Slide + Stage Review

Yesterday I drove down to Brighton for this:


Image lifted from

I found out about the day at the first Breaking Borders event in Reading two months ago. Laura Kalbag is a young freelance web designer who was talking about responsive web design which is something I’ve been interested in for quite a while. Her talk was good, and the way she presented was REALLY good. Laura paid homage to this guy called Aral who taught her how to talk and was running something soon called Slide + Share. Hmm I thought. Maybe… so I signed up (yes Breaking Borders was offering a discount!)

Laura writes a lovely blog too and has evolving ideas on being a woman in IT which are well worth a read. One of the things I picked up on from the blog was that her and Aral are a couple. I really wish she had mentioned that during her Breaking Borders talk because finding out later made me doubt my decision to sign up for Slide + Stage. It’s like me banging on about this amazing sound artist who showed me how to hear more beauty in the everyday world, but not mention that she was my other half – it just undermines credibility when people find this stuff out later.

I had not met Aral before yesterday, but I’ve seen him a bit on YouTube so had a fair idea what to expect. Aral is a little overweight with a big old head, and is a bit quiet for your standard stage monkey …oh wait, that’s me! Actually Aral is annoyingly good looking, neat and simply dressed, fizzing with energy and wit and loves being centre stage. So lesson #1 – I CAN NEVER BE LIKE ARAL. This is a theme that repeats many times during the day…

Aral opened the day on time (thank you) and gave a fantastic introductory talk. Slides flashed up as he spoke, beautifully timed so that his words had maximum impact. He was totally engaging, passionate and funny. He is very good. I think it’s going to be a good day.

Dammit, now it’s our turn. Hey ho, we knew this was coming, right? – it’s what we came for, so 40 or 50 people of mixed nerves and ability each took their turn to walk on stage (applause), say a bit, take the applause, and get off stage. All under the watchful eye of Aral who gave a fantastic live critique of how people walked, stood, spoke, and fidgeted and made to redo it (hi Natalie!) until Aral was satisfied. We all learned from each other and by the half-way mark we were all beginning to do alright.

This was a great session and spirits were high. A couple of the punters were speakers themselves – in particular there was a really sweet guy called Seb Lee-Delisle who has an altogether different presence on stage, which was a beautiful contrast to Aral and showed that lesson #2 – I DON’T NEED TO BE LIKE ARAL – phew, I can be me and it will be ok. Maybe.

Seb popped up again later in the day to show how to do a live demo, in this case a coding demo, and so he got his moment to shine. I really enjoyed his quieter, bone dry humour, and can totally see why he has just won an award too! Aral took us through the technology aspects of giving a talk, covering clickers, microphones, stage layout, and the importance of building great rapport with your tech guy. In this case it was a very obliging chap called Chris who worked his magic from the back of the theatre so Aral could show the pros and cons of different microphones. I’m deliberately not giving you the answers in this post – book yourself onto the next course if you are interested 😉

Lunch was team noodles at Wagamamma and then Natalie (sparky teacher/artist) whisked us off to get cracking coffee from a place called Small Batch. Awesome sauce, back to the theatre we trot.

The after lunch session was the low point for me. It focused on building your slide deck, which could have been good if Aral had shown us how he uses slides to get maximum impact, and talked through his mindset and approach to building the deck …but he didn’t. Instead we got a dodgy tutorial on Keynote and what felt like an eternity looking at slide effects and transitions not to use – really we just needed:

See all these transitions and effects? Powerpoint has them too right?
– they are fugly, and your audience will beat you with shoes.
Only use cut and fade.
If you use anything else, you’d better have a REALLY good reason.
You won’t have, so don’t.
Ditto comic sans.

Harsh eh? Well I paid money for this masterclass, and maybe you should too – because I am confident Aral will learn a lot from this first session and make improvements – he just has that kind of professional approach. So I’m not worried for you or him – next time will be even better.

Next up was a run through of Aral’s checklists which he will be sending us all. Thank you, they are going to be very useful. He showed us his Terms too which was kind. There are a couple of things from this session that gave some insight into Aral’s approach:

1. If you are running a conference, look after the talent
2. Aral is the talent, look afer him
3. If you are making money from your conference, so must the talent

I don’t think I’ve given away any secrets here – Aral had a lot more advice for the people on the day, but you can see that he respects and values himself, and is only interested in working with organisations that also respect and value him. As a long-time freelancer myself, we are united in this!

Finally we had a Q&A session which I thought was really good and could have gone on longer. The other punters asked some great questions and got solid, honest advice from Aral, Seb, Laura, and one of the audience who worked in broadcasting. I got told off for saying “sorry” which felt a bit unnecessary (I am English dammit, of course I am sorry), and then instructed to take on the corporate culture where the slides ARE the document – a challenge I am looking forward to very much!

…was it worth the time and money? I think he priced it about right, but for me there was too much time being an audience, not enough time participating. If I was Aral I would have more Q&A, revise the Keynote transition bit (feel free to use my words above!) and add in a more interactive after lunch section about pace, tempo, pitch. This would make for a better experience all round. Obviously I am not the expert here, and I don’t know what changes Aral will make for next time, but assuming he will fine tune the session I am happy to recommend it.

Oh and we all had to promise to give a talk somewhere local. Which I guess is the point. So I will be shuffling onto a stage in Reading at some point soon, drop the mike, bend down to pick it up, smack my head on the laptop, lose the start of the slides, look up, smile and tell you an inappropriate joke before muttering a few words about business change projects. I’ll be ok though – Aral says nothing ever goes wrong on stage.

PS: the next Breaking Borders is on 25th June and promises to be good (otherwise we get to poke Ben with a stick). Also a long standing and excellent evening of talks is at Reading Geek Night on the 2nd Tuesday of each month.


  1. Am blushing to be described as ‘this amazing sound artist’ here on, thank you! Nice to read your reflections on the workshop experience, too. It’s always hard to know where to emphasise when delivering some sort of public event, and I hope Aral gets some useful stuff out of your thoughtful critique of the day. I am personally very excited about your RDG GK debut, as I think this would be a great place for you to bust your public speaking chops!

  2. Thank you for the feedback, Mark. I’m really sorry I was accidentally misleading when I promoted Aral’s workshop. It really wasn’t intentional, I mention my bias on such occasions, but sometimes I just forget. Particularly when I’m speaking at an event, my mouth just runs away with me, I can’t even remember mentioning it at Breaking Borders!

    1. Hi Laura,
      I didn’t think you would be deliberately misleading – everything I’ve seen and read about you chimes with integrity – it’s just something to be aware of next time.

      Hope all is good with you and your busy world! I really like what you’ve been doing with mentoring – it is inspirational and refreshing. More of us should follow your lead.

      Cheers, Mark

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