I recently wrote about Cognitive Communication Coaching for Engineers, a talk a colleague gave on presentation techniques. Today, I’m going to apply those concepts to the two keynotes at Mile High Agile 2016 by Jurgen Appelo and Michael Feathers.

Jurgen Appelo’s talk was called “Managing for Happiness”. He had the audience stand, and then asked three questions. If the answer was false for you, you sat down. It turns out only a very small fraction of people are happy in their jobs. He shared 12 practices for being happy. He then introduced three principles that helped him as a CTO apply these practices:

  • Run experiments, not frameworks
  • Manage systems, not people
  • Focus on progress, not on happiness

These three were his walk-aways. The bulk of the talk focused on a handful of techniques from his Managing for Happiness book (formerly #Workout). He used simple illustrations and anecdotes to communicate his internal map and connect with us. He explained thoroughly enough that we could use these techniques without reading his book (which is quite good). After each technique, he asked us to point to a slide with the three principles and say which one it fit best into. This was an excellent example of a dolphin map.

Michael Feathers spoke at lunch on “A Technical Keynote?”. The talk started out strong, but it did not use the techniques Tom taught. It wasn’t clear to us in the audience what we were supposed to take away from his talk. The lack of dolphin map became noticeable toward the latter half of the talk, in which I observed a number of people fidgeting and on their cell phones. The tragedy of this talk was that Feathers didn’t spend a lot of time communicating his internal model. He mentioned several things in passing that I wanted to hear more about.

I wish he would have introduced half the concepts and gone into greater depth. A glaring example was a tool for visualizing technical debt called CodeCity. People tried to interrupt the keynote to hear more, and it was brought up twice in the Q&A afterward. Feathers tried to distance himself from the tool, saying that it can be hard to interpret and that he wasn’t sure of its overall value.

I left lunch with no doubt that Feathers is brilliant, but we in the audience had a hard time following him through his keynote because he didn’t use the Cognitive Communication techniques. Appelo’s talk, on the other hand, was charming and approachable, in part because of the presence of those techniques. For me, applying those Cognitive Communication concepts to these two talks validated that it’s a beneficial set of techniques for my toolbox.