PyCon presentations, Hollywood style

Saturday 26 February 2011This is over 12 years old. Be careful.

PyCon 2011 is right around the corner, which means the Boston Python Meetup is doing its annual PyCon on the Charles practice sessions, and I’m thinking about what makes a good presentation.

The advice I wrote last year is good, but I thought of a new analogy: a PyCon presentation should be a trailer for your expertise. That is, imagine your expertise on your topic is like a full-length Hollywood movie. Then your PyCon talk should be the trailer for that expertise.

A trailer is by nature short, so is your talk. Not as short as a trailer, but shorter than you want. You have to think hard about what to take out and what to leave in. Like a trailer, your talk needs to tell a compressed story, it should have some relatable emotion in it, and ideally it will have some action (demos).

The point of a trailer is to convince people to watch the movie. The point of a PyCon talk is not to make people experts, but to convince them to learn more about your topic, which they can do afterward. You don’t have to cram all the information into them, just as the trailer doesn’t have to tell the entire story of the movie. If they leave thinking, “I’d like to know more about that,” you’ve done your job.

Writing 25-minute technical presentations is hard, and this trailer analogy may not be perfect, but I think it’s a good mindset to get into for crafting a good PyCon talk.


And if your talk includes any live demonstration of code, do at least 3 rehearsals of it before your talk. People have better things to do than see you fumble in the shell while mumbling: "Ah, it's supposed to work... What?... Oh, it's probably because... Okay, I'll try..." While they can't even see what you're typing in the shell because you forgot to change the text to a huge size and high-contrast color before the talk.

Bitter? Me? No...
I almost never do live demos. They bring too much risk, and I don't think the live-ness adds much to the presentation for a lot of types of code.
Agreed on the live demos. I've seen way too many good talks lose their momentum by stopping to show code running live. If you're up there showing something off, I believe it runs! Just show me the code and the output, without fumbling around trying to get it to work live.
Good summary, I'd like to add one thing though.
It's not only making them want to know more, that's already the initial reason they might join your talk.

If your topic is a wide range, like "Feature X of language Y" or "Doing Z with A,B,C" point them to the interesting bits. Don't just make them interested, make their entry easy. Which part of the official docs are most needed, which parts can be skipped. Where are the cool people blogging about this, is the Planet worth your time?

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