Eben Upton – like a big puppy!

Eben Upton spoke at the Poptech conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, in June 2012, narrating the conception, gestation and birth of Raspberry Pi. The perceptive reader will notice that I have already supplied links that will tell you more about Poptech and Eben Upton; but I have not done so for Raspberry Pi. Is this because I am loftily expecting you already to know all about it? No, it is because if Upton’s speech does its job you shouldn’t need to be told more. Shall we see if it does?

I am delighted to tell you that he shoots the whole thing from the hip so, my not being diverted into moaning about paper, I can actually examine the speech itself.

  • He begins by producing two Raspberry Pis and tossing them into the audience, inviting people to look at them. It’s not a run-of-the-mill opening, and as such will be mildly memorable
  • At 0.55 he begins a contents page. It’s an excellent principle, but needs to be very clear. I can’t even tell how many elements it contains, because some things seem to be subdivisions of other things.
  • He speaks very rapidly. Some people naturally do, but this strikes me as exacerbated by nerves. It’s almost as if he is apologising for being there. His enunciation is appalling.
  • For around 6 minutes, from 2:00 to 8:00 he explains that generations of kids that followed his generation were culturally less drawn to learning how to programme computers. It didn’t need 6 minutes.
  • His barely intelligible gabbling makes him diffiult to follow, even for me who also programmed computers in the 80s.
  • He’s finally discussing the product in the ninth minute and, if I hadn’t done some research earlier, I would have a job understanding what on earth he’s talking about.
  • The narrative continues for 18 minutes through to the awkwardly meteoric success of the product (awkward because of the huge demand they had somehow to meet).

There is a very important word in that last bullet point – ‘narrative’. Upton is actually close to being very good with this speech. Rambling, manic and often incoherent though the speech might be we can follow that part of it we can discern because it has a narrative. It also makes it easy for him to dispense with paper, because he always knows where he is going.

The speech is like an eager puppy, running in all directions at once in a skin that’s too big for it. It needs a little sober thinking-through, pulling-together and tightening. Puppies that behave like that are excited and nervous at the same time – and so is Upton. His mindset is insecure, even though he’s narrating a story he lived. He has all the natural talent – and attractive ebullience – to be a first-class speaker, but the talent is in danger of going nowhere.  And as for his diction…!

At the beginning he did actually lay out his stall. He held up a Raspberry Pi before throwing it into the audience. He explained that he hoped it would teach children … what? If you’ve watched the speech you can probably answer that now, but did you hear the words at the time? Go to 0:12 for the answer, and you may have to listen more than once.

Very shortly after that he jokes, while throwing these things into the audience, that he’s been on a presentation skills course. I sincerely hope that is a joke.

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