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Report From Staringintospacecon 2004: I didn't embarrass myself, but I didn't talk a whole lot either. It was a little depressing because I felt outclassed by people who were better than I at public speaking.

Note to self: put more business cards in your wallet. You lost all previous business cards when you put your wallet in the washer. That's just the way it works.

PS: Here's Seth's email advice, which is better than the use I got out of it:

Maybe you should prepare a short list of (as the PR people say) talking points -- or an outline -- that you can use if an appropriate time comes for you to make remarks. ... how you got involved, what technology people at the Clark campaign worked on, the campaign's attitude toward technology, etc.

People at seminars also hate generalities and love gossip. Being concrete (I should say being specific) is very desirable for attracting audience interest. I have a hard time with that sometimes. For example, when talking about trusted computing, I tend to assume that people think that things like "reverse engineering" and "interoperability" are good, and then talk about how reverse engineering may interfere with those abstract classes of activity. But for many audiences, it would probably be more helpful to say "suppose you had some spyware on a Windows machine, and you wanted to understand exactly what kind of personal information it was transmitting...".

Despite much gossip likely being off-topic for your panel, the inside of a presidential campaign is a place most people never get to see at all (like the inside of a nuclear power plant, or the inside of the Library of Congress, or something), and I'm sure many people in your audience would be hungry for general narrative about what it is like to help somebody run for president.

Another thing I think people can appreciate -- especially people who have been subjected to endless amounts of marketing here in the Bay Area during and even after the technology boom -- is a frank discussion of limitations. (It's refreshing to read Peter Neumann's RISKS stuff, for example, as an antidote to boundless optimism about particular technologies.) I suspect this kind of honesty can go very far just on the strength of the contrast with the way professional marketers talk about things. It conveys an honorable sense of "I am an engineer and I'm going to talk to you about what's really possible and what isn't".

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