To me, one of the most daunting parts of presenting to any audience, is figuring out what to say. I’ve got plenty of ideas rattling around in my head, and some of them are (I think) pretty interesting. But how do I communicate all the bits and pieces that are threaded together by my neurons?
I started using Trello in 2015, as the team I was working on was partially distributed, and we needed a lightweight way to keep track of tasks each of us was working on. We were using a Kanban-ish approach to development, so Trello was a pretty natural fit. As I continued using it, I started seeing the possibilities of using it to help organize non-work things. At one point, while I was working away from home, I used it to keep track of my grocery lists!
Fast forward to 2017, when I submitted an abstract to the Atlantic Security Conference (AtlSecCon). I had done a couple of talks, and prepared the slide decks pretty much the way I write most things: Think about the topic a whole lot, then sit down and bang it out in one or two intense writing sessions (usually closer to the deadline than is wise). While I’ve found this approach generally effective for producing good quality work, it takes a toll – it can be very stressful, especially if I go down a particular path of thinking and then realize it was completely wrong. When I found out that my abstract had been accepted, with only a few months to organize myself, I decided to try something different.
Writing a book is as easy as…
For those of you not in the software testing world, the name Gerald Weinberg may not mean anything. He’s considered by many to have been the godfather of software testing, having introduced the idea while working for IBM on NASA’s Project Mercury. He was also a prolific author, even writing a book on the method he used for writing, called The Fieldstone Method. I’ve been playing around with this method for general idea organizing, and one day it hit me – this model could help me organize my thoughts for my presentation!
I start out by setting up Lists for each of the major slides I had in mind. Since I prefer to keep my slide decks simple, this means I don’t end up having to scroll too much to get a broad picture of the presentation’s structure. Once I have a few Lists, I start creating Cards. These are usually just thoughts or points I want to make, although sometimes I use them for background notes, or even to document turns-of-phrase that I think would help get an idea across. Once I feel like I’ve got enough detail (or the deadline starts creeping up), I start building the slide deck based on the notes. One other advantage of using Trello is the mobile apps; if I have a random idea come to me while I’m away from my desk, I can just fire up the Trello app and add the card.
If you’re curious to see how I’ve used it so far, here’s a link to the Board I created for my 2018 AtlSecCon talk on “Adventures in pentesting self-education, on a shoestring budget“.
Personally, I think this approach is pretty useful, particularly if you tend to have a lot of little ideas here and there, and need a bit of help in getting them organized. I’ve got one talk scheduled for 2019 (more about that soon), and a couple of conferences I’d like to submit talks to, so I’ve already started Boards to gather the ideas together. If you try this approach, please drop me a line here to let me know what you found works, what doesn’t, and modifications you’ve found useful.