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SpiderLabs Blog

My 2013 RSA Conference Keynote the Jimmy Kimmel Influence

A few months ago, I was asked to present a keynote at RSA Conference 2013. This was a rather intimidating request given I was in a lineup that included Vint Cerf, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, Jimmy Wales and Andy Ellis.

For those who were not in San Francisco last week, this isn't a small conference. There were an estimated 22,000 people at this year's conference and the room the where the keynotes were held could have up to 5,700people seated.

I have attended 100s of security conferences around the world. While I have seen some very insightful and interesting, the common opinion by many con-goers is that the keynotes are sometimes not all that enjoyable to watch. They are typically not technical at all and are usually a 30-40 minute monologue around a single abstract point or idea.

I very much wanted to present a talk that I would enjoy sitting and watching for 30 minutes. So I did my best to make that happen.

Back in December, I was traveling on business and after getting to my hotel rather late I turned on the television. I happened to flip to a local ABC channel and Jimmy Kimmel Live was on. I watched the first 20 minutes or so and realized that the format used on late night shows might be the perfect way to give a keynote at RSA.

When you watch a late night show, they almost always follow this format at the start of the program:

  • A monologue
  • Some sort of show and tell
  • A special guest with a Q&A

I decided to organize my keynote in the very same way:

  • A monologue on cybercrime from Victims to Attacks and closing on the Process used by criminal organizations.
  • A live demo of a web-based attack showing both IE and Java exploits
  • A special from the United States Secret Service and questions crowd sourced from Twitter.

If I would have had more than 40 minutes rather than 30, I actually thought of asking DualCore to perform as the musical guest.

Having given a TEDx talk a few months ago, I had learned from that experience that less is typically more keynote or short format presentation. I didn't want to use dozens of slides having bullet builds and text. Instead, I started by story boarding my talk and then worked with a graphic designer to create a presentation based in Keynote that had very visual auto-building slides and even video segments when the animations were a little more complicated than Keynote could handled. Most of what you see on the screen, didn't involve me clicking a button to advance things, they did so on their own while I was speaking.

I have also learned that using speakers notes can be a bit of a crutch when speaking publicly. For some this may be scary, but once I jumped into this way of presenting it is hard to go back. I feel like I am able to be more visual in my explanations, I don't just focus on exactly what was planned for the talk and I am able better read and connect with the audience.

If you are an experienced presenter in the security industry, take a leap of faith and try this way of presenting. You audience will thank you, and you'll have a great experience.

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