Thoughts on the use of Sway as a presentation tool

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a short talk on adopting cloud services at Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN). I’ll admit being a little nervous – the talk was supposed to be 5 minutes (and I had more to say than would ever have fitted – I later learned it’s pretty rare for anyone to stick to their allotted time) and I’m not used to speaking to an audience larger than a meeting room-full (a typical MKGN audience in the current venue is around about 100).  Just to make things a little harder for myself, I decided to use Microsoft Sway for my visual aids.

For those who are unfamiliar with Sway, I got excited about it when it first previewed in 2014. Since then it’s shipped and is available as part of Office 365 or as a standalone product. It’s a tool for presenting content from a variety of sources in a visually-appealing style that works cross-platform and cross-form factor.

Even though Sway has an app for Windows 10, some of the content (e.g. embedded tweets) relies on having an Internet connection at the time of presenting.  Wi-Fi at conferences is notoriously bad and 3G/4G at the MKGN venue is not much better (although it did hold up for me on the night). So, with that and the 7Ps in mind I had PowerPoint and PDF fallback plans but I persisted with Sway.

I’m still not sure Sway is a presentation tool though…

You see, as I swiped and clicked my way through, the audience saw everything I saw. I prefer the simplicity of a picture, with my notes on my screen – I talk, the audience listens, the image re-enforces the view. Sway didn’t work for me like that. Indeed, Sway falls into what Matt Ballantine recently described as the latest whizz-bang tool in a post about a request he was given to knock up a few slides of PowerPoint:

“PowerPoint [… is …] rarely used to perform the task it was designed to do […] The latest whizz-bang tool is the answer! Prezi, Sway or whatever it is that the cool kids are using. Actually, though, the answer probably lies as much in new skills that people need to develop to communicate in a Digital era. Questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the message that you are trying to deliver?
  • Where will they be?
  • How will they consume your content?
  • How can you extend the conversation?”

We use Sway at work for weekly updates on what’s been happening in the company – internal communications that used to make use of lengthy HTML emails (I almost never used to read to the end) became more immersive and easier to engage with. And that’s where I think Sway fits – as a tool for communications that are read asynchronously. Not as a tool for presenting a message to an audience in real time.

You can see what you think about the use of Sway as a presentation tool when you take a look at the Sway I used for my MKGN talk.

Adventures on a Brompton bike: my first London commute

Those who know me well know that I have a collection of bikes in my garage. Fans of the Velominati will be familiar with rule #12, which states:

“Rule #12: The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.”

So, it was with great delight that I recently persuaded my wife it would be a great idea for me to buy a new bike. Maybe not the super-light road bike that I might like (I need a super-light Mark before that makes sense anyway) but a commuter. A folding bike to take on the train. A Brompton.

My employer doesn’t take part in a Cycle to Work scheme and Bromptons are pretty pricey (so saving the tax would make a big difference) but I did my research and snapped up a second-hand example with “only 100 miles on the clock” on eBay (checking first to see if it was reported as stolen, of course!). So, on Monday, I was very excited to return home from work to find that my “new” bike (bike number four) had arrived.

For those familiar with Brompton specs, It’s an M3L. I’d like an S6L or S6R but this will do very nicely instead. (If you don’t know what that means, there’s a useful configurator on the Brompton website.)

Yesterday was my first trip to London with the Brommie, so how did it go?

Look out!

Well, my hi-vis purchases from Wiggle haven’t arrived yet and it’s a good idea to be brightly coloured. Nipping up the inside of large vehicles is a very bad idea that’s likely to get you killed but, if you’re confident in traffic, the Brompton is responsive and handles remarkably well.

The biggest problem I had was whilst riding off the end of a bus lane, when a motorist decided that was his (perfectly legal) cue to change lanes in front of me but clearly hadn’t seen me coming. My bell is pretty pathetic for warning car drivers (even with open windows) but my shout of “look out!” worked better. As did my brakes, hastily applied as I brought the Brompton to a skid stop a few inches from the door of the car (don’t tell Mrs W…). No harm done so off we rode/drove. I might invest in an air horn though…

London roads

In common with the rest of the UK, London’s roads are poorly surfaced in places and pretty congested at times. But there are plenty of cycle lanes in central London – including the ability to ride through roads that are closed to motorised traffic (sometimes contra-flow). My normal walking route from Euston to Whitehall through Bloomsbury and Seven Dials worked really well but the reverse was less straightforward. I’ve also ordered some free cycle route maps from Transport for London, so I’ll see if they inspire some nifty short-cuts.

I know some people are critical of the system with painted bike lanes being far less satisfactory than dedicated infrastructure but this is Britain and there’s not a lot of space to share between different types of road user! Even so, with bikes becoming more and more common, I’m sure that motorists are more used to cyclists sharing the road (I have some experience on “Boris Bikes” in London too, prior to buying my Brompton bike).

Folding, carrying, etc.

Watch any experienced Brompton bike user and they fold/unfold their bike in seconds. I currently take a bit more time… though by the end of the day I was starting to get the hang of it! There’s advice on the website (as well as in the manual).  I have to admit it’s a bit heavy to lug around (up stairs, etc.) and I felt like I was Ian Fletcher in an episode of W1A as I walked into the lift but that’s OK. And joking about my cycling attire (I was only wearing a helmet but that didn’t stop the lycra jokes) amused my colleagues and customer!

Sweaty

Clothing could be an issue. I was wearing a suit, with a rucksack on my back to hold my laptop etc. and my coat. That turned out to be a bad idea. I was dripping wet when I got to work… so I’ll need a different luggage solution and maybe a change of clothes (or I may need to see if I can get away without the suit, or at least the jacket…)

Suspension

Next up, the suspension. My Brompton arrived with the standard suspension block but Brompton recommend the firm version for those over 80kg or “who cycle more aggressively and are prepared to sacrifice some comfort”! So, at lunchtime I headed over to Brompton Junction to get a replacement suspension block of the firm variety (the store bike mechanic told me that even lighter people need it as the standard is just too soft). I also picked up a pump as it was missing from my bike (some retailers fit one as standard but maybe not all do) and took a look at some luggage. Expensive but nice. After mulling it over all day, I’ve ordered a waxed cotton shoulder bag which should be in my local branch of Evans Cycles (together with the front carrier block) for collection tomorrow…

So was it worth it?

I live 12 miles from the local railway station, which would be a bit far on a Brompton (it takes 45 mins on a road bike) so I’ll still be driving that part of my journey. Once off the train though, using the bike instead of walking cut my London travel down from about 45 minutes each way to around 15. So saving 30 minutes, twice a day (on the days when I’m in town) gives me back an hour in my day (if I avoid the temptation to use it for work…) – together with more exercise. And I can use the bike and take the train to the office in Stafford now instead of a 200-mile round trip (catching up with some work, reading, or even some sleep on the train). Sounds like a result to me.