Last week I just got back my summaries of attendee feedback for my three talks at DevConnections in Orlando in April (yes, they're not quite as efficient as TechEd). I blogged about them and posted the slides and demos 2 months ago, but I'm finding it useful to also blog about the comments and feedback that I received on them, as a means of helping me to improve my future talks and, I hope, as a way of showing that I actually do read and care about what attendees say on the evals.
For my talk on What's New in ASP.NET 3.5 there were 59 evals turned in. The overall evaluation for the talk was a 3.39 which was slightly below the average of 3.46. An astonishing 50% of the evals claimed the technical level of the talk was too complex. 40% rated themselves as Advanced for Technical Level and 58% intermediate - these were not Novice developers. And this was my most basic talk and was clearly labeled as an introduction to new features, half of which are simply IDE enhancements and not new ways to write code. And this is 6 months after the features were shipped (and years after they've been blogged and presented on in various betas). I honestly think that this is extremely telling about the overall state of the industry in terms of "drinking from the firehose" and how rapidly changes are coming out versus the rate at which they are being consumed. I think most developers (including me, much of the time) are finding the pace of new things a bit overwhelming. Another question asks what percentage of the information was new to the attendee, and 14% said 100% was new and 86% said 75% was new - so at least I wasn't boring people with things they'd already seen.
There were a few questions about LINQ during the course of this talk, which I tried to take during the talk to keep up a dialog with the audience. It became clear that there were a lot of questions about LINQ, however, and so eventually I ended up having to direct the attendees to some of the other talks specifically on that topic. This became evident in some of the comments:
Spent a lot of time on questions. Did not have enough time to finish session.
Horrible time management. Not very well prepared for the presentation.
Easily distracted into other topics by questions.
Got off topic too often.
Answering questions during the presentation disrupts the presentation flow and creates a situation where there is not enough time to cover the material. Answer questions when you're done.
I would agree with some of the feedback here that the LINQ questions got a bit out of hand. I also did cover all the topics I meant to but added a couple of slides at the end to discuss "futures" things such as MVC and Silverlight if time permitted. Apparently this set up expectations that these topics would be included, and when time didn't permit discussing them, it disappointed some people. In the future I'll keep the if time permits stuff out of my slide deck and just jump to it separately at the end.
Most of the comments were generally favorable, which is much appreciated - it makes the critical ones easier to accept:
Great session but needed more time.
Great speaker! Very flexible to questions and demoing attendees concerns.
ListView really needs an alternating CSS class attribute! Great presenter.
This was one of my favorite sessions. I got so much out of this session and the speaker was great!
I wonder if some of these were written by the folks asking the questions... Key takeaways for me are to limit questions better and ensure that I'm able to cover all the material in my slide deck, so nobody feels like I failed to get to everything.
My second talk was Pragmatic ASP.NET Tips, Tricks, and Tools. I really should have made this a 2-part talk because honestly I was just trying to cram too much into this talk. And it didn't help that at the start of the talk, the projector was configured incorrectly (turns out 2 of the component video cables were reversed so red was blue and vice versa) so that killed a couple of minutes before I decided not to worry about it. On this one, I really did run out of time, so all criticism on that point is well-deserved. There were 82 evals turned in, with the average overall for me being 3.41 (average was 3.46). Over 50% still thought the technical level of the session was Too Complex, despite 95% of the attendees claiming to be Intermediate or Advanced in technical level. This one did have some more complex topics, and a very wide variety of topics. 9% thought the technical level was Too Basic. I'd prefer to see something like 80% saying it's Just Right and 10% each saying Too Basic/Too Complex. I think based on the numbers I'm seeing that I need to reduce the quantity of material I'm trying to present, and go through it more slowly and thoroughly (I complain about the "firehose" above but when I present I'm definitely trying to get as much information out as quickly as I can, so I'm guilty there myself).
Some of the critical comments - I think the first one is dead on.
Steven did a good job but I think he tried to cram too much in. He went over a bit and still had a lot more slides.
Too much for time allowed.
First three demos failed. Did not agree with some tips and tricks.
Some broken demos but really good information all the same. Biggest tips for me were tracing, using statement, custom configuration and default button attributes.
Too much information for the time allotted.
Too much data not enough time.
Not very useful. [really? I'd love to know if this person was an ASP.NET developer]
He could not show about 5 to 10 slides. Not well prepared. Demos did not work a few times. Poor time management.
Speaker should repeat questions from audience before answering them so the entire audience can benefit.
Too bad there was not enough time for all, great job.
Once again there were many positive comments (I showed all of the bad ones - there were 33 total):
Best session! Should have been longer.
This guy knows what he's talking about. Finally a tech guy giving a more in depth talk instead of extreme high level BS.
Best session so far!
Excellent, very useful session.
Most useful session so far!
Very helpful, most practical session yet.
Very knowledgeable guy, good but I knew too much of this stuff going in. This guy is one of the best speakers here.
Excellent! Thanks a lot for going back and including parts of your tips and tricks lecture. Very cool information! Best presenter at show!
Really it's a good thing there are the negative ones or else my ego would just swell far too much and my wife would need to bring me back down to Earth. As the last comment notes, I did finish this talk, but I did so at the end of my third and final talk of the day, which I managed to finish a few minutes early and which, being the last talk of the day, had some extra time afterward since nobody was rushing to another session.
The last session was Improve User Experience through Asynchronous Processing. There were probably 40 people in attendance if memory serves me correctly but only 4 evaluations were turned in, so the results aren't what I'd call statistically valid. I did manage to score a 4.0 for my knowledge of topic and for Accuracy of session description, and my average for the session overall was 3.5. I managed a 3-way split (one eval must not have answered the question) on Too Basic/Just Right/Too Complex, with 33.3% each. And there were no comments. I think folks were ready to head to the attendee party at this point.
I opted not to speak at the DevConnections show in the Fall this year as I'm trying to limit how much I'm traveling. I do hope to speak again next Spring, and I will most likely submit my Pragmatic Tips and Tricks talk as a two-part series, which would have worked very well this time around. Believe it or not I actually cut a fair bit of material to get it down to what I presented, but still ended up being about 10 or 15 minutes over. Having 2 75-minutes slots will let me cover the material a bit more thoroughly, as well as adding some additional items.