WWW Conference Recap – My Talk and Giving Better Presentations

Here, I’ll give a post-game analysis of my talk and the questions I was asked. The slides from my talk are now posted online, but I’ve included a few of my favorite screenshots below. A lot of Photoshop went into this presentation. I’ll also give a list of things I saw other people do well or not so well, with the intention of remembering them for my own future reference and making them available in case they can help others.

1. Photoshopped rendition of Alice Cooper’s Tinder profile. 2. Malory Archer on Tinder. Alice swiped left, because in security Malory is always the bad guy.

3. Barbra Streisand’s Tinder profile. In security, our examples usually follow Alice and Bob – get it? Bob-ra? 4. The rest of Barbra Streisand’s profile. Note that she Insta-ed her mansion. Obviously.

Other conference recap posts (will) cover:

I gave my talk on Friday, April 7 – the first (non-keynote) talk of the day. The room was packed, including several people I’d met and had brief conversations with throughout the week. Overall, I’d say it went well. A 15 minute talk is very short, so we had to leave out a lot of interesting results … but that meant my questions were pretty much all answer-able in the paper, along with interesting (I hope) anecdotes from our user study.

I was asked the following questions (paraphrased):

  • Are there differences in online dating behavior by gender or age?
    • We didn’t find statistically significant differences, but there are some anecdotes). For instance, men may be more likely to see spam accounts (because women tend to “swipe right” more) and it’s easier to exhaustively search through dating profiles of older people because there are fewer of them online/in the dating pool.
  • Teachers around here had students find their dating profiles and start harassing them.
    • Yes, we spoke with teachers for whom this was a major concern.
  • I’m incredibly private and if I were to try online dating, I’d have a fake Facebook account and not link it to anything. Did anyone do this?
    • Not quite to that degree, but some people did want to be private. And also, being identifiable can have other tradeoffs, like making reasonable people feel safer meeting a complete stranger from the Internet.
  • (After the talk): Are there really people who see this information as anything other than public?
    • Yes … (with more back-and-forth discussion, since it wasn’t in front of the crowd).

It’s obviously much easier to recognize and criticize other people’s slides, questions, and presentations when you’re observing them in the 3rd person, and I’m sure I’ve made many of these mistakes myself, but I took notes throughout the conference to see if I can apply anything I liked or didn’t like to my own future presentations. In no particular order, here’s a non-exhaustive list of things I liked and didn’t like:

  • Explain all acronyms. Even if you think it’s obvious. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is hard to parse when you’re jet-lagged and thinking about SOs (Significant Others) for your Tinder presentation or trying to figure out if they misspelled CEO. What I’m saying is, get everyone on the same page.
  • A lab-mate suggested that my slides could be better if I could give people a better sense of what was coming. I sort of punted on this because of time constraints (both the 15 minute time limit and the I’m-leaving-Saturday-and-still-haven’t-packed time limit), but I thought one presenter did this elegantly in a way that I’ve seen before but didn’t remember when making my slides. Instead of building bullet points slide-by-slide or releasing the hounds all at once (wall-of-text-ing the audience), let them all show up, but build by greying out the later ones. Like this:
  • Let the question-asker finish, even if you know where they’re going. I saw someone cut a question-asker off because she had a backup slide that perfectly answered their question. Great! But I (as an audience member) didn’t ever figure out exactly what the question was or how that backup slide answered it. For rooms without microphones (or maybe just in general), repeating the question for the audience is a good idea, too.
  • Include the paper title in the slides (e.g., at the bottom of every slide, maybe along with the presenter name). I really appreciated one presenter who did this and might try to copy it in my own future presentations. In contrast, I sat through the entire presentation of the Test of Time Award and panel with the authors without knowing what paper had won (presumably I missed the one time they said the title). Instead, they projected the conference logo the whole time.
  • If you tell someone their work was good, don’t qualify it. A current undergrad presented one of my favorite papers, and someone told her it was great work for someone so early in their career. I know they weren’t being malicious, and this is totally a mistake I can see myself making. But it’s also a mistake that I can imagine making me feel bad 😦
  • Be aware of your default words. I’m full of “um”s (oops), but I found myself getting annoyed at a speaker who continually tried to play off hard things as easy (he didn’t need to explain them, he just needed to not suggest that they were possible “with the click of a mouse”) and also used “ya know” in place of “um,” because no, I didn’t know. 
  • Be aware of how you invite questions and volume levels. “What’s up?” can easily come off as aggressive instead of playful when inviting someone to ask their question. Likewise, it can be startling to drastically change volume/enthusiasm levels during an otherwise awesome presentation (e.g., with two speakers).
  • Use bold selectively. I saw a slide where all but 3 words were in bold. It was … a lot …
  • When your talk is over, don’t make a ton of shuffling noise at the beginning of the next one. It’s totally a relief to be done
  • Don’t jet out of the room when all the talks are over; stick around and answer more questions. I didn’t see anyone violate this in a major way, but I did see it lead to productive-looking group chats.
  • Podiums are too tall for me. Ugh. Maybe I should bring a stool?
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3 thoughts on “WWW Conference Recap – My Talk and Giving Better Presentations

  1. Pingback: WWW Conference Recap – Keynotes | Camille Cobb

  2. Pingback: WWW Conference Recap – Technical Sessions | Camille Cobb

  3. Pingback: WWW Conference Recap – Fun | Camille Cobb

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