This month’s Talks I Love post is about partner talks. I have never given a partner talk professionally. I have a negative visceral reaction whenever someone asks me to do one. I think it is a holdover from group work in school. However, when I started thinking about this series two of the talks I wanted to include were partner talks. One of the things I like about these two talks is that they would not be nearly as compelling if they were given only by one person. Part of what makes them memorable is the interplay between the speakers. Moreover, I must say, after watching and analyzing both of these talks I am considering trying out partnered speaking myself.
Aaron Patterson & Ryan Davis: Worst Ideas Evar
A quick content warning. This talk contains some bathroom humor that you probably wouldn’t find at a technical conference in 2017.
One of the things I love about this talk is how Aaron and Ryan play off each other. They start this early on by doing each other’s bios. Then they alternate being the primary one presenting and being the assistant (fixing the slide contrast, correcting the other, manning the laptop). As they discuss how they came up with the ideas in the talk, it is clear that many of the projects were a group effort.
I appreciate that Aaron and Ryan show their enthusiasm for their, decidedly bad, ideas. It keeps the audience engaged and laughing. The other technique that they use brilliantly is “take a ridiculous idea one step further than reasonable.” Running PHP on Ruby was ridiculous but “Phuby on Phails” got even more laughter and is still joked about in the community. Taking the ridiculous idea of “Phuby” one “what if” more than anyone thought possible made it even more memorable and hilarious.
Dan Friedman and William Byrd: miniKanren at Clojure Conf
I love the technical content of this talk, and I think everyone should watch it just for that reason. However, this series is about the art of presenting, not the technical content. One of the things I like about this talk is that the audience is watching a well-organized pair programming session. One partner is driving (typing) and the other is navigating (directing the progress). Like most pair programming they occasionally step back and talk at a higher level about what the current problem is and what the next step is. Live coding has a bad reputation among many communities, but this talk shows that if you have one person talking and the other typing it can work very well. Professor Byrd also helps out by pulling up examples on the screen to illustrate the points that Professor Friedman is making.
Moreover, like Aaron and Ryan’s talk, I like how Professor Friedman and Professor Byrd banter and work together during their talk. Somewhat counterintuitively, when they tell each other to “hold on” and “not yet” they increase audience engagement. They also poke some fun at their book talking about how all the code is in the back, you just need to study it for a year to understand it. When presenting challenging, very technical topics, humor can make it much more approachable.
There are more talks by both Dan Friedman and Will Byrd; I recommend checking them out on YouTube. Additionally, if you find Lisp, Scheme, or Logic Programming interesting I recommend The Little Schemer, The Seasoned Schemer, and The Reasoned Schemer.