Friday, October 11, 2013

Books I've Read This Week

Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun. In the last few years I've had the opportunity to do a lot more public speaking whether it be at local Ottawa events or at conferences across North America. Apparently, I'm not too bad at it as I keep getting asked to do presentations but I really can't tell myself. Here's a secret, once I get up on stage it's not me. No really, some other persona that is not afraid of public speaking takes over and my mind retreats back to it's happy place. Most of the time I can't even tell you what I've said.

That's why I was so intrigued to get and read Confessions of a Public Speaker. I rather enjoyed Mr. Berkun's insights into public speaking. I was also very glad to find out that most people are more afraid of public speaking than death. Actually, that doesn't make much sense but it is a good anecdote. The book is filled with some great stories and a lot of practical advice.

The one piece of advice I'm immediately putting into play is to interrupt those folks who ask rambling 5 minute long questions after your talk. I guess the audience is just as disappointed to have to listen to the ramblings of a mad man as I am. However, you can do it politely. Just offer to take the persons super involved query off line and follow up with your email address so they can contact you.

There is also some good bits on "what can go wrong" during a talk. It's great to be prepared for problems. For instance, when I walk into a venue to do a talk I usually have my presentation in 3 separate locations, my laptop, a usb stick and Dropbox. So god forbid anything happens to one of them I have a redundant back up ready to go.

You might think that sounds a bit excessive but let me refer you back to my PhoneGap Day US talk. My laptop would mirror it's display with the projector so the audience would only be able to see the left half of my presentation. I didn't get freaked out about it, I just jumped on Tommy's laptop and did the presentation out of my Dropbox account.

But that was nothing compared to what Kristofer Joseph was able to pull off at September's PhoneGap Paris meetup. Kris was doing some live coding of Topcoat while presenting to a large Parisian crowd. Now that doesn't sound too bad but here is the picture:

Now you have to look at the top right hand corner of the picture to see Kris leaning over the railing on the second floor of this busy bar in Paris. He's presenting to the crowd down below while holding a hand mic, while typing on his computer, while a bunch of people sing happy birthday behind him. Yup, I will never complain about a tough presentation setup ever again.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Wow, I really hated this book the first time around. Wait wut? You hated a Neil Gaiman book? Yes, yes I did but with what I feel was good reason. You see I was on vacation and I had just finished Tim Powers excellent novel Last Call. The next book up in my queue was American Gods and I thought OMG! Neil Gaiman stole the plot for this book from Tim Powers. The two books are amazingly similar in a number of regards and since I read them back to back I was pretty upset with Mr. Gaiman at the time.

But then some time passed and I read an interview with Powers and Gaiman where they agreed that it was an odd co-incidence that the books seemed similar but there was no copying going on by either party so I read it again and loved it! This is actually the third time I've read the book as it was the October book in my book club and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it once again.

The book centers on an ex-con named Shadow. He gets out of jail a few days early in order to attend his wife's funeral. Rudderless after the loss of his wife he takes a job for Mr. Wednesday an embodiment of the Norse god Odin. While on the job Shadow criss crosses America with Mr. Wednesday trying to recruit the old gods, the ones immigrants brought to America, in a war against the new gods of America, the Internet, Fame, TV, etc.

It is a pretty great treaties on the conflict between spiritual beliefs and the new gods of technology. It does a good job of exploring the question of whether man creates gods or gods create men.

Also, it contains quotes from one of my favourite poems, The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats.

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