At OSCON 2012 in Portland I gave a presentation on building your first MongoDB application. Over 150 people were in the audience, a pretty significant number of this type of hands on tutorial. Certainly worth the weeks of preparation that went into developing it. While at OSCON I put the slides online at SlideShare where during the four day conference the amassed over 20k views and within a couple weeks over 30k views. Within a month it had been viewed more than ten times the total attendees at OSCON, one of the largest technical conferences in the world.
How was this presentation so successful that it amassed more views in it’s first week than any other presentation had accumulated over 12 years? Here are the four critical things I did to generate such an amazingly high number of views.
Have an interesting & unique topic
The first two items are focused on the preparation. Your topic needs to be something that people are both interested in and find interesting. To be both it should be unique about something popular. I’m really passionate about building great things and so are a lot of people. Like many people out there I’ve looked into using new technologies to make the process of building applications easier and more enjoyable. This behavior led me to explore NoSQL solutions which led me to MongoDB. MongoDB is one of the most popular technologies right now. It’s claiming a significant lead over other NoSQL technologies and catching quickly to the leaders in the very established relational space. Remember I’m commenting here on popularity and interest. This is easily discoverable by looking at things like google trends or frequency of mentions on niche sites like hacker news. With popularity comes noise. To stand out from the noise you need a unique topic or take on it. In giving this presentation I chose to focus on ‘writing your first ruby application backed by MongoDB’. From skeleton to deployment. To my knowledge this hadn’t been done before and was something that stood out to people.
Make it broad and approachable
To reach the largest group of people you need to appeal to a large group of people. This means giving a presentation that is approachable that many different kinds of interested people could follow along and find value in. Given that this presentation was aimed at first time MongoDB users without much development experience it really resonated with a lot of people. One nice thing about OSCON is that it attracts a really diverse crowd. If it was appropriate for the audience there, it would work well for the broader Internet audience which OSCON is a microcosm of.
Cater to the online audience
Whenever I create my slide decks I’m always focused on two audiences. The live audience that will see the presentation projected onto a screen and the remote audience that will be viewing it on slideshare via their computers/laptops/tablets etc. Most people ignore that second group, but a good presentation will always reach more people online than in person. If anything it’s the group that can’t afford to be ignored. I ensure that the slides flow well even without my narration. I give them to a few friends without the accompanying talking and see how well they can follow them. I make sure to use good layouts that use the space well and are readable when on the projector from the back of the room as well as when embedded on a web page. It’s important when using slideshare and the other sites that you review the presentation on them as well as embedded as conversion is sometimes destructive, especially if you are using a unsupported font.
Give it a good start
Success begets success. During the live presentation I put the slides up on slideshare so that the attendees could follow along at their own pace. Since the audience was largely working with the code in the presentation it made a lot of sense for them to bring it up on their laptops. With the 150+ audience members all viewing the presentation that gave it a very big initial push. A few of them also tweeted it which helped even more people to view and follow it. Slideshare has a ranking algorithm that tracks when a lot of people view a presentation in a short amount of time and flag it as a “hot” presentation. Within a couple of hours it had 600+ views and a couple dozen tweets on twitter.
That evening I got an email from slide share that my presentation was getting a lot of views. I got a second email that it was experiencing a high volume of tweets as well. It continued to climb up the ranks. The next morning it was selected as the SlideShare presentation of the day.
@slideshare: '#OSCON 2012 MongoDB Tutorial' by @spf13 is a #SlideShare presentation of the day http://t.co/74DqqsJR cc @oscon on Twitter http://twitter.com/slideshare/status/225393208581038080"
On Tuesday it had amassed an outstanding 7k+ views
From there it became a presentation of the week. It was featured prominently on the home page where it remained for the next 3 days at which point over 22k people had viewed it.
Once it fell off the home page and popular/week lists and tweets became less regular the number of views were still significant, but had slowed to a few hundred a day. At the time of this writing it’s over 30k views and climbing.
See also my post on “How to deliver a great conference tutorial” where I walk though how to prepare and deliver an effective conference tutorial.