DonnaM » Workshops


IA workshops – London and Oslo

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I’m teaching two IA workshops in Europe in the next few weeks.

Both workshops cover much of the content in the book, and give you the chance to practice the skills, discuss issues and ask questions, instead of just reading about it.

I hope to see you there!

A Camp Grenada catch-up

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Sometimes twitter just doesn’t do it for a good, solid ‘what have I been doing’ catch up post. So here’s one that takes more than 140 characters.

It’s already April and I feel like I haven’t done much work this year. Of course, I have been busy as hell. I’ve done loads of planning and administration for UX Australia, wrote a brand new full-day advanced information architecture workshop, and had plenty of meetings with content authors for a long-running government project.

What I’ve really been doing is teaching. I’ve done five in-house full-day workshops, 2 conference talks, 1 full-day conference workshop and 2 full-day public workshops. So that’s work, and it’s work I love. But it is so fun that I forget that it is actually work, and feel like I haven’t done anything.

But really, the pain of airports and airplanes should make it feel like work. I’ve travelled so much this year that I can visualise the Qantas Club lounge in every Australian city (except Adelaide). I do think I could walk in and make it to the wine bar with my eyes closed. 

But April is looking up. I’m home all month, in my lovely house, with my lovely dog and a brand new bed (mattress arriving Thursday, 1000TC sheets ready in the cupboard). I have a nice pile of client web writing, new book writing (I’m writing an e-book on web content for Rockable press), some wireframes for a favourite client, and more bits and pieces for UX Australia.

I hope that the biggest news for April will be that my card sorting book is published. It is at the printer now, and should be ready in a couple of weeks. I promise I’ll tell you when that happens.

May is also looking like fun. By then I’ll be over my travel fatigue, which is good as I’m going to Philadelphia to talk at the jboye conference (IA workshop and content talk). Just as cool is that I’m going to be around for the IXD/IASummit redux in DC. Going to hire a car, drive from Philly to DC, see some friends. Ahhhh, I’m already getting excited about it.

Then June. OMG June!

In June I’m first going to Denmark to teach an interaction design masterclass (and some community of practice meetings). Then to London to do some touristing with my friend CJ (I’ve never been to London), then two workshops at UX London, then more touristing, then home.

So in late June, I’ll be saying ‘I’m so glad to be home’ and desperately waiting to get away again. I feel like that Camp Grenada song – you know, the one where the kid starts of hating it, then loves it. Me & travel – Camp Grenada.

Conference season

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

For me, the next few months are full of conferences and workshops. My calendar is so packed I don’t know where the work will fit. You can catch me at:

I hope I see you at one or more of these.

And remember, I can teach any of these workshops in-house to your team (see my list of IA, interaction design, usability & content workshops).

10 tips for conference presentations

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Yesterday I attended what I think will be my last conference presentation for the year. And it was a doozy.

I’ve sat through at least 100 conference presentations this year. Some were awesome, some were awful and most were pretty good. But the awesome and awful ones stick with me – when a topic is not of interest to me or is about something I already know, I pay more attention to the presentation style, looking at what works and what doesn’t.

So I’ve compiled my ten tips for presenters. These represent the things that great presenters do well and bad presenters just butcher. Of course, I’m not perfect, and I know I’ve made some of these mistakes, but I’m trying to do silly things less often.

1.  Work to time

In the worst presentation of the year, the speaker got up in front of 500 people and said “I have too much material, so I’m going to go through this quite fast”. Immediate FAIL. Then, 10 minutes before the end he said “I’m almost out of time, I’ll just go a bit quicker through the last points”.

Conference organisers are usually quite clear about how much time you have allocated. If they are paying your airfare, accommodation and a speaker’s fee, not tailoring your presentation to the timeslot is just rude, and doesn’t help you or the audience.

The best presenters know how much time they have to work with, tailor their presentation to fit the time and then keep an eye on the time. One of the best I saw this year was Jeff Veen at Web Directions – with technical problems at the start he lost 15 minutes and still came in almost on time.

And if you are running out of time, stop. Jump past a couple of slides if you need to make one last point. Otherwise you are saying “I’m more important than you, you can wait until I’m finished”.

2. Leave time for questions

A common behaviour for bad presenters is to run right up to, or over, time, then ask ‘any questions’ (in a rushed voice too of course). No-one asks questions, and the speaker thinks they’ve done a great job.

Great presenters run 10 minutes before time, ask ‘any questions’ and get a ton of hands.

This, believe it or not, has nothing to do with the material. It has everything to do with feeling permitted to ask questions. If there is obviously no time for questions (especially right before lunch or coffee break), the person who asks one is holding up the room. We are polite folks and we know how to play the game – we don’t want to hold up everyone just to ask a personal question. But when there is plenty of time, we feel like we are allowed to, so we do.

And questions are a good thing. They give you a chance to elaborate on something that wasn’t clear, or cover the topic that everyone wants to know but you forgot to include. They help the audience feel like you are approachable and a peer.

3. Know what your point is

I attended many presentations that were well-spoken and well timed but never actually made a point.

Yesterday’s presentation was a perfect example. I spent most of it wondering what the speaker’s point was, and finally concluded that he didn’t know what his point was either. Talks like this waffle all over the place and never get anywhere. And listeners walk away feeling stupid.

If you aren’t sure of your point, do the ‘Why, who cares, so what‘ test. Think about what you’re actually trying to convey, think about why someone needs to know it, why they would care about it, and what the consequences are. This is a simple trick that really helps you think about what you should be communicating.

4. Rehearse

The first time you give a talk, especially if you are using slides someone else has prepared, rehearse it.

Really. Yes, I really mean it.

Rehearsing helps because you hear yourself say the words. You can hear your jokes (I think my jokes are hilarious until I say them out loud), practice stories and figure out the pace. Then when you have to perform for real, your brain doesn’t have to figure it out from scratch.

You can rehearse in your bedroom – it feels odd, but works. Or ask a couple of friends to listen to you. Our local IA cocktail hour has been the rehearsal ground for a few people this year, and we are happy to do it.

5. Avoid self talk

This tip came to me via the very awesome Dan Willis.  We were sitting together watching someone who is super-smart and always has really insightful things to say. And Dan said ‘if only he’d stop self-talking, he’d be perfect’.

Self-talking is all the little things speakers say when they are simultaneously trying to deliver a talk and thinking about themselves doing it. Comments about technology, ‘oops, there’s a spelling mistake’, ‘oh, there’s an extra slide’, ‘what does that point mean’. They can subtly undermine your credibility and make you look inexperienced.

Of all the tips I’ve ever learned, this one has been the most helpful to me personally.

6. Understand your audience

The two worst speakers of the year made the mistake of not understanding the audience. But the reason they were the worst went further – they also assumed that the audience didn’t know anything and needed educating. Guess what – audiences can actually pick up on it when you think of them like this.

Before speaking to a group, find out what they already know and where they are up to with your topic. If you think you might need to explain some fundamental concepts, don’t talk down to people. Just say you are going to quickly go over some background so some key points later on make sense.

But really, the trick to this is to genuinely care about your audience. No matter how hard you try, if you think they are beneath you, they’ll pick it up.

7. Talk about what you know

Another difference between great presentations and mediocre is the presenter’s knowledge of their material. A great presenter not only knows what points they are making, but knows why those things are important and what they mean. They can answer a question on the fly, or elaborate on a point as needed.

You might be caught having to give a presentation on a topic that you don’t know thoroughly, or use a presentation someone else has written. If this happens, rehearse it a couple of times, think about each of the points, why they are important and what they mean. Do some background reading, discuss it with colleagues and think up a story for each of the main points. This will increase your understanding of the material and your confidence.

8. Tell stories

Humans don’t learn by listening to strings of facts. We learn from stories and examples.

One of the best things you can do in a presentation is to tell stories. Make a point, then put it into a real situation. It may be something you’ve experienced, something a colleague has, or your opinion about an issue. Your listeners will understand your point better, and you’ll sound more credible. Win-win.

I tell stories in all my presentations. Sometimes I even completely ignore what is on a slide and just tell a story. The thing I have to be most careful with is that I don’t tell a story twice in one session – how embarrassing would that be!

9. Talk in inverted pyramid

Inverted pyramid is a style of writing where you present the most important facts first, then elaborate on them, then elaborate further. The urban myth is that it developed with the introduction of the telegraph and the need to get the facts through before the connection was lost.

Whatever the history, get your point across, and then build up on it. Your audience can then make a decision about whether to listen to you or do something else (think about sex, read twitter, write nasty things about you on twitter). If you build up to your point essay style, chances are you’ll lose part of the audience part way through and they’ll never get the point you are so carefully working up to.

10. Balance imagery and text

If you’ve been attending presentations for a few years like I have, you’ll have noticed that bullet points have almost dissappeared. The current style, at least amongst the user experience and web folks, is gorgeous imagery and a small amount of text.

Some of the worst presentations I saw this year went so too far with imagery – I kept getting distracted trying to figure out how the image and the speaker’s point related, and ended up missing the point entirely.

Don’t be terrified of text and bullet points. They are OK when:

  • the point you want to make isn’t easy to communicate visually
  • visual language is the best way to communicate the idea
  • people need to see the whole idea in order to understand it
  • you are discussing lists of steps or sequences

But if you are going to use bullet points, make them communicate your point. Don’t use them as a memory trigger for what you want to say – that’s what speaker notes are for.


So, if you don’t want me sitting in the third row twittering about how terrible you are:

  1. Work to time
  2. Leave time for questions
  3. Know what your point is
  4. Avoid self-talk
  5. Rehearse
  6. Understand the audience
  7. Talk about what you know
  8. Tell stories
  9. Talk in inverted pyramid
  10. Balance imagery and text


If you’d like to improve your presentations, my two favourite resources/books are:

Workshops galore (with discount codes)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

I’m doing an awful lot of talking in the next three months – workshops and conference talks. So in case you are thikning about doing some IA or interaction design learning, I thought I should get them all in one post, along with their discount codes!

Oh no – looking at it like that – I think I need to go do some writing!

    User Interface 13 Conference – I’m speaking

    Saturday, April 19th, 2008

    Today’s big, exciting announcement is …

    I’ll be speaking at this year’s User Interface 13 Conference, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m teaching a full day workshop called Information Architecture Essentials: Best Practices for Organizing Your Site’s Content. I’ll also be doing a 90-minute presentation, but haven’t yet figured out what it will be.

    I’m excited about this for two reasons. I look at this conference every year and want to go every time – it has a consistently strong line-up of both topics and speakers. And I get to present my favourite workshop – one that I have done enough that I know people *always* enjoy and learn from.

    More details to come, and a discount code for you to use!

    Website user experience & CSS workshop

    Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

    I’m very excited to announce that I’m teaching a new workshop with Russ Weakley. It’s called “Website user experience & CSS workshop: Designing for usability, building for the future“. It will be run in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, in late March and April.
    I’m teaching the day on user experience, and Russ is teaching on CSS, which is lucky for you as I’m pretty good at ux and Russ is awesomely good at teaching CSS.

    I’m really looking forward to it – I’ve wanted to go to one of Russ’ tutorials for a couple of years. And I love teaching user experience design for the web – I’ve spent a lot of time doing it, and a lot of time thinking about what I’ve learned and how to best share it.

    I hope to see you, or your colleagues, there. Please pass details on to anyone you think may benefit.

    Workshop description

    A hands-on workshop with user experience expert, Donna Maurer, and CSS
    expert, Russ Weakley.

    Over two full days you will build detailed websites layouts from the ground up – starting with page layout, navigation and form design; and ending with clean markup and elegant styling using XHTML/CSS.

    Day 1: Planning and designing the user experience – Donna Maurer

    On day one you will plan and design a website – focusing on the user experience: designing the navigation, page layout and forms.

    You will:

    • learn techniques to understand your users, and prepare user scenarios
    • understand your content with content analysis methods
    • create an effective and usable site structure (information architecture)
    • design a range of navigation methods
    • create page layouts for content, home, index and special pages
    • design simple forms

    For each step, Donna will outline the fundamentals and show examples from small and large website projects. But most of the time will be hands-on -you work on your own project, ask questions and discuss with the group.

    Day 2: Building beautiful sites using CSS – Russ Weakley

    On day two you will build your website from the ground up – starting with structural markup, adding accessible markup and then styling your layout using CSS.

    You will learn:

    • how to create well structured, accessible markup
    • the basics of CSS including rule sets, selectors, shorthand rules, inheritance and the cascade.
    • how to structure efficient CSS files
    • how to create a full CSS layout from a flat graphic mockup
    • how to deal with browser issues including specific browsers such as IE5,IE6 and IE7.
    • how to create a resolution dependent layout
    • how to create CSS for printing and hand held devices


    Canberra – Monday 31 March and Tuesday 1 April

    Melbourne – Thursday 3 April and Friday 4 April

    Sydney – Monday 28 April and Tuesday 29 April

    Brisbane – Thursday 1 May and Friday 2 May


    More information and registration here:

    Killer workshops – what do they look like

    Saturday, January 5th, 2008

    I’m currently writing a workshop for a client, and soon hope to start work on a new workshop series for my own business (lots of modules on all types of design-related topics – will tell more as I go).

    I’ve been writing and teaching workshops for a long time – I think I what works and I know what I like.

    But rather than assume, I thought I’d ask you. What makes a killer workshop? How important is the balance between:

    • Most time spent on solid theory
    • Real-life stories and case studies
    • Practical activities during the workshop
    • Discussions with other people in the workshop
    • Materials to follow-up with later
    • Trust that the presenter has experienced what they are teaching
    • Being inspired

    Can you live without some of these things? Is it OK to have nothing to use later but leave feeling inspired? Is it better to pack in lots of theory but not get time for discussions and activities?

    What’s your idea of a killer workshop? (and is anyone teaching them?)

    My workshop dilemma

    Thursday, April 19th, 2007

    I have been teaching for many years (like 22) and teach often (4 workshops in the last 4 weeks). And in all that time, I have never resolved one particular problem. One that I have found harder as I move into harder work.

    People come to my workshops wanting answers. They would really like to turn up, spend a day playing and go away with answers. Really, most don’t want to go away with increased skills, heightened awareness or a reading list; they want answers. Not only that, and they don’t know it, but they want those answers deeply embedded in their brains so they don’t have to think too hard when the next problem arises.

    And I understand this. My user-centred, empathetic brain cares deeply about the expectations of workhop participants. I pay attention to what they think, expect and want. I know that I would like to approach some fields and get the ‘main ideas’ from the field – things I can understand and use straight away.

    But my ‘experience-in-the-field’ brain causes conflict. That part of my brain says that I’ve spent a long time learning, thinking and doing this stuff; and that I can’t distil it into a set of rules. It makes me think ‘Duh. If this were so easy I could tell you in a couple of hours, don’t you think someone would have by now’.

    This is the spot where some gurus have made their names – in context-free rules and answers. In providing the simplistic answers that some people want.

    This is my teaching challenge. Providing the answers I’m confident about, letting people know I can’t provide an answer on the spot and raising awareness that much work needs thought. It is an incredibly hard balance, lifting people from ‘give me answers’ to ‘help me think’ in a short time.

    I sort of think I’m making it. I’d guess 10-20% of people who attend my workshops start thinking (depends on the situtation – IA Summit the % is very high, in-house workshop is low). All my mentoring clients do. But I still feel bad for not meeting the needs of the rest.

    IA workshop in New Zealand

    Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

    I’m teaching a full-day information architecture workshop in Wellington, New Zealand, organised by my friends at Optimal Usability. I’m really looking forward to it and hope to talk to some of you there.

    More details here: Information Architecture – Theory and Practice

    Workshops galore

    Thursday, January 27th, 2005

    We have finalised our workshop schedule for the next 6 months, and boy am I going to be doing a lot of talking:


    In a number of places:

    IA Workshops

    Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

    And while I’m on the topic of work, there are still a few spaces left on our Introductory IA workshops in Canberra and Sydney in October. This is a great workshop (if I do say so myself) – a nice balance with some theory, lots of hands on exercises and a good set of supporting notes and resources that you can return to later.

    We have also just announced the next date for our ‘Latest Thinking in Usability and IA’ seminar, this time in Brisbane on 18 November. The seminar covers faceted browsing, shape of information, personas and my card-based classfication evaluation.

    New information architecture workshop

    Tuesday, July 13th, 2004

    At work, we’ve just announced a new workshop – one that is very special to me. Introductory Information Architecture. It will be intially running in Canberra and Sydney, Australia in October this year.

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to teach core information architecture skills in a short time (it is a one-day workshop) and in a way that involves practical work to maximise learning and retention. I think the workshop will do this pretty well…

    First usability workshop

    Thursday, March 11th, 2004

    I spent today teaching 20 potential usability testers all about testing, and working through their first-ever test. This was cool from 2 perspectives:

    • I love teaching things that I’m passionate about
    • I love seeing the first time that people watch someone else work. The paradigm shift that often occurs is amazing