Great Tech Speakers on Video, Part III

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 19th, 2008
Feb 19

The next great tech speaker I would like to highlight is Steve Riley from Microsoft. Steve Riley is a regular speaker at every Microsoft Technical event around the globe, and receives consistently high ratings for his sessions.


Here is Steve’s bio from his blog -

Steve is now a senior security strategist in Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group. He is a frequent and popular speaker at conferences worldwide, often appearing in Asia one week and Europe the next: speaking engagements have included multiple Microsoft TechEds and other conferences, plus SANS, RSA, Black Hat, Windows and Exchange Connections, Windows IT Pro Magazine roadshows, TechMentor conferences, the Institute for Applied Network Security, and InfoSec US. When not evangelizing the benefits of Microsoft security technology, Steve spends time with customers to better understand the security pain they face and show how some of that pain can be eliminated.

Steve Riley is certainly not your typical technology speaker, especially from a company as big as Microsoft. Steve has wild blond hair and is known to be very loose with the corporate dress code (he states in one session that "I don’t believe in pants that go all the way to the ground"). He wears earrings on occasion (see picture below), uses profanity on occasion and sometimes says things that the PR people likely wish he hadn’t ("We let you down with Windows XP"). Steve does not fit the stereotype of technical speakers, and that is part of what makes him so engaging, interesting and dynamic in front of the room.


Steve Riley


Steve has been blogged about by several people who have been in his audiences around the world. Long Zheng from Melbourne, Australia had this to say about Steve on his blog I Started Something

I had a chance to attend one of Steve Riley’s sessions today and it as one of the best presentations I’ve seen. Steve Riley is a security expert at Microsoft and has been involved in the work that has gone into BitLocker and other Vista’s under-the-hood security features. The content of Steve’s presentation was not all that out-of-this-world, but his personality and way of presentation was so captivating. He would not use the stage, instead he walks just over a metre infront of the first row of the audience. He would walk back and forth and often stopping infront of people, looking at them right in the eye and kept talking. Sometimes he’d even walk up half way the sidewalks to get closer to the people at the back. It sounds weird, but it felt like he wasn’t presenting to the audience, but more having a chat with the audience.


Aidan Finn in Ireland had this to say about Steve on his blog -


Steve Riley has posted links to video recordings of a bunch of his presentations at TechEd conferences. Steve is a serious security expert. Don’t let his employment by Microsoft prejudice your opinions. He’s pretty open, honest and has well thought out reasoning for all of his points. Steve is also one of the best speakers I’ve seen. He can make a very entertaining presentation out of what is normally a very stuffy subject.


To confirm the first two comments, I found this comment about Steve from a blog in Virginia.


While Steve’s appearance is the antithesis of the stuffy Redmond culture, (hey, do you think the MS guys will be wearing blue shirts and black pants/shoes AGAIN at this year’s TechED?) he is quite possibly their best presenter. His fun loving and irreverent seminars, complete with opening trance music, are informative and inspiring. I highly recommend that you visit some of his sessions this year.


Steve’s session videos are all hosted on at the TechNet SpotLight. Since these videos are in Microsoft SilverLight, I am not able to embed them into the blog (though I am looking for a working SilverLight plugin for WordPress). One of Steve’s recent sessions was called The Fortified Data Center . In this session you see Steve down in the audience, moving throughout the room, using alot of audience appropriate humor (I love his "unhandled coffee exception"). Steve uses personal and customer stories very effectively. He does a great job of continually changing his volume, pitch, rhythm and vocal pace to keep the audience engaged. He uses many visuals quite effectively and for the most part the slides provide support for his remarks. He uses a presentation remote to keep him from being tied to the laptop to advance the slides, which allows him to get down in the audience and physically connect with the crowd.


There are a few occasions where the slides are overloaded with bullets or text (one slide on SharePoint had over 100 words). Another slide that depicts all the components of Steve’s "Fortified Data Center"vision is overloaded with graphics and texts. On those occasions, I get the sense that Steve is committing one of the commons sins of technical speakers, using the slides as a handout. If you use the slide merely to provide visual context to your remarks and create a separate handout, it is much easier to avoid these issues. Admittedly, this is extremely common in the tech industry and I have done it myself many times, unfortunately.


Despite those few slide issues, overall Steve is a very good technical speaker. There is much to be learned from his use of stories, metaphors, examples, and audience interaction. In my opinion, if Steve implemented more of the concepts in books on powerpoint design like "Visual Selling" or "Presentation Zen" he would be even more effective. A very interesting combination would be Steve’s engaging speaking style with Dick Hardt’s powerpoint design (inspired by Lessig).


I have more in this series planned, and several posts on bad speakers. I am still crafting the first in the deep dive series on the Six Rs to beat the curse.



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One Response

  1. Public Speaking for Geeks » Blog Archive » Why I Blog Says:

    [...] I likely would have never have seen Dick Hardt’s Identity presentation or the videos of Steve Riley if I wasn’t writing blog posts about great tech speakers. I may not have seen those amazing [...]

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