November 18, 2015 by Kenneth Fisher
Becoming a speaker is one heck of a journey. Early this year I submitted a session to speak at Pass Summit 2015 and was enormously shocked to be accepted as an alternate. Well that was 5 months ago now and a lot has happened since then. I submitted, was accepted to and spoke at the 2015 Dallas SQL Saturday. Then two weeks before Pass Summit I was told that I’d been moved from alternate to speaker. Talk about a shock. Now that Summit is over I thought I would go through the process I took to get ready and some of how I felt about speaking.
Now I want to point out something up front. I’ve spoken twice now but I still don’t really consider myself much of a speaker. I’m very new to this and still learning quite a bit. That being said these are the steps I took.
- Create an outline of what I expected my presentation to cover.
- Create PowerPoint slides to match my outline.
- Begin practicing my session.
In order to get the most practice time I could, I printed out my slides and began practicing on my drive home. For those people who are freaked out by the idea of me reading while driving I want to point out that you aren’t supposed to read your slides. They are at most a place holder. Since I have a little over an hour drive home this meant I could practice the whole thing while driving. Not my demo, but the rest of it. This also helped me get my timing down since I had a clock right there.
- Tune my slides.
As I practiced I found my slides weren’t quite what I wanted. I’d move slides around, add some, remove a few. I want to expand on that a little bit. In order to get the best presentation I could I found that I couldn’t be afraid to get rid of slides. Even if it was a slide I’d spent a great deal of time on. If it didn’t work, it had to go.
- Give it a shot in front of an audience.
Once I had my presentation “done” I actually performed it for someone.
In this particular case it was Jen (t) and Sean (t) McCown (b). I asked them for a couple of very specific reasons.
- They have a great deal of experience speaking (not a necessity but it doesn’t hurt).
- I trusted them to give me honest criticism. They wouldn’t be mean but they would be blunt. (I’m not easily offended and I’m not good at subtle.)
- And one last reason that is specific for me. They were exactly the type of people I was most nervous about giving my presentation to. Highly knowledgeable and highly opinionated (but in a good way). If I made any mistakes they would not only know about it but call me on it.
- Oh, and I consider them friends. This meant that I could give the presentation and even if I made a complete hash out of it they wouldn’t judge me, just give me advice.
So what was the advice? A lot of it was specific to my presentation and won’t really help anyone but me. One big thing they mentioned however was Find your voice. For me this meant don’t give the presentation flat. I have a lot of snark and sarcasm (and bad puns) in my personality. Let them out! Have fun with the presentation and with the audience as much as possible.
- So now it was back to practicing.
More printouts, more practicing in the car, more fine tuning. Of course I also had to practice with my computer in front of me so I could practice the demo, but I didn’t get nearly as many of those done as the other. I’d say over all I probably ran through the presentation 30+ times in the car and maybe 6 or 7 times in front of the computer. Oh, and when I was practicing in front of my computer I used my presentation clicker to make sure things were as close to the real presentation as possible.
- At some point you have to call it done.
One thing I did notice was that almost every time I ran through the presentation I saw ways to improve it. Eventually I had to quit changing my slides and call them done. I still fine tuned what I was saying a little bit but I tried to keep that reasonably consistent as well. Of course now that I’m not on a deadline (getting the slides uploaded before the presentation) I can feel free to make more changes as needed.
- Actually giving the presentation to a group.
This could have been giving it to my users group or some co-workers. But since my presentation was accepted for this years Dallas SQL Saturday I was able to give it there. This was a bit of a jump for a first time but I didn’t have enough time to schedule anything else. Presenting was exciting, it was fun, it was all around awesome. I found (not for the first time) that I’m one of those people who panics before hand, and even a bit afterwards but I’m pretty good during. In the end it went well, I got a few good laughs and hope everyone came away with a better understanding of security (the session is SQL Server Security Basics). I had several people come up to me afterwards to say they enjoyed it and really that’s all I could ask for.
- And yet more changes
Once I’d done it in person I had yet more changes I wanted to make. Particularly since I had a comment that the session was a good intro for Devs & managers. That lead me to changing the title from “Security Basics” to “Security For Everyone” and changing my focus slightly.
- Presenting at the 2015 Pass Summit!
Next I was told that I’d been accepted to speak at the Summit! Talk about exciting. More practicing, more nerves, and I finally gave my presentation at the Summit. I had a reasonably large room and it was ~75% full. I had enough nerves that I forgot a few things that I had wanted to do/say but on the whole it went very well. I had a crowd come up to me afterwards to ask for my card and ask some questions and then over the remainder of the summit I had several people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it.
So there you have it. I’ve started speaking. I’m even working on my next abstract.