It's not about the applause

Recently at work, we started doing Show & Tell at Friday lunch every few weeks. The idea is to share knowledge within the team. My manager asked if I’d like to do one about accessibility and I did not hesitate in putting my name down for it. Why? It’s not really because I love presenting (at the same time I don’t hate it anymore). It’s an easier and better way of raising awareness and distributing knowledge about it. Easier than trying to catch every problem in code review.

Accessibility is a very much undervalued topic. It’s great to see that there have been more talks about it in conferences recently, from people like Marcy Sutton. A lot of the times accessibility is ignored not because people don’t care, but because they don’t know about it, or not aware of how easy some things can be done to improve it. That’s why I wanted to do the talk: to raise awareness about it within the team.

The title of my talk was Accessibility: busting a few misconceptions. When people don’t understand a topic, there are generally a lot of misconceptions around it. So the aim of my talk was to… well, bust those misconceptions! The basic outline of my talk:

  • Why it’s wrong to think you don’t have users with disabilities
  • Why it’s not optional
  • Why it adds a lot of business values
  • Techniques that developers can utilise now to make the product more accessible

So came presentation day. I was feeling pretty prepared, even though I didn’t have time to practice my talk. But I was feeling relaxed and ready to get into it. Everyone joined me in the boardroom, I had my laptop connected to the big screen. All set! Then I began my presentation. As I was presenting, it hit me how different this was compared to presenting at a conference. At a conference, the room is a lot bigger and there are a lot more people. When I’m on the stage, my eyes go everywhere and constantly moving my focus between people. But in a small boardroom, I could see what everyone was doing. And it got to me when I saw people looking disengaged. I think I lost a bit of my energy then and started having doubts. Was I boring? Were my slides not good enough? Was the topic not interesting enough? Was I not doing a good job at explaining?

The presentation ended. People clapped. Got a couple of questions. And that concluded the Show & Tell. I didn’t get the same high I got after presenting at a conference. It was strange. I even felt a bit flat and started thinking if I wanted to do another presentation. “Ah well,” I thought. People were probably tired on a Friday. Maybe I should have made it more “fun”. Maybe because my topic is not about something new and shiny so people weren’t interested.

When I got back to my desk, the project coordinator messaged me to say that after my talk, she had a look at our company blog and felt that some of the text was a bit hard to read so she updated it to make it more readable. The next day, in an email thread with the managers, one of them asked if we should add role="navigation" to one of the navigations in our API to make it more accessible to screen readers. And after I emailed the team a link to my slides, I got an email from someone in our Dublin team saying he couldn’t believe how ill-informed he was on the topic until he saw the slides.

So this. This is what it is all about. I wanted to do the presentation to raise awareness. If something from the talk sticks in one person’s mind, then I think my talk is already worthwhile. More than one person? Well, that just made my day :) Doing a presentation isn’t about getting a reaction from your audience, or getting applause at the end of it. It’s about sharing what you know and helping others get something positive out of it, even if it may not be apparent at first.

I need to remember that.

[UPDATE] I also blogged about the presentation on Learnosity’s blog, with more details around what I talked about in the presentation.