Writing about talking


Last night I spoke at LDNIA. It’s the first time I’ve spoken at a thing for a while. Two reasons for that.

1) I haven’t had anything to say for a while. I wanted to wait until I’d made some things rather than just reckoned about them. I’ve been with GDS for a year and a half now, and I’m comfortable talking about what I’ve been up to (although, to be honest, you’re probably better off asking Sarah Richards to say something instead. Seriously. I’ll put you in touch if you want – she’s brilliant).

2) The last talk I gave was a eulogy for my Grandad. You know, I didn’t think that was a thing until I realised that it was, absolutely, a thing. The last time I spoke I had to fight very hard not to step away from the lectern – funerals are nothing like anything.

Hannah’s post the other day reminded me that stacks of energy goes into talking. Or, at least, that I try and put a lot in. They can wipe you out, when you put a lot of yourself into them. I haven’t been doing them all that long – often it feels like a novelty.

I get so much more out of them though. I work out what I think about stuff when I write a talk, and how I feel about things when I perform one. That’s a valuable thing.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying to those who came last night ‘Thanks’. You were lovely. It would have been my Grandad’s birthday yesterday, and it felt fitting to be exercising a bit of my brain that’s been dormant for a while. Thanks also to Matt for inviting me – much appreciated.


I’m heading to Hamburg next month, where I’ll be chatting to the local IxDA community about Storytelling.

I’ll be developing some of the themes that came up during my Playful talk, namely how the veneer of narrative is becoming increasingly important to even the sketchiest and most impulsive of hacks. Which is a verbose way of saying ‘I’ll be talking about words and whimsy’.

I’ve been invited by Birgit Geiberger, one of the wonderful people who made Utrecht such a delight last autumn, and the good folk at XING. It’s going to be fun!

Pocket Scale now online

Pocket Scale, my talk for dConstruct 2011, is now online. If you find yourself with half an hour spare you can spend it watching me wield a sonic screwdriver onstage in Brighton.

The other talks are a treat too (in particular I’d urge you to check out Kars Alfrink and Dan Hon if you’ve got time).

A massive Thank You again to all at Clearleft for having me.

Image nicked from Lanyrd‘s blog. Sorry/Thanks Nat!

Music face

On Friday, I’ll be in Utrecht at Design By Fire talking about data, storytelling and awesome photos of Jupiter in The data will improve rockets*. I’m on early, 9.30 in fact, so I’ll be able to soak up the other talks as the day rolls on.

I’ll also be projecting my ‘listening to music’ face on a screen much taller than myself (see below) and taking the sonic on another outing. It should be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to yomping about a new city for a few hours.

(If you’re in Utrecht, or know it well, then do tweet any cafe recommendations to me – @mattsheret)

A few days later, back in fair old London town, I’ll be talking about NASA as Storyteller at sameAs Space. Much shorter piece this so hopefully I won’t have time to inflict the image above on the assembled crowd.

If you’re in London then come along; sameAs Space is free, just head along to The Driver near King’s Cross on Monday (17th October).

* This is actually a very different talk to the one I gave at SkillSwap Brighton with the same name. It is, however, a great name.


dConstruct was fabulous. Lots of fun with a few hundred lovely, lovely people, not to mention some really interesting talks.

I talked about design at the scale of pockets, and how we use the contents of our pockets to humanise huge networks. It went well, thanks in no small part to my prop; a sonic screwdriver that operated my slides.

My sonic is a blend of a wireless remote and a sonic screwdriver toy. The spring mechanism was stripped out of the screwdriver, with space made for the working parts of the remote. The ‘hidden’ button on the toy was removed, and replaced by one which triggered the remote. Meanwhile a new button was added further up the handle to make sure the glowing lights and sounds still worked. After that it’s just a matter of plugging the remote’s receiver into my laptop and hitting play on Keynote.

Simple! Well, not so much. Jonty‘s description of the fiddly wiring has left me gobsmacked at his patience, and the last thing he said to me was that a) the batteries might be quite low, and b) replacing them would be a nightmare. The expression on his face said ‘Matthew, this is going to fail during your talk’.

Luckily fear is a great motivator.

The genesis of the sonic screwdriver came from a few directions. Seeds were planted watching James and Russell talk, who have both used props in the past to tremendous effect (the Iraq War Wikihistoriography and the Big Red Button in particular), plus I’ve had some really warm experiences with the hacking community in London in the last year which really I wanted to surface in some kind of way.

Not only that, but it was important for me to ground what I wanted to talk about with a thing. I’m not a product designer or a maker, but I was talking to those disciplines, urging attendees to think about intimate contexts. The sonic channeled all of my enthusiasm and all of my themes into a grab-able, fragile, brilliant toy, helping me throw focus both onstage and while I wrote the talk.

So a huge thank you to Jonty Wareing, who worked on this when he’d have been better off sleeping. It worked like a charm sir (although I’m sorry I put this photo on a screen in front of 800 people).

Huge thanks also to all at Clearleft, who put on a brilliant show.


Playful is a one-day event all about games and play — in all their manifestations, throughout the contemporary media landscape. It’s a conference for architects, artists, designers, developers, geeks, gurus, gamers, tinkerers, thinkerers, bloggers, joggers, and philosophers.

…and I’ll be talking at it this year. I’ll be thinking out loud about frothing, the real world spillover from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay sessions GM’d by Kieron and – of course – Time Lords.

Come and watch; 21st October at Conway Hall. Awesome guests are already lining up, and you should join the awesome audience.

Telling stories

SkillSwap in Brighton is an irregular series of tiny, free speaking events which showcase diverse approaches to one area or talent.

After my spot at History Hack Day I was invited along to the next one, which will be all about stories. It’s next Wednesday night at Lighthouse, and my blurb goes a little something like this;

The data will improve rockets

Narratives shape our journeys through data, and those stories don’t have to be complicated to have a huge impact. All you have to do is think about your audience – your companions – and where you want to take them.

Needless to say, it’ll be chock full of words, pictures and Doctor Who references.

Also up are Phil Gyford, whose talk about Pepy’s Diary is a treat, and Gavin O’Carroll who’ll be sharing some insights into Spacelog, a site I adore.

Should be fun. You should come.

Tom‘s done some illustrations for my slides; more on these next week…