Looking back at TechDays Finland 2011

Pretty close to half a year ago, Microsoft held the largest annual developer + IT Pro event in Finland, TechDays 2011. In six more months, it’s happening again.

As I was considering the various topics I might talk about, it always took me back to thinking about the years I’ve been talking there. What did people like? What kind of topic would interest people? How can I be better? My talks generally seem to fill a room of 100-200 people, but what do I have to say that’s worth 100-200 hours of Finnish developers’ time?

The TechDays speakers have had almost nonexistent visibility at the feedback gathered from the event. Well, that is, until now. Allow me to present the TechDays 2011 Feedback Infographic: (click on the image for additional resolution)

 

Td2011-Feedback

Challenges for TechDays 2012 speakers

There are plenty of conclusions one can draw from the data. The one that struck me the most is that people want highly practical information, but not without the theory. Case presentations beat pure theory hands-down, but the most popular sessions were the ones with high-energy presenters, a sound theoretical basis and a continuous pummeling of practical demos.

As I’m left pondering this, I want to offer three TD2012 challenges for fellow Finnish speakers:

  • Sessions in Finnish scored 0.27 (on a scale of 1..5, that’s a lot) lower than sessions in English. Many attendees seem to gravitate towards the heavily rehearsed tracks coming from foreign travelling speakers. This must stop. Even though I think many of the travellers are absolutely great, Finnish technology professionals must be able to be more relevant and interesting*.
  • Developer sessions scored a 3.61, which isn’t particularly bad, but it’s not good either. Many developer sessions are far too much based on the equivalent PDC/TechEd/Build sessions, perhaps even slides. Let me repeat: people want practical information and your experience with the theory. Let’s do better this year.
  • Read Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker and either Presentation Zen or Slideology. Reduce the amount of verbiage in your decks and talks, and replace it with raw energy.

*) While berating the state of Finnish speaking, I must tip my hat off to Sami Laiho, a local Windows MVP. As stated in the infographic, the man did five different presentations, scored a 4.43 average (which would, had Sami’s presentations been a single track, been the most popular track of all TechDays), and pulled off the most popular presentation with a stunning 4.58 score. Oh, and the 4.58 was done on day 2 first slot, which speakers typically shun as the previous night’s attendee party is considered to hamper the contact with the audience. Blah blah.

Data disclaimer

A few words on the data used:

This post is based on a data dump of TechDays 2011 feedback I have received from Microsoft. No personally identifiable information was ever transmitted to me. The infographic has been cleared for publication by Microsoft, but such publication probably indicates no endorsement or broader approval. I do not have permission to redistribute the raw data, so questions for further info may or may not get addressed.

This blog post contains conclusions and opinions, which are naturally mine. On the other hand, the infographic is based on objective, raw event data with the following exceptions:

  • Some questions have been grouped together for better illustration (namely, the food and venue/organization ones).
  • I have manually divided the presentations into “type” categories (theory, practice, case, lecture series). This grouping is non-official.
  • Grouping presenters was done by me. Deeming people “professional speakers” or “nobodies” involved subjective analysis.
  • The textual description and the visualization is mine. The original data sheet nominates no kings, nor were pizza slices actually available.

Thanks for listening – and let’s hear your thoughts on TechDays 2011 and its feedback :-)

October 10, 2011 · Jouni Heikniemi · 24 Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: General

24 Responses

  1. Jussi Katajarinne - October 10, 2011

    Thanks.

  2. Toni - October 10, 2011

    "people want practical information and your experience with the theory"

    I agree 100%. I think MS should have better filter for the speakers and session subjects. People from MS know the latest things e.g. in .NET. Let them show those cool new things to us. There is no point translating those sessions into Finnish. There is no point having "New features of Visual Studio 2010" in finnish.

    Finnish speakers should talk about who they have been using the technology, how did they solve problems, what difficulties did they have. Maybe they originally chose tech A and had to switch to tech B? These talks can be in Finnish. There could even be longer sessions with time reserved for Q/A. For lot of people asking questions in Finnish is lot easier.

  3. Jouni Heikniemi - October 16, 2011

    Toni: Re the more strict filtering, I agree. Yet, while I kind of wish you were right, I'm not sure "New features of VS" in Finnish is unnecessary. There is definitely quite an audience for good Finnish talks, even on reasonably theoretical topics.

    Having mulled over this for a week, I want to rephrase my original thoughts a bit:

    Many Finnish speakers pick up slides from an international conference and then read them aloud. This doesn't work. You need to contribute something. Most often, that something is practical experience. But when you look at the original presentation from PDC/TechEd/whatever, you realize that the original author is contributing something to the slides, too, and that's often _not_ practical implementation experience.

    Instead, what comes through is a thorough understanding of a technology and its neighboring solutions. This is valuable too – and Finnish presenters rarely replicate it. It's almost never buried in the slides either.

    While I still encourage practical presentations, I think the rating differences are somewhat bolstered by the previous facts. No Finn comes up with a theoretical presentation; therefore, theoretical presentations on Finnish turf tend to be copies (sometimes great, but often cheap copies). Practical presentations (not to mention cases) are far less likely to be ripped off from conferences abroad, and therefore contain more of the presenter's spirit.

  4. Juha - October 17, 2011

    Nice graphics! What I'd like to see are the top presenters regardless of the track or session since that is really valuable information.

    Based on my own experiences it's far better to pick the sessions based on who is presenting than by the topic. You can get a lot out of a seemingly boring topic if the presenter is good. Bad presentation skills on the other hand may ruin a session with an interesting topic completely.

  5. Jouni Heikniemi - October 17, 2011

    Juha: Thanks. The top presenters statistic would be interesting, and I agree with you 100 % re its significance.

    However, I'm not inclined to publish the data from just TechDays 2011. Most presenters only had one talk, and since the amount of votes cast can be relatively low, I don't think the numbers would be reliable enough. Singling out Sami and Rafal was less of a problem, as they both had many presentations and a stellar score from all of them – a real, reliable indicator of performance in my book.

    That is somewhat of an cop out, I agree. Still, publishing a person's name and their rating is a fairly heavy-handed thing to do, and I don't think the data set supports conclusions that strong. Even when talking about the top end of the curve.

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