This month’s T-SQL Tuesday topic is all about speaking. Before getting into the topic, I’d like to thank Bob (Captain Bob as I’ve now seen his license plate) for hosting this month. T-SQL Tuesday is a great idea, started by Adam Machanic. It provides a great way to throw a blog out there on a topic each month and see how many people see that topic, have used it or explain it. The secondary part we get from it is, a great way for an entry point into blogging when you are just getting started and that first topic is elusive.
Again, speaking is this month’s topic. Bob has this lined up as, “This month the prompt is how did you come to love presenting? What was the first time you gave a presentation in front of a group and really enjoyed it? Was it something that was required of you in school? Something you did in the workplace? Were you inspired by other SQL community members and thought “I think I can do that too”? Whatever your story is, I’d love to hear it. Not a presenter? Not a problem! Feel free to chime in with whatever you like that’s related to either presenting or SQL Server in general.” As I usually do, I’m going to take the last option and talk about a part to speaking that is completely outside the questions asked. I’m fully taking advantage of, “Feel free to chime in with whatever you like…”
Picking a Topic
There are a ton of great topics out there and deep dives into how SQL Server works, from page internals to extremely in-depth optimizer information. These topics are excellent and a must in terms of learning when you truly get down and dirty in the mud with SQL Server. However, there is another method you can rely on and have great success in when picking a topic; pick topics that people will use in real life from small to large sized SQL Server installations.
What does that mean? When you’re picking a topic, think about your normal workload or tasks you typically would be performing. Don’t limit this to daily tasks but projects that take some time to plan and implement. A great example is a presentation I recently wrote and have given a few times, “Upgrading to SQL Server 2012 with Limited Downtime”. Everyone at some point will be upgrading SQL Server. In the real world, almost everyone can retain some value from attending this presentation that goes over real life, executed designs, preparations, implementations and methods to accomplishing the upgrade.
Execution plan tuning is another idea. I’ve done a 100-200 level session on tuning in real life patterns. These sessions have always drawn off what would be reality in a normal administrative and development team. Of course, this doesn’t mean it is not a good idea if you can spend 75 minutes talking about how, why and what happens when a WorkTable is introduced into an execution plan, to write a session like that. That information is just as valuable as any session. However, think about your audience at the same time. Will the entire audience gain some real return for investing their time attending? You may get a room of 100 people that will get that from a 500-level session but you may have a better result and build a platform to the 500-level session by implementing a presentation that can be utilized in a broader team set and SQL Server installation base.
So, when you are thinking about what session to write, what the topic should be, don’t spend time thinking about if it will make you look smart enough, be hard enough to follow or be the cat’s meow to the most internal and in-depth topic around. Think about making an effort to return a higher ratio of the attendee’s investment sitting in your presentation by giving them something that they truly can take away and utilize immediately.
Practice doesn’t always make perfect
I like to think of my presentations as TED.com talks, not so much a timed point and click technical session. Everyone has their own method and way to practicing a session. Some practice a session to the point that almost every word is repeated, sequentially and timed to the minute. You may also think that everyone does that and that is the only way to be successful. Honestly speaking, that isn’t always true. I’ve had many sessions that have not been practiced at all. Well, practiced beyond the morning of the presentation, a run through the slides and a few keywords to make sure the session flow continues as it should.
Practicing simply isn’t for everyone. A lot of people find that presenting is something that really does come naturally. Getting in front of a group of people and letting the presentation flow as it should base on how the presentation fits to the group that is sitting in front of you. I believe each presentation evolves during the time is it presented based on the group that is in the room. You should take in the expressions on attendee’s faces, listen to the questions they are asking, note if the group is made up of DBAs to Developers. If the session is on execution plan tuning and I’ve ended up with a room of developers, I’ll manipulate the session as I discuss the best practices and ways to tune execution plans based on how a developer would use it best. If the room is primarily DBAs, then it will look to that side. If the room is a good mix, include that mix in how you present things. Include statistical information as much as coding changes to make plans change.
Now, this does not mean you can change demonstrations per each group, or not practice and prepare demonstrations. Demonstrations are, and should be, static and functional. Set them up before hand, ensure they function, back them up, and make them easily recreated on other machines (in case your machine dies 10 minutes before you are going on stage). Practice the demonstrations but don’t make them the presentation. Make your experience and stories the reason you are advancing your knowledge to the group.
One of the best presentations I have ever been in was one that Jessica Moss (B | T) gave years ago in Iowa for a SQL Saturday. Jessica’s presentation was on SSAS and just when the session started, the projector in the room basically blew up and would not work. Without skipping a beat, the session evolved rapidly and Jessica made that session work without the projector. Not only did Jessica make it work but, she evolved it into a session that fit the group. Once Jessica started talking, she noticed the group wasn’t really with the level or the track she was on. Based on that, she altered the entire hour and evolved the session into what the group really needed to understand the topic. That, to this day, is still the most impressive show of presentation skills I have seen and I learned from it. I can draw off evaluations and feedback to say, it seems to be working pretty well and people enjoy the way I present. Now, just because I present this way successfully, does not mean you have to or will. Use this and what I’m sure will be countless other recommendations from other common speakers in our community, to build your own method of handing off our wealth of knowledge the best way we can to keep the attention there, the gratitude afterwards and the rewards of what it means to provide a truly good presentation.