Of feedback, and little things

I try hard to always ask for feedback on drafts of my talks and articles, and I always learn important things from the responses, including especially things I omitted but should include so as to pre-answer audience questions. Just like the best support call is the one the customer doesn’t have to make because they didn’t have a problem, the best post-talk question is the one the audience doesn’t have to ask because the answer was clear in the talk.

Here’s a very small example from the talk I gave last week… just a “little thing,” but like many little things one that could derail people’s minds and be a distraction from the talk’s intended message.

When we did the tech check a few days before the talk, I displayed my opening slide, which was…

When it came up on the stream, I heard the techs say “great, we can see it fine, Bridge to Newt… Hinge… Ya…” and they stumbled over the last word. Only then did I realize that the cute name I was using that was so clear to me (and kind of central to the talk’s message) was not clear at all — in fact, instead of setting the stage for the message, it created a “what does that mean?” question that distracted from the message.

(Aside: I think it’s pretty funny that the bug appeared to be a version of the “max munch” rule, but with the English language — it seems that their eyes scanned the word and found that the first four letters matched an English word, “newt,” and then they took that and scanned onward for the next part but their mental tokenizer was already derailed.)

So I updated the slide to try to preempt the problem, by capitalizing one letter to provide a visual cue about the intended word end (and doing some minor visual rebalancing so it fit):

I also tried variations like “NewThing-ia” but the extra punctuation seemed unnecessary and felt a bit stilted. It felt like just capitalizing the T was enough… and as far as I know this eliminated the problem, though admittedly I didn’t re-test the update on a new person before the talk. :)

It was just a little thing, but it’s an example of how little things can be important. I suppose it’s also an example of “naming is hard” and of “names matter.”

I appreciated the techs’ implicit feedback that helped me debug my title and pre-eliminate a “what does this mean” question.

2 thoughts on “Of feedback, and little things

  1. I hope this does not spawn a flamewar based on your choice of upper camel case.

In comments, use [code] [/code] for code blocks, and the same with angle brackets for code inside text paragraphs. I appreciate and try to acknowledge feedback on GotW articles; if you're suggesting an improvement for a GotW Solution post, please post under your real name (or include it in the comment text) if you would like to be acknowledged here and when the material is updated and expanded in future Exceptional C++ books.

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