I attend a lot of conferences as a speaker, covering Java, .NET, Ruby, and Agility (plus a few other random topics). The most obvious differences between all these conferences are the technical topics, but other surprising differences exist as well. One of the most striking is the presentation style and content of the Ruby conferences. The quality of the presentations at Ruby conferences is nothing short of stunning. They tend to have not only fascinating topics, but really compelling presentation skills. It's as if everyone at Ruby conference have read and internalized Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. No bullets in sight, lots of images, cool transitions, and just generally entertaining. It helps that virtually everyone at Ruby conferences use Macs, and therefore Keynote, which is light years ahead of PowerPoint. Keynote alone won't make a great presentation, but it certainly helps.
Not surprisingly, the worst conferences are those that force the speakers to use hideous conference-themed slide decks. Some conferences force you to create your presentation using a hideous template, then have some clueless intern enforce their misguided rules (up to the point of making changes to the slide show). The worst by far is Microsoft's TechEd. First, you must use PowerPoint (not too surprising, I guess). But last year I took a lot of time making slides with lots of images, centered text, and other transition tricks...only to have them disappear before my talk at the hands of someone who didn't have a clue. They literally took slides upon which I had big, centered text to emphasize a point and changed them to a slide with a made-up title and a single bullet point. This ham-handed treatment of my material is why I'm not doing TechEd this year.
But I digress. Ruby conferences on average have stellar presentations. And the RubyRx conference in Raleigh in late February sounds like it's going to be the exemplar of outstanding talks. It combines the expertise of the No Fluff, Just Stuff conference organization with a great lineup of speakers, including Matthew Bass, David Bock, Chad Fowler, Stuart Halloway (talking about Clojure!), Yehuda Katz, Russ Olsen, Jared Richarson, Venkat Subramaniam, Bruce Tate, and Glenn Vanderburg. And I'm going to be there too, like a kid at the adults table.
RubyRx sounds like it's going to be the great early 2009 Ruby conference. Come see what the fuss is about, both technologically and presentationally.