RSA 2019, and women finally had to queue for the toilets…

If the streets of San Francisco are becoming more cluttered as the homeless problem gets worse year after year, the conference itself seemed to take a clear shift towards a more friendly and inclusive event.

The redesign of the conference wasn’t just limited to the Moscone Centre itself. To be sure , the revised layout meant even more vendors could be squeezed in (where do they all come from?!) and we could find ourselves utterly lost on the expo floor as it was no longer clear if we were in the North or South hall, and what direction we had to walk in for the West hall when we finally emerged, blinking into the weak Californian sun.

This redesign, if it can be called that, came across to me in two distinct ways, both of which are areas that are close to me. Sure, the talks were good, the Keynotes interesting (if occasionally sponsored), and the overall organisation was excellent. But the two areas I thought that stood out were diversity and wellness.

Of course, the more cynical of us will say that it was just a move that RSA made to keep the haters quiet and the ticket sales up, but it really did feel like a corner had been turned here. That is not to say they did it first, as there are thousands of events around the world that are supporting diversity and wellness, but to see it done at this scale is what made it stand out. RSA is undeniably a commercial conference, and many parts of the infused echo chamber deride it for being so, but it is also a litmus test of how the industry as a whole is performing.

 

Group_Male_Executives1

Therefore, seeing the demise of the all male panel (or “manel” as I heard it described) and seeing broadly balance panels, and a larger number of talks fronted by women is the direction that the community has been pushing for years. It takes effort to redress a balance like this, but when it reflects is a high profile show like this the benefits are greatly increased. As a direct result of this, my unscientific method of just using my eyes showed me there was a greater number of women attending as well. (I think I even saw a queue for the ladies toilets at one point as well – now if that isn’t scientific proof i don’t know what is). This greater balance is better for all of us in this industry, however you look at it.

As for wellness, I counted at least three sessions on the impact of infosec on mental health, including one keynote. I was informed just today that a straw poll found that 14% of CISOs found the stress of the job “unbearable and unsustainable”, and the associated decline in mental health a very real cause for concern. Our toxic mixture of being measured on failure and the requirements for us to 24×7 “keep secrets” means none of this reported or addressed, and people are suffering. Seeing this addressed by senior and well known people in the field in an open forum can only mean good things and result in better health overall.

Let’s be clear, diversity and wellness are still in the early stages of being addressed, but being addressed they are, and if more shows and conferences like RSA can continue to push the agenda, then the information security industry will become a friendlier place.

Let’s not forget (Will) Wheaton’s Law that applies to all of us here, and a mantra to live your personal as well as your professional life by:

“Don’t be a Dick”.

I was also involved in some media coverage, mainly because of the very fine folks at ITSP Magazine. I helped with a daily wrap up report and an end of show report as well. You will not I hope, dear reader, have missed the quite excellent T-shirts I happen to be sporting…

Thursday’s update was so good, we even did it twice ; if you ever get to meet Sean you can ask him why…

Selena, Marco and Sean did a fantastic job summarising every day, as well as carrying out a slew of other interviews and update. Please do check out their magazine and subscribe, i promise you won’t be disappointed.

I also did an interview with Matthew Schwartz of ISMG, under thier Bank Info Security brand. It focussed on wellness and mental health, and has yet to be published (if at all). This was an interesting choice for me as I do not wish to become the poster boy for this topic, but given the wholly positive response I have recieved from people who not only are affected by the issues I raised, now feel “safe” to talk about them, it is hard to not talk more about it. I have no doubt I will be talking more on this, so I guess i will have to hone the message more to not just get the point across but also avoid being placed in this niche itself.

Hopefully that interview will surface as Matthew is a wonderful interviewer and friend, and he helped tell the story in a very compelling and sensitive way.

Finally, i had the opportunity to knock around RSA with my old mucker Javvad. We absolutely did not plan any filming, and I absolutey did not help him script his film, or even hang around hoping to be filmed. But as luck would have it I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be interviewed.

In it I opine about the huge amounts of negativity aimed at vemndors during RSA, even hearing some commentators refer to it as a “vendor wank-fest” which is both disingenuous and frankly a somewhat disturbing image to conjur up. I will leave you to watch Javvad’s thoughtful film on the topic of vendors, suffice to say that without them we wouldn’t have half of the community we have now.

And then the week was over in a flash. Diversity, wellness, toilets, faulty microphones, vendors and filming, all wrapped up in a blog post, films and a bunch of fun memories.

<edit> Typos


What, No Expense Account? My RSA 2019 Itinerary

Yes, you read it here first, I will not be jetting into San Francisco on my private jet and staying at a hotel I wouldn”t tell you plebs about anyway.

RSA 2019 will be a first for me in that I am representing myself and not expensing my trip on the company dime. I am attending in part, to the generosity of ITSP Magazine, (cheers, Sean and Marco!) and all I have to do in return is type a few words out for them. They may already be regretting that decision after seeing me insulting you, dear reader, in my first sentence of this blog.

I often attend RSA without a solid itinerary, getting a lot of value of the “hallway track” and the multitude of events that are thrown in and around the city during the conference proper. However, since I now have some of my personal cash invested in this trip (I am staying in an AirBnB with a shared bathroom for goodness sake), it is probably wise to get at least some kind of structure together. To wit:

dirty-bathroom

Oh, the inhumanity…

The Sessions

  • HUM-T06: Humans Are Awesome at Risk Management
  • DevOps Wine0ing (Not Whining) Cocktail Party
  • ID-T07: Studies of 2FA, Why Johnny Can’t Use 2FA and How We Can Change That
  • CXO-T09: How to Manage and Understand Your Human Risk
  • InfoSecurity Magazine Breakfast Briefing
  • Threat Modelling Brunch with IriusRisk
  • Security Blogger Awards (is it still on this year?)
  • KEY-R02S: Burnout and You: Fireside Chat with Dr. Christina Maslach
  • CXO-R11: The Fine Art of Creating a Transformational Cybersecurity Strategy
  • PROF-F01: Five Secrets to Attract and Retain Top Tech Talent in Your Future Workplace
  • PROF-F02: Why the Role of the CISO Sucks and What We Should Do to Fix It!

In summary then, risk, stress, strategy and human beings; all the key ingredients of any information security function.

This is my first cut of the agenda, and I reserve the right to not attend these and attend others, especially if some of my friends, colleagues, old drinking buddies and interesting random strangers turn up. Because that is what RSA is really about; meeting, networking and swapping ideas and opinions in real time.

The educational element is excellent of cours,, but it is rare that they will address exactly the problems you are facing day to day. You will learn something, you will expand your knowledge and you will take fantastic advice away with you, but it is rare you will get an hour face to face with he speaker. Taking the opportunity to really network and chew the fat with your old chums, as well as new o9nes is an invaluable way of really focusing your efforts.

Of course I have some specific goals (remember my reason for staying in the AirBnB?); I will be networking to find potential consulting work in the future, looking for NED or advisory positions, and seeing what is coming on the horizon from the many vendors. I am also interested to see if Artificial Intelligence code has actually been written in anything other than PowerPoint, although I suspect I will be disappointed again on that front.. Meeting my old boss and mentor, my old Deputy,  a multitude of other pals, even the guy who reckons he is the sole founder of Host Unknown (when everyone knows that is me), is just icing on the cake. I am definitely looking forward to catching up with the person who said I could use their hotel room bathroom too.

There will also be a Host Unknown party, bought to you by the kind sponsorship of anyone who turns up, just like last year in Las Vegas during Black Hat and DefCon. I have heard at least two of the sole founders will be there to welcome the dollar bills of sponsorship from the attendees.

It’s going to be a long, endless week, but I do know that I will come back with more knowledge, more passion, more energy and more excitement for our industry than ever before.

And a whole lot less cash in the bank, so if you see me, don’t forget to offer food and drink.


The Art of the Presentation (Part 3 of 3)

It has been a while since part 2, we have had BSides and InfoSec Europe, and it has been a busy time in the day job. Nonetheless, here is the last part of three of “Art of the Presentation” (abridged version) for your edification and delight.

Part 3 is about the actual delivery of your presentation. This is where your deck and your practising come together in perfect harmony to deliver something that is memorable, engaging and above all educational. I believe there are seven key areas that need to be taken into account and addressed, either on the day or mentally before you deliver your presentation.

Presentation Aids

The simplest presentation aid you need is a is a ‘clicker’ remote. You can spend anything from £10 to over £100 on one of these. For your time, I would suggest something in between that, by Logitech or Targus who produce good solid devices. Cheaper devices are not always reliable and will often chew through batteries, the last thing you want live on stage. Personally, I use the Logi Spotlight presentation remote, which has a few bells and whistles such as a built in timer. Moving backwards and forwards from your presentation laptop looks amateurish and breaks the flow of your performance.

You may think you need notes or crib cards as well, my one word of advice is “Don’t”. As I have mentioned before they are a crutch that you will rely on far too much and they remove the natural flow of your presentation. If your nerves (see below) are getting the better of you  and you absolutely must have something just in case, have your notes typed up in a large font and very clear markings as to what slide relates to what notes fold them up and keep then on the lectern out of reach (again see below). Once more, avoid this if you can.

Technical Setup

Things to ascertain up front are if you are using your own laptop or the organisers. Using their laptop and sending your Powerpoint or Keynote in advance doesn’t guarantee that your deck will display correctly. Missing fonts, different versions of the software etc.. Making sure you check that your beautifully crafted deck still looks beautiful when up on the screen on stage means you won’t be surprised when you get on stage. Any decent organisers will work with you to find time to not only check if your deck looks good, but also to test your own laptop if need be. If using theirs, they should also provide presentation remotes for their own laptops as well.

If you are using your own laptop, make sure to bring every type of a/v adapter you need, but it boils down to three types:

  • VGA
  • DVI
  • HDMI

These are in increasing order of preference; VGA is an old standard now, but most commonly used. HDMI is the easiest to use and requires the least amount of setup as it operates around a strict standard. More often than I care to recall has the use of VGA and a misconfigured projector or LCD screen resulted in my slides looking stretched and distorted: Heartbroken!

Staging

This may not seem very obvious, but you also try and stand on the stage for a few minutes and walk around it while testing your slides. Set up your laptop if possible so you can see the screen for the next slide etc. and then walk the stage so you know where you can see your screen and where you can’t. The larger conferences will often have a comfort screen at the front that shows your on screen slide, and on rare occasions (when using their own equipment) even have it as a secondary screen.

Walking the stage also ensures your presentation remote will still work at the furthest distance from your laptop; the last thing you want is to lose connection while you are in the middle of your flow. Finally you can also ensure you are at least aware of any trip hazards on there such as loose carpeting or cable runs.

Nerves

man-looking-distressed-without-a-shirt

There is no getting away from it, but except in very rare cases you will be varying levels of nervous prior to your moment in the spotlight. Nerves are good as they will sharpen your performance, but too much and your performance will rapidly tail off. I recall early in my speaking career physically shaking and attempting to come up with an excuse to not present; it took all the energy I could muster to go on and deliver that day!

One exercise I do can be done very easily, either standing or sitting. Start by slowly clenching your fists until you are squeezing them as hard as you can. Hold this for as long as possible or up to 30 seconds, then very slowly start unclenching your hands. As your figures open, feel the tension release in your forearms and slowly breathe out. Do this 2 or three times and you should find the tension in your body ease a little, as well as feeling somewhat calmer. It isn’t a panacea, and you may well have your own trick for this, but I find it can help you prepare your body for the upcoming performance.

Movement and Oral Delivery

Depending on who you talk to, there is conflicting advice on how you should present from the stage. I was involved in some formal public speaking training a few years back, and their guidance was to stand still, and avoid any kind of arm movement. Not my style at all!

With that said, an movement around the stage should be paced and deliberate, as if you are consciously trying to address a different corner of the audience. Pacing backwards and forwards makes you look nervous, as does rocking on your heels, stepping backwards and forwards as if rocking, etc.. Identify a spot on the stage that is your “base” and plant your feet squarely in it. When you walk around, do so, especially when emphasising certain point, and especially when involving the audience. The return to your spot. The trick of course is to try and make sure you don’t look like a wind up toy, but rather a natural sequence of movements.

Using your hands is perfectly acceptable, as you can use them to emphasis you points, and even put across your emotions and feelings about certain areas. Be aware however, that sometimes you will need to use a handheld microphone, and if you haven’t practised not moving your arms it can very easily distract you, especially as your other hand will have a presentation remote in it.

Q&A

There are three things to remember here; firstly don’t expect to know the answer to every question, and say so when you get a question you can’t answer. Promise to follow up with the individual, and if you have social media accounts or other means of sharing further information with your audience then use it to publicly do so.

Secondly, always repeat the question. Not everyone will have heard it and your repeating of it through the microphone will help. This also has the added bonus of giving you more time to consider your answer.

Finally, always do your best to call out “more of a comment than a question” type of questions. depending on your style either call it out as not a question, or say it is too complex to answer easily now so you will catch up with them afterwards. These types of questions will almost always derail any Q&A session.

When it all Goes Wrong

What if you freeze, or your slides stop working, or you get lost in the presentation, or your trousers fall down or something awful happens?, well, always make sure you have a plan. It may be as simple as always going back to the previous slide to pick up where you last knew what you were talking about, or even having your slides on an iPad (with he correct A/V adapters if possible, or having a routine to check your clothing before you walk on stage.

Remember, there will be very few people in the audience willing you to fail. Virtually everyone is on your side, and hoping you will educate and entertain them. They will be very accommodating and accepting of mistakes. This accommodation does not last forever however. If you constantly fail to deliver in subsequent talks because you haven’t learnt anything g or failed to seek help, your reputation will precede you.

Take every mistake as  a learning experience, and over time, you will find yourself learning less and even teaching more.

The Golden Rule

This is part eight of my seven part list. Bear with me.

Never, ever, run over time. Anything more than 30 seconds is going to affect the timings of the rest of the day. Unless an organiser explicitly asks you to continue past your time you need to get off stage so the next speaker can get on.

You can however finish early; a good conference will find ways of filling the gap, either stepping up to ask questions when no one else will, or even filling the space themselves.

So there it is, three parts to help you in your public speaking career. I hope some of you found it useful, and as always you can reach out to argue with me or come up with other tips. Thanks for listening!


The Art of the Presentation (Part 2 of 3)

You’ve created your presentation, now you need to practise. Or as the great Yogi Berra put it:

In theory there is no difference between theory and practise. In practise, there is.

Almost certainly in the early days of your presenting you will need to practise a considerable amount. There are two main reasons for this; firstly you will be presenting your own unique content for the first time in an open forum like a conference, which means you will need to be absolutely sure of what it is you are going to say to ensure you don’t come across as someone who is less knowledgeable than you are. Secondly, you will almost always be nervous. How quickly you overcome your nerves will vary greatly from person to person and a variety of other factors. For me it took just over two years before my nerves stopped kicking in to the point where they were visible.

The key to coming across confidently is to know what you are going to say right from your first sentence, all the way through to your last sentence. You also need to ensure that you don’t learn every single word of the talk parrot fashion. Unless you have a gift for remembering dialogue (in which case you will sound like you are simply reading your verbiage), you will have to employ a few tricks to get around this…

The Opening

Firstly, practise your very first sentence, and make it snappy and to the point, and impactful at the same time if you can. Don’t drone on about how happy you are to be here, what your name is,  thank you all for coming, I hope you like my talk, how you can’t believe you are stood in front of such a talented crowd at this amazing conference etc.. I recall practising in front of a good friend, and before I had got halfway through my introductory sentence he bellowed:

BORRRRRIIIIING! YAWN 

 

His point was that people weren’t there to hear your platitudes, they are here to get their money’s worth and listen to what you have got to say, so just get on with it. Additionally, if people want to know more about you personally they will either read your bio in the conference agenda, or look you up after the talk. Do not spend five minutes establishing your credentials as not only can it come across as egotistical (except in very rare circumstances) but erodes your impact as a confident and knowledgeable speaker.

Slide on the slides

The second trick is to use your slides as a prompt for a train of thought rather than using them as an aid to specific sentences you want to remember. In the first blog on this topic I mentioned using imagery as much as possible; avoiding the use of bullet points or long sentences as much as possible means you won’t be tempted to rely on the text for what you are going to say. Try to sound conversational, and while practising do consider filming yourself or at the very least an audio recording. Running through it a few times will help embed a few key phrases in your head you can move between, and also give your imagination a chance expand further on your thoughts. Having a few Tweetable length phrases ready to roll off your tongue is a useful way of making an impact with few words, as well as encouraging people to potentially tweet your quotes during the talk (an increase your audience). Don’t forget your “story” or the beginning, middle, end structure either.

Variety

This point is also an opportunity to practise varying the tone and pitch of your voice, the use of your hands and even how you want to move around. Practise slowing down your talking , and possible even lowering your volume (more easily achieved if you are going to be using a microphone), when you want to emphasis something of critical importance. You can also speed up and become more animated on sections that you find exciting, fun or revealing. A little bit of humour thrown in as well helps, but be careful here, especially with an international audience. Test it on colleagues and peers first.

The Close

So you have made it through the deck and you are on your last slide; before you know it you have finished your presentation. how do you finish? “And, um, that’s it really…” is not the way to go. See the first point and memorise a closing statement, something straightforward, and again, snappy. “With that, I will close and thank you all for your time and attention. I will now take questions” is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the deck and the story as you go through either; they will evolve as you become more proficient, and the deck should not limit your message; the message dictates the deck.

How often should you run through your deck? In my early days I would practise at least five times, recording it a few times, and often in front of a critical friend or two. This is a very real time commitment, so be aware and plan it into the creation of your presentation to meet your deadline. As you get more comfortable, you will be rehearsing the presentation as you create the deck, and after a few reviews will know what you are going to say (roughly) with each slide and each transition.

Patience

Above all, be patient with the process; like anything it takes thousands of hours to be proficient at something depending upon your natural ability, the circumstances and the topic in hand. If you are not having fun, ascertain what part of the process are you not enjoying? Very often, I talk to people who hate the entire process, including the presenting, until immediately after when they get such a rush they want to do it again. if that is the case, the painful parts do get easier. Also, make sure you find someone who will honestly critique your presentation either in person or after watching a recording. Take their viewpoint very seriously, and if they are a serious speaker then all the better.

So, if you are wondering how you can get to Carnegie Hall, as the violinist turned comedian Jack Benny once answered:

Practise Practise Practise!

Next time, The Art of the Presentation (part 3 of 3) – The Delivery.

 

Note: Look out for a new YouTube series from me coming soon, The Lost CISO!


The Art of the Conference

3CD62A58-7C5E-4117-B427-816FC0F83DEDYes, I know, it has been nearly nine months since I last graced this blog with my presence. What can I say, it has been a busy time… But as they say, if you want me something done, ask a busy person, and eventually they will get around to it. Just ask @hostunknowntv about the podcast I have been preparing for the last eleven months.
One of the reasons I have been busy (apart from the day job that sees me frequently travelling abroad) is that I have been somewhat in demand at conferences and forums. This is a lovely stroke to the ego when asked to keynote somewhere, but also a challenge because I have to come up with a new twist on an existing talk or even a brand new talk. Creating a talk from scratch takes hours and hours, much longer than the 6 CPE hours that (ISC)2 and ISACA allow you to claim. I would estimate anything from 20 to 40 hours for a 25 to 50 minute talk.
I am not complaining mind, the process may be long, but it really helps me form opinions, generate new ideas and even form unique points of view that I can apply to my day job (one of the reasons I always recommend standing up and presenting your ideas to your peers in the industry as a great way to further your own career).
So it frustrates me immensely that after I put this huge amount of effort into producing not a only a presentation, but also a performance for a conference, that the tools I am given to do so are all to often below par. Let me explain;
I like using Apple Keynote; it has a better look and feel to Powerpoint, handles animations better, and allows a finer control of the placement of images and text. I realise this is probably an entirely subjective perspective, but it is one I stand by. I can’t tell you the number of times a conference has insisted that I can’t use my own laptop and have to use PowerPoint. The conversion process not only screws up the formatting, but also the general placement and even the fonts. Those slides I spent hours on look like something from a Dunder Mifflin sales deck.
Secondly, when I can use Keynote or my own laptop, the audio visual teams almost always insist on using VGA;more often than not this messes with the proportions of the main screen, leaving my widescreen presentation stretched into a square shape. Again, I spend hours making sure the images are not distorted, text looks balanced, and then lazy A/V makes my slides look like they are being viewed through a fishbowl. Surely HDMI or even DVI is standard enough now, and the digital signal is far less likely to screw up aspect ratios.
Thirdly, secondary  and tertiary screens are important. The normal “comfort” screen in front of the speaker is starting to become more popular, but more often than not it only displays what is being shown behind me, not the secondary presenters view of the current slide, next slide and timer (the latter of which are rarely used by most conferences…). At RSA in San Francisco I was presenting on their Live TV stage, and they had a comfort screen with the presenter view and at the back of the room a screen with my main presentation on as well. Perfect!
Why is this so important?
I personally feel that the quality of presentations at most conferences, InfoSec or otherwise, is very poor. There is plenty of subject matter expertise, but it is delivered in a poor way (see this video for some heinous examples). Conference organisers should be doing everything they can so that a presenter can deliver as effective a presentation as possible, and not worry about their deck being messed around with by either the A/V or a sub optimal “presentation laptop”, or even having to struggle with their delivery. The easier it is in the speaker, the better the presentation and the more effective and impactful an experience it is for the audience.
Should I be able to stand up and talk without my slides, not rely on comfort screens or even know what slide is coming up next? Yes, of course, in an ideal world, but very few people who speak are professional presenters, have demanding day jobs, and often finish their decks days or hours before the day. Conference organisers, please help us produce the very best performances for the benefit of your audience, and get some of these basics sorted out!
And hopefully that bar will raise just a little bit higher and benefit everyone in the industry and community.