I Actually Like Remote and Pre-recorded Presentations

miessler defcon talk

I have an unpopular opinion about the current security conference scene. Basically, it’s the opposite of what John Strand said here:

I see this sentiment a lot from a lot of people in infosec, and I think I’ve figured it out. I think people who love presenting live are actually in love with presenting as much or more than what they’re presenting.

It’s about people, and personalities, and the thrill of being a public figure. The ideas and content matter of course, but it’s secondary to the crowd and the interaction between them and the performer.

That’s not shade because I also enjoy giving and attending live presentations. There’s something about it that’s just…well, kind of like live music compared to listening to studio recordings at home in headphones.

It’s absolutely different. 100%. But unlike John, I don’t see the studio version of presentations as inferior to the live versions.

But I’d rather go to a live conference than a remote one, because people.

I actually prefer both giving and watching pre-recorded talks. To Jason’s point above, they allow me to be my best self, which doesn’t always come out on stage. Sometimes it does, and that’s a great experience for both me and the audience. But sometimes it doesn’t, and that sucks in equal measures.

I think it comes down to what you most enjoy about talks. If you’re there for the feel of the crowd and the rock concert vibe, then pre-recorded talks are going to be horrible. I get that.

Hi DEFCON. We love and miss you.

Pre-recorded talks are like studio music recordings.

But if you’re there for the ideas primarily then it’s nice to not have all the drama of broken mics, not being able to see the slides, and of course—worst of all—not being able to even get in the room to see the talk.

Live vs. recorded music really is a useful analog here. The argument for live music is that it’s more of an experience. It’s more engaging. It’s deeper at an emotional level. And if I think about my own concert experiences I completely agree.

But there’s a problem with this analogy. Music doesn’t have the same purpose as a presentation.

I’m not going to a talk to get caught up in the moment, to lose myself, or to laugh and cry. I’m not primarily there for an experience. I’m there to hear about new content. I’m there for new ideas.

I want the idea to be the centerpiece, not a performance or my emotional reaction to that performance.

I think a massive amount of the infosec conference scene is people in Live Music Mode. It’s about the concert. It’s about the people. And it’s about the rock star.

I’m about it. I love in-person conferences for this reason too. But I enjoy that most in LobbyCon, and the dinners, and the events we do together away from the conference—not so much in the talk itself.

I actually find that many people can’t even remember the content from live talks—even just a week later. All they remember is how the talk made them feel, vaguely, and that just feels wrong when the purpose of a talk is supposed to be the exchange of ideas.

Seeing talks in person are like hearing live music.

That’s why I think I have really enjoyed the forced transition to remote presenting, and even to pre-recorded sessions. They allow people to present their ideas in the cleanest possible way, with minimal distractions from the idea itself.

Ultimately I think people who hate remote or pre-recorded talks have to ask themselves what they’re really mad about. What are they missing?

Do they feel like they’re not getting the idea from the content itself, or are they really just missing the conference scene of people, personalities, and performances?

It’s ok if it’s the latter. I’m right there with you. But I think we should be honest with this distinction between the content and the experience.

Notes

  1. One other problem with pre-recorded content is that it removes the feeling of ephemeral specialness, although that gets diminished in any live talk that gets recorded. This reminds me of paying to go to Harvard and then finding out that your professors have all published this year’s entire set of lectures for free on YouTube. It removes the exclusivity of being one of the special group in the class, or the talk as it were. But you know what? I’m ok with that. Ideas should be more widely distributed, both in elite education and in conference settings.
  2. Music lovers will tell you that some bands are better live than in the studio. I think the same probably goes for presenters. I think some people excel at creating content where people come away thinking, “Wow, that was a cool idea!”, and others are great at creating content where people come away thinking, “Wow, that presenter was great!” It’s not binary. It’s a hybrid, and everyone is doing both, but I think people generally float towards one end or the other. As a (usually) introvert I definitely float towards the idea side of the spectrum.
  3. Let me also just openly admit that I have a much lower “great” live talk performance percentage than people like Dave Kennedy or Troy Hunt. They always land 9’s and 10’s when they speak. I have had a number of 8’s, but I’ve also had my share of 3’s and 4s. And I absolutely admit that if I were more consistently great in person then my calculus might be different. I don’t think my position would change on this point; I would simply side more with the Live Music effect. But I can’t say for sure.
  4. October 29, 2020 — Added the point about people not remembering live talks after some period of time, but rather how they made them feel.


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