I’m a huge fan of user groups. It’s why I helped found and am on the board of MADPASS, and why I’ll start another user group in northeast Wisconsin this fall. User groups give us training and learning opportunities, but with a face-to-face component no amount of online learning or book reading can match. They are all about networking, community, and learning. If you’re not attending a user group, you should be.
Another reason I love user groups is because they give people a safe, relaxed environment to present in. This can cause people to grow exponentially. I love presenting, and it all started with a user group. My first technical-ish presentation was a few years ago at the Wisconsin SQL Server user group. I gave a 15 minute presentation on how to use Twitter, and the SQL community that existed on it. I gave my first full-length presentation on Reporting Services a few months later. Since then, I’ve gone on to speak at user groups and SQL Saturdays around the country. Last year, I was accepted at PASS Summit for the first time.
When we were starting MADPASS, I volunteered to be the person who recruited speakers. I was able to use the many contacts I had in the state and region, gained from other community events, to fill our calendar. But I found something even more fulfilling along the way – giving other people their first taste of presenting.
Every meeting, I tell our members that if they want to speak, even for 15 minutes, all they need to do is tell me. This is a way for me to pay forward the opportunities I’ve been given. I can help them pick a topic, review slides, practice a presentation with them, or just support them. So far, we’ve had at least five local speakers step up. FIVE!
Every time one of them finishes, I see The Look in their eyes and The Smile on their face. It’s the one that tells me they really enjoyed sharing what they know with others. That it was scary at first, but they survived, and did well under pressure. (Make no mistake about it. Presenting, especially on a technical topic, is not easy.) I’ve had people start with a 15-minute talk and do a 30-minute talk a few months later. I’ve had people give a 30-minute talk and decide they’re ready for a 60-minute. They are pondering submitting those sessions to other user groups and SQL Saturdays.
Every time I think about it, I grin. I love presenting, and I love sharing that feeling with other people. I continually tell people, “Everyone has something they can teach others.” Everyone. Through user groups, I’ve learned about all sorts of crazy things I normally wouldn’t touch, like Service Broker, encryption in depth, CLR, MDX, and more. It’s because other people shared their knowledge.
If you’re even remotely interested in presenting, contact a local (or regional) user group, or one of the PASS virtual chapters. If you’re scared, you’re normal. Remember that you know something you can teach other people. Find someone who will review your slides. Practice a few times before the big day.
Oh, and one warning: presenting is addicting. I hope you’re ready.