Public Speaking Tips for Tech Talks and #VMUG Sessions

Keep Calm and Speak at a VMUG

Public speaking can be daunting if you don’t do it regularly (and sometimes, even if you do!). As part of my role I regularly talk to small groups of 5-10 people, but this year I have had the opportunity to speak a couple of times at the London VMUG.

The following tips are a combination of my own experience, both where I think things in my sessions went well, and equally where I could definitely have improved. Many thanks to Mike Laverick, Simon Gallagher, Andrew Audsley and Mark Wilson for their presenting and technical tips as well!

Presentation Tips

  • Facts, figures, best practices and suggested configurations are interesting, but sharing of real life experiences is what people come to hear. Anecdotes are much more interesting.
  • Talking about what works and what went well is great, but issues or things that didn’t quite work out as you expected are just as valuable, if not more so.
  • Gauging the audiences level of knowledge / experience early on can be very helpful. The first thing I did in my last presentation was to ask how many people in the room worked with or designed storage on a regular basis. As it was a “Noddy’s Guide”, I was expecting few hands, but in fact ¾ of the room put their hand up! The advantage of asking this up front is that I was able to tweak my session to the audience by dropping or de-emphasizing a lot of the simpler stuff and concentrating on the more complex / interesting bits.
  • By talking about what you did / would do in a scenario, as opposed what you think other people should do, they are be more likely to be receptive. This subtle difference can change the feel of a session from being a lecture, into a discussion. If the intention of the session is to get people to interact, this might encourage people to step up and say what they would do in the same situation, or to talk about their experiences.
  • If you are not 100% sure of / expert in all of your content, consider including “islands” of content at regular intervals (e.g. every 10-15 minutes), where you know the content really well. This means if you happen to start to drift and lose your way a bit, you can anchor to the bits you know really well and build your confidence back up before moving on to the next bit of the presentation.
  • Don’t be off put if you don’t get a huge amount of interaction, especially with large groups. The bigger the audience, the less interaction you are likely to get, unless you specifically ask for it or start picking on audience members!
VMUG Audiences Are Friendly!

Dont worry… VMUG audiences are friendly!

  • Don’t be nervous about the audience! Much like a wedding speech, its worth remembering that the VMUG audience at a community session really want the speaker to succeed. It’s unlikely you will find a more friendly and willing audience in almost any other situation.
  • Lists are not exciting, and neither are multiple slides of “and another thing” type of comments. I definitely felt I should have tried to break up my last session into different types of content and context, which would have made it more interesting.
  • Even if you plan your presentation to the minute in advance, things never quite work out that way! You are likely to be asked questions, stopped mid flow, projectors turn themselves off and start smelling a bit smoky etc… the best thing to do is plan a shorter presentation as you will undoubtedly use all the time anyway!
  • When it comes to slides less is most definitely more!
  • You don’t actually have to go through every line on every slide, sometimes simply picking out the most pertinent bits can make for better flow, and the decks are usually available after anyway, so someone who is really interested can read the detail if they want to.
  • One other tip which Duncan Epping gave recently and I definitely agree with is to practice your presentation a few times through in advance, but don’t over-practice and end up being too robotic. Everyone has their own style but I personally like to use the slides as a talking point and guide, rather than planning word-for-word what I’m going to say.
  • Once you have your initial draft, try it out on some friends or colleagues in the industry. This can be invaluable for working out your timing and getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t. I ended up rewriting large chunks of my storage presentation after running through it with some guys from my team at work.
  • Don’t forget about the awesome FeedForward initiative! I was fortunate enough to have the inimitable Mike Laverick provide me with FeedForward prior to both of my London VMUG sessions, and in both cases he provided lots of valuable suggestions and improvements to my content and style as well as coming up with a few ideas I hadn’t even considered.

Tech Tips

  • As I have painfully discovered first hand, no matter how much prep and testing I did on my slide deck, it still went wrong! From now on I plan to have a backup plan; a PDF copy I can whip out if PowerPoint goes nuts again!
  • Don’t use PowerPoint animations… they’re unreliable at best!
Sacrifice to the Gods of Demos

Sacrifice to the Gods of Demos

  • If you are going to do a live demo, don’t forget to sacrifice an old laptop, phone, printer or other electronic device to the gods of Demos! [Alternatively, you could just record a copy of your demo in case it all goes wrong then you have a backup plan].
    A prime example of this (and I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing it) was our London VMUG’s very own Simon Gallagher who was doing a software demo. He tested it successfully just minutes before his presentation was due to start. During his presentation the demo then decided to fail! After a bit of investigation, Simon realised that the license key on his software ran out in the few minutes between his last test, and his live demo starting. Talk about unlucky timing?!
  • [Mac] Mirroring screen contents instead of using presenter view tends to work more consistently, rather than extending the desktop to the projector. In my day-to-day work this is what I have always done and its always worked very reliably. It does mean you can’t use speaker notes though of course.
  • [Mac] Consider running PowerPoint in Parallels or Fusion on Windows. The Windows version of PowerPoint is apparently more consistent!

If you have any more tips or suggestions you think would be worth adding to the list, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to add them for the benefit of others!

NanoLab – Part 6 – Keeping Your NUCs Cool (Quick Tip)

Just a very quick tip I discovered this weekend.

If you are using your Intel NUCs with any anger, they will likely run reasonably hot to the touch and typically you would just place them horizontally on a surface as per the pictures above. For optimum performance and lifespan, we all know it’s always important to keep your NUCs as cool as possible!

The NUCs are also designed to be mounted vertically on the back of a monitor/stand/wall/desk or similar, using the VESA mount. What I didn’t realise is that whether mounted or not, if you run them on their side, they seem to actually maintain lower temperatures.

I’m not sure if the same would apply for the newer generation of NUCs with the 2.5″ drive cages, which also have small vents down the side, but it certainly works on the standard models.

Vertical running of NUCs

Vertical running of NUCs

This seems to work pretty well for me, but as always, I take no responsibility if your NUC explodes with the fire of a thousand suns!

That is all.

NanoLab – Part 5 – Intel NUC BIOS Update Issues FwUpdateFullBuffer

Having taken delivery of a new Intel NUC D34010WYKH this week, I followed the usual (and Intel recommended process) of upgrading the firmware / BIOS to the latest version. As it happens, this was version 0030 (WY0030.BIO). This was installed using the standard USB with a .BIO file, and press F7 method as there was obviously no OS installed.

Unfortunately having installed this version, building and booting the ESXi host, I was getting some very strange network issues. Specifically no DHCP address being picked by the host, but a manual IP would ping intermittently (around 10-15% of the time). Not good. In addition there were some very odd behaviours observed in the BIOS such as not booting from USB consistently, hanging when I hit ctrl-alt-del and others.

My guess was that this was a firmware related issue, so I decided to roll it back to an earlier version. I started with 0026 by installing the firmware using the same F7 method above. This is when I got an error message which stated FwUpdateFullBuffer followed by several numbers (no screenshot I’m afraid). At this point, the firmware update bombed out. Really not good!

Repeating the activity only achieved the same result, even with different firmware versions and install methods (such as a bootable USB drive with FreeDOS and iFlash2.exe).

After a bit of searching I found the following BIOS recovery mode instructions for situations when you have a screwed up BIOS:

  1. Copy the recovery file (*.bio) to a bootable USB device.
  2. Plug the USB device into a USB port of the target Intel NUC.
  3. Shut down the computer and unplug AC power.
  4. Open the chassis and remove the yellow BIOS Configuration Jumper. See the Technical Product Specification for the location of this jumper.
  5. Power the system on.
  6. Wait 2-5 minutes for the update to complete.

    Intel NUC BIOS Recovery from 0030 to 0025

    Intel NUC BIOS Recovery from 0030 to 0025

  7. The computer will either turn off when the recovery process is completed or it will prompt you to turn off the computer.
  8. Remove the USB device from the USB port.
  9. Replace the BIOS Configuration Jumper.
  10. Restart the computer.

Following the above, I have updated my Intel NUC D34010WYKH to version 0025 and have found it to be reasonably stable so far, and definitely works with ESXi.

Obviously follow any of the above suggestions at your own risk. I cannot be held responsible if your NUC becomes a BRICK, but hopefully this will save people some time and frustration, as this was several hours of messing around in my case!

At first I was afraid… Then I was Shellshocked!

So a few weeks back when the Shellshock issues came to light, I took early precautions and patched my personal Ubuntu web server (not my blog server, just a personal one I use for family photos and things).

Phew, I was safe!

Or so I thought…

Well apparently not! I discovered last night when noticing some odd connections being accepted and blocked on my firewall, it turns out that there have been several waves of vulnerabilities, all with associated fixes. Patching my server 3+ weeks ago was not sufficient to catch all of the updates.

I trawled through the logs and processes on my web server and found a few dodgy things, then went to and manually ran all of their tests. From this I discovered that I was still vulnerable to three exploits and one had been exploited!

Fortunately it appears that the worst which had happened is that the attacker had gained access, but hadn’t actually used it for anything yet. I have recently implemented Veeam for backing up my home lab, and I retain backups for 14 days, so I was able to restore an older backup prior to the attack, then quickly patch the restored server to ensure I was no longer vulnerable.

Finally I ran the following checker against my home and blog sites:

Phew, I was safe!

To cheesily quote this week’s episode of The Walking Dead:

No matter what anyone says, no matter what you think… You are not safe! It only takes one second, one second and it’s over. Never let your guard down. Ever.

Stay safe! 🙂

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