September 29th 2010 | John Dalziel
Last year John Davey introduced a new session to Flash On The Beach. The Elevator Pitch is a crazy fast mix of public speaking and speed-dating. Twenty speakers get three minutes each to present on any subject they like. No breaks, no filler, just quick-fire straight to the point presentations.
With FlashMagazine’s ten year anniversary approaching I was looking for a way to mark the occasion. Dying on stage had a strange allure. Many years ago I contributed to a Flash book. I learned a great deal about the publishing process, and that experience has informed our book reviews for FlashMagazine. In that same spirit I put myself in the speaker’s shoes for a day, and for the benefit of next year’s alumni, here’s what I learned along the way…
I pitched my idea to John along with a whole bunch of others. From this list John whittles it down to twenty names and these become the FOTB Elevator Pitchers. All of this happens months before the event and you probably think you’ll have loads of time to prepare. Well, you do, but real life will get in the way and you probably won’t.
Start early, listen to what John has to say and follow it. Simple stuff like building everything to the correct resolution will save you hours of pain later. Top and tail your presentation with your name and session title so the audience knows who you are. This thing moves fast so you’ll want to give people a chance to remember you.
On the Sunday before the conference is the technical run-through. Don’t be late for this (in fact, don’t be late for any chance to practice) or you’ll get bumped. John assigns the running order – don’t forget your number.
Up on stage for the first time you’ll realize two things. The venue is beautiful, and empty. Ironically, speaking to an empty hall is much tougher than speaking to a crowd. A good crowd will give you feedback. But all of that comes tomorrow. The technical run through is an orderly precession of laptops and DV cables. Each one gets tested, configured if necessary and requirements like audio get noted.
You don’t get to present, which is oddly deflating, but this setup is crucial. If you’re machine dies on the day you’ll have three minutes to fix it. The FOTB lifeguards and the A/V technical guys really know what they’re doing. They’re there to make you look good, so listen to what they say and do it.
On the evening before the session there is a full run through. Stopwatches, radio mics and laptop-swapping – the whole enchilada. All the speakers sit on chairs behind the stage, laptops ready to go. You get called up in order, mic’d up and your laptop is taken from you. That bit is shock and it really throws you. You get a ten second count in and you’re on. The clock is already ticking on your three minutes. This is also the first time you’ll get a chance to present your session, albeit to an empty arena. Mine was a car-crash.
I’m a rambler. I can talk around a subject for days; especially if there’s a pithy observation to be made, or a nugget of wisdom worth passing on. This doesn’t work in three minutes. You need to be focused. I had a whole piece about the effects of marriage and kids on our productivity. Funny, but not relevant - it had to go. I don’t think anyone came out of that one thinking they’d nailed it - a very depressing, necessary and motivational experience.
I texted my FlashMag buddy Jensa who kindly picked up my spirits by picking up some spirits . Two pitchers of Rum to be exact. I don’t recommend this.
Back in the flat I wrote out my introduction in full and went over it again and again. I then gave a full run-through (walk-on and all) several times to any flat-mate who would listen - in my case, Dave and Val. Thank you both! Having real people to present to is important. Real people react to what you say and they’ll give you useful feedback. My piece was immeasurably improved as a result of this feedback.
On the day there’s another full-length run through before the doors open. Tired Elevator Pitchers assemble outside the stage door at 7.45am. A short time later you are back in your seats and we’re ticking through the speakers one more time. You’re still speaking to an empty room but everyone is exponentially better.
Five minutes later the doors open and the room fills up. And it really fills up. The Elevator Pitch is one of the most popular sessions of the whole three days. Before you know it you’re on stage and this time it’s great. The adrenaline is going and real people are far more fun to present to than empty chairs!
Flashmagazine's John Dalziel presenting on the FOTB stage
Mine went well I think. Pretty sure I swore, which is a shame. Nerves got to me. I enjoyed it though and came off wanting to do more. Backstage there’s a mixture of nervous energy and relief, depending where you are the queue, and almost everyone is on Twitter.
Oh, and here’s the kicker. At no time do any of us see each other’s presentation. We’re behind the curtain the whole time. Can’t wait to watch them all on video.
Now it’s time for you to vote. John will be sending out feedback forms shortly. Vote for your top three and they’ll be invited back next year. From what I’ve seen they are all deserving winners so you’re going to have a tough choice. Here’s the list again in full.
Ward de Langhe
Audio Driven GenerativeVisuals
Bite the Bullet
Bleep Bloop Fizzle Zap
Why I love Unity
Flextrine ORM - Speeding up your Associations
Extending Flash with xJSFL
3D in 3-minutes
Flash goes Electronics
Game developer - Meet Your Artwork
Open & Free Flash Development
Debugging and developing with the Doomsday Console
10 years of FlashMagazine
Air is Open Source
MIDI Controlling Everything
Beef Up Your Z Axis
Data Driven Story Telling
Workflow Design Framework in Flash
Thanks again to John Davey, the lifeguards Andy, Tal and Chris, the A/V crew Rich and Neil and my fellow pitchers. A great bunch of talented people.
John Dalziel is a founding member of FlashMagazine and regularly reports from community events in the UK. He has also written for Macromedia, New Riders, Actionscript.com and Ultrashock.com.