Defense Preparations

Preparing for the defense was a lot of fun. First thing I did was reach out to as many people as I knew and asked them if they would like to participate as a mock panelist. Coordinating their availability was a bit tough but we were able to make it work.

Getting my PowerPoint slide deck ready was a bit frustrating at first because before this entire process I knew absolutely NOTHING about designing a slide deck. I spent a few days learning how to create an efficient deck that was also easy to navigate. The slide content is by far the most important part but configuring your slides to simplify navigation is the next most important thing. You want to be able to quickly move around your slides during your defense.

My first mock defense was a complete DISASTER to say the least! I basically dumped my entire design document into a complex century long slide deck. If there was a graphic in my design doc…it had it’s own slide with some notes on it. Don’t do that. I also had it in my mind that for every question asked during the defense I would have to reference a slide to support my answer. That’s not true either.

So I had to go back and change my slide deck. Making modifications ended up being pretty easy because everything I already had was shifted to the back and became my supporting slides (aka Appendix Slides). I recreated my introduction slides (3-4 slides total) and then I created a single slide for each section of my design document. These were what I referred to as my “core” slides. The content of those slides was a LOGICAL representation of my design. That is all there is to it. Don’t go off the deep end like I did.

My second defense with my new slide deck was literally night and day. Luckily one of my panelists during my mock disaster was also a panelist for my second attempt. When all was said and done I felt like did a complete 180 compared to my first mock. I was back on track and started gaining confidence. Next I wanted to gain even more confidence and work on talking SLOWWWWWER! I tend to rush my words sometimes but I also attributed my rushing because I’m staring at a clock ticking down the entire time. So I had to back off the gas pedal a bit. Nerves are all over the place so I didn’t even realize I was doing it at first. Once I gained more confidence during my mock presentations I felt more comfortable. Being able to steer the conversation is very important. So remember that during your mock defenses.

I ended up going through a total of 8 mock defense sessions. The more you practice the better off you are. My recommendation would be to do as many as possible. Once I felt comfortable I stopped doing mock defenses because being over-prepared is a possibility and it can cause you to shoot yourself in the foot. So get to a comfort level and stop. I would practice on my own every few days with my PowerPoint slide clicker. My goal there was to remain sharp with navigating through my entire slide deck.

The Design Scenario

I also attempted to do a mock design scenario. Like my first mock defense the first mock design scenario was a DISASTER! I think I stopped after less than 5 minutes of trying to get information from my panelists. The problem was with my approach. In my mind I felt like I had to do everything possible to get design requirements from my panelists and I didn’t have to do so.

I have to admit. I was somewhat panicked for a moment here because I needed to succeed here and I felt completely LOST for a moment and my defense was less than a week away. My mental approach had to change.

Things snapped back very quickly and it hit me like an epiphany like not even an hour after my disaster mock. My approach to this part of the defense was going to be very simple. I was going to relate the info on those slides to what I do at work on a daily basis. I receive emails from sales reps containing content similar to these slides ALL THE TIME! I end up on a customer conference call and roll with it and start asking questions based on the info I have at hand.

I didn’t do another mock design scenario again after this. I didn’t need to. I had another 3 days of work before leaving for Palo Alto so I had all the practice I needed. Relating the scenario to what I do daily was one of the easiest transitions that I had to make and it paid off in the end. I was going to simply treat the information on the slides as if I were simply reading another email from a sales rep.

Of course I come from the VAR side of the world. So I used that to my advantage. If you are coming from the customer side of the world don’t sweat it. Find a way to use that point of view to your advantage to help you prepare.