I had pitched the material at the right level to accommodate the varied audience. As I watched the first presenter I realised it wouldn't matter what I said. We didn't have enough time to explain a concept properly. My goal changed. It wouldn't be what I said, it would be how I said it.

People remember passion. It makes them wonder why they don't feel that way about their work. It makes them wonder what they're missing. This is one reason that trainers like James Bach and Brian Osman are often cited in the journey of software testers in New Zealand. A presenter who speaks with passion sows the seeds of doubt. As I stood up to present, I decided that was how I could win the room. Speak memorably and create uncertainty. It worked.

"Wow, I had no idea you were so passionate about testing".

"You gave me a lot to think about... and I'm glad my boss was here for that".

"We have that exact problem in our team right now. I'll be bringing this up in our next retrospective."

When you don't have long to make an impression, you want to give some key information and terminology that people can latch on to and research. But more importantly, be excited about what you are saying. Engage the audience and make them question what they are doing. If you only have 10 minutes, the best thing you can do is create doubt that leads people on their own journey of discovery.

60 minutes - Curiosity

During December, I have been teaching one hour testing sessions with a practical focus. These have included:

  • Hendrickson variables and combinatorial testing using Hexawise
  • Scenario touring and flow testing using state transition modelling
  • Using oracles to identify bugs

When you have an hour, you don't focus on what you'll present or even how you say it. When you have an hour, you get your audience to do. You want people to leave the room eager to repeat the activity in their own role. 'I want to do that again'.

I had an attendee from my first class show up in the second week with a Hexawise screenshot. His testing nightmare had been simplified from several thousand possible variable combinations to less than 50. "Everyone should use this tool!" he said. I was a little concerned that he'd latched on to the tool alone. However he had done the reading too and had a good understanding of pairwise testing and what benefits it could offer in order to speak about the practice to his boss.

In an hour, you can run a hands on activity. You can demonstrate a practice. You can make people think and discuss. But, most importantly, you can make people curious enough to repeat what they've been shown, to continue to discover and learn on their own.

A day - Comfort

A day is a gift (or a crushing responsibility). I try to use a day to take people on a journey. I still want to sow a seed of doubt and create curiosity, but I want to go further. I try to anticipate what people will want to know next so that I can lead the expedition of discovery. I answer a lot of questions, we work until the class feel comfortable with a new idea.

Yesterday morning I ran a session about test cases. We started with test case execution, 6 pairs of testers simultaneously executing an identical set of 8 test cases against an online auction site (Adam wrote about this). The test results were incredibly varied, coverage was intentionally patchy and a number of bugs were missed. We talked about inattentional blindness, losing sight of our mission and the limitations of test cases.

"But those test cases weren't detailed enough!" claimed one student. "If the test cases were better, then we would have been fine". Excellent. I was hoping you'd claim that.

The next exercise asked each student to write a test case to verify one particular function of our national weather forecasting website, which they could interact with as they wrote. Handwriting a single test case took a remarkably long time. We then rotated the test cases through the group. Each tester had 2 minutes to complete the test case they held and record whether it was passed, failed, or unable to be executed. As the test cases circled the room, the mood went from frenetic energy to barely contained boredom. The results were as baffling as in the first exercise. We talked about procedural memory and change blindness, but I could see that some were still not convinced.

I had one more trick up my sleeve. An alien meets you and asks how to brush its teeth. Hilarity ensued as people attempted to brush their teeth following the instructions of their peers. I wanted to re-iterate the message that better test cases would not solve the problems we were seeing. I talked about having an external locus of control and how we absolve ourselves of personal responsibility when we see incredibly detailed instructions.

When you have time, you can take your audience on a journey and solidify your point of view. You can present an idea from multiple angles and address concerns of those in the audience. You can give enough information to make people comfortable with a different opinion, creating a base from which they can action change.

Doubt, curiosity and comfort. Are your goals the same?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! I never thought of presentations this way and appreciate this unique view on them! I especially like how the spectrum of passion plays in the background in all three. I think I probably have burned out participants (and myself) with too much. A balance, I would expect, would be more effective - hope to try it soon!