The CAD Geek Named Top-Rated Autodesk University 2021 Speaker

Among the highlights shared in my Summer and Fall update posts was none other than Autodesk University. After winning a Top Speaker Award at the first all-digital Autodesk University event in 2020, I was excited to be invited back as a speaker for a fifteenth consecutive year. This year, I had the opportunity to continue the AutoCAD Tips & Tricks class series I started in 2018 with yet another variety, including a new adjective that begins with D.

Four Years of AutoCAD Tips & Tricks

In 2018 we had Delightful Drafting Techniques; in 2019, we had More Delightful Drafting Techniques; in 2020, we had Dazzling Drafting Techniques and this year? Well, in 2021, we had AutoCAD Tips, Tricks, and the Most Dependable Drafting Techniques

Apart from having fun with the class title, I’ve also had a great deal of fun with the class itself. Finding ways to make a highly technical topic both informative and entertaining has taken much practice over the years but is something I believe is on display in this year’s class.

Unique Challenges of a Virtual Format

As I mentioned in last year’s class recap, the digital format remains a great wildcard for me. While I have extensive practice presenting to in-person audiences, presenting to virtual audiences remains an area where I have many opportunities to grow.

Beyond honing my craft delivering virtual presentations, this year’s conference threw another curveball my way—a new class format. Instead of classes featuring 60-minutes of instruction, classes were to feature 30-minutes of instruction with 30-minutes of live QA.

After so many years of building 60-minute Autodesk University classes, finding a way to cut things in half was far more difficult than anticipated. While I didn’t keep a log of hours invested into the development of the class, I estimate spending at least double the time building this year’s 30-minute class over the 60-minute variety for years past.

With just 30-minutes of instruction, factors like how long it takes to open drawings become significant considerations to the class structure. Estimating 30-seconds to switch between drawings, opening five drawings would represent more than 8% of my available instruction time. The idea of wasting 8% of my audience’s time just opening and switching between drawings seemed outlandish to me. I needed a better approach.

Keeping in mind the time it might take between drawings, I moved on to arguably the most challenging part of building any presentation. Designing it.

Designing an Award-Winning Class

What would I include in a thirty-minute version of my AutoCAD tips & tricks class?

In years past, I included a mix of quick tips I could demonstrate in 1-2 minutes each plus more significant tips that might take five or more minutes to present. With a voice in the back of my head that five minutes equals about 16% of a thirty-minute presentation, I questioned whether a similar format could work this year?

Without answering either of my time considerations, I started the brainstorming process. Unlike a workflow-based class where the workflow imposes some constraints on what you present, tips & tricks classes have none of those constraints. This is both the blessing and the curse of developing a tips & tricks class.

On the one hand, you have absolute freedom to include whatever you want. On the other hand, your class still needs to have some structure. In my experience, finding a balance between these two extremes is critical.

Starting with a brainstorming process, I incrementally went through the creative process of organizing each potential tip into categories and culling the list of tips I could present into the list of tips I would present. Unraveling the creative process of going from an idea to a final course outline is a topic unto itself and one we’ll save for another day.

The Creative Process

Suffice to say, after a lengthy creative process, I had the final presenter outline for my class. Now I had to turn it into an actual class that took into account the time constraints I was under.

What I finally decided was to host a class that was mostly a series of quick 1-2 minute tips. Since that also meant working with a proportional number of drawing files, I also opted to pre-record my demonstrations.

Each tip would be a silent video that I would embed into my PowerPoint and speak to during the class. To make the delivery seem natural, I needed to make sure the cadence of the videos matched my dialog. To achieve that, I opted to write what was practically a word-for-word script of the entire presentation.

After writing the script, I then recorded the demonstration videos as I read the script to myself.

The Payoff

With the videos recorded, it was just a matter of embedding them into my PowerPoint and scheduling my recording session with the Autodesk University speaker team. While time-intensive, the immense preparations I invested into building my class paid off. 

First I was able to record a clean take of my class that didn’t require any editing by the Autodesk University speaker team before being broadcast during the conference. Secondly, my efforts solicited outstanding feedback from those who attended my class. In fact, their feedback was so positive, it earned me another Top Rated Speaker award.

While I remain optimistic that next year’s conference will be in-person, I am grateful for the growth these virtual years have forced me to ascend to. Although I still have a bevy of things I want to improve about how I present to a virtual audience, I feel fortunate to have built a strong foundation over the last couple of years. 

To me, the fact I can still find things to learn and improve about the work I do after fifteen appearances on the Autodesk University stage is a testament to the conference itself. Although I’ve been able to earn numerous Top Speaker awards over the years, earning one is never a given with the outstanding caliber of speakers the conference attracts each year. 

Donnie Gladfelter
Donnie Gladfelter

Donnie is author of the book and Autodesk Official Press, AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required, a columnist for AUGIWorld Magazine, Autodesk University speaker, and former member of the AUGI Board of Directors.

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