The 99 second talk I didn’t do – “We are all Humpty Dumpty”

At the end of every TestBash conference there are the infamous 99 second talks. A chance for everyone in the audience who wants to deliver a message to get on stage. For many it’s their first time on stage and a spark for taking the next step.

As I planned for my third 99 second talk, I wanted a message that I can deliver in 60-70 seconds, so that I have time to speak slow and not hustle, like the last times. And I wanted to finish well in time to not loose my conclusion at the end to the nasty sound from Mark’s mobile. And as I’m way more nervous on stage for a 99 second talk than for a normal talk, this time I even prepared my text in advance in writing, not only in my mind. And thanks to the always amazing Damian Synadinos, who generously spent some of his time, I even got an ad-hoc review.

But as I went through it again and again, I always ended up between 90 and 95 seconds. So I decided to skip it and post it here instead. So, this is what I wanted to deliver on stage in Brighton, but didn’t have the guts to do it:

I want to talk a minute about semantics – the meaning of words.
In “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice about “glory”, but Alice is confused and doesn’t understand. Alice asks Humpty Dumpty: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory'”
Humpty Dumpty smiled “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
Sounds familiar?
Closed communication systems like software development teams tend to use words as they like. Which is okay for me, as long as you have a shared understanding in the team. But think about someone new joining the team. Is there ambiguity in your glossary? Is there room for misunderstanding or shallow agreement?

Even if you don’t like discussing about semantics, because you think it’s a waste of time. Try to do it every now and then, try it for yourself if you want. For more complex statements I like to use a technique my good friend Damian Synadinos showed me which he calls “Definition Dissection”. Just take a statement and look up every word in the dictionary. Try to continue by looking up the words that come up in the definitions you found and rearrange them. Continue until you’re happy with the precision.

In my experience, way too often, especially if English isn’t your first language, you will find out that the meaning of the words you use don’t match the intention you use them for.

So you can continue to use them, but being aware that they are imprecise or even wrong. Which will help you when you have discussions with outsiders.

Or you can start to exchange the words you use to get more precision in your everyday language.

It’s the awareness that counts!

And at this point I want to express my deep respect for all that got up on stage and delivered their message! In time or not.


3 thoughts on “The 99 second talk I didn’t do – “We are all Humpty Dumpty””

  1. Hi Patrick! For Trump “saying words” works fine! For some sales people, who I know, juggling with buzz words works fine as well. Are we not overrating it?
    Cheers –

    1. Hi Kristine,
      we seem to speak of different circles. The article addresses closed communication systems like teams, families, friends, etc.
      Sales people or the Orange One are operating in open communication systems, addressing things publicly or from the outside. They should better be aware of the meaning of the words they use or they are doing a bad job at communicating, leading to confusion about the things said. Which is clearly evident in at least one of the examples you named.

      1. I was sarcastic. For me teams, friends and family does not belong to one category. First one group​ has artificial relationship, both other natural and emotional.

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