Speaking: In person vs webinars vs recordings

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July 27, 2021 by Kenneth Fisher

I don’t speak all that often. A few times a year for the most part. Because of that I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience but I thought I’d share what experience I do have.

Speaking in person

Given a preference I’d rather speak in person. To be clear, I’ve only ever spoken in the US and at SQL Server specific conferences/user group meetings where I knew a fair number of people.

Preparation: If I’m doing it right (IMO) I’ll go through pieces of the presentation dozens of times individually and the entire presentation at least half a dozen to a dozen times. It helps that I drive an hour+ each way to work and I’ll run through the presentation out loud in the car. There is a bit of anxiety as the time gets closer but nothing unreasonable.
Getting on stage: Now is when I start to really feel it. From the 30 minutes before I get on stage (about) to when I actually start talking there is a nice ebb and flow of panic. Then I get up on the stage and it all goes away. I’m in front of a crowd, what am I going to do, run? No, really, is running ok? And I start to speak. Hopefully at this point I’ve gone through the whole thing often enough that I don’t miss anything major and as questions come in I can fit them easily into the flow of the presentation. The reactions and questions from the crowd can help me adjust as I go (for example spending more or less time on a specific topic) and in general it feels like they are feeding me energy. Now, again, I’ve only spoken in the US and to certain types of crowds so I can’t tell you what it would be like elsewhere.
Post Presentation: This is my favorite part of the whole thing. People come up afterwards, as I’m shutting down and moving off for the next presenter to take my place. We visit, they ask questions or share their own anecdotes. For me this is the biggest payoff for the whole thing.

Webinars

There may be other names for this, but basically, presenting live but not in person. I’ve only done a few of these, and while I’ll probably do more over time they certainly aren’t my favorite.

Preparation: This isn’t really all that different. Lots of repetition. More time spent in front of the computer because I can’t just gesture “over there”. I need to be better at using my mouse to control the presentation (would you believe I’m more comfortable with the clicker?) and presentation tools like Zoomit are going to be even more important. Although, obviously, demonstrations are actually easier in this format.
Connecting: The panic here is even stronger than when I’m in person. I’m set up way in advance since I’m not replacing anyone on the stage, and I don’t have to move out of the way afterwards for the next person. On the other hand my internet connection from home has frequently been less than stable so lots of extra stress there. Not to mention my level of familiarity with whatever tool is being used could be anywhere from complete novice to somewhat experienced. And of course technical failures on the other end are always a possibility.
Interactions: When I’m doing a presentation in person I can see how people are reacting. I can look them in the eye. If people are confused I can expand, if they are board I can move a bit faster, that kind of thing. I love asking questions during my presentations and try to have a few fun surprises as I go along. With a webinar I’m working blind.
Moderators and Questions: I’ve only ever done these with a moderator and in my opinion they are almost essential. I don’t have the ability to split my attention to questions coming in or technical issues outside of my own machine and still give my best presentation. Having someone else handle all of that is a huge relief. Depending on the format sometimes I’ll get questions coming in during the presentation, which since I’m not watching the chat means that the moderator has to verbally read them to me. This is probably a benefit since I know everyone has heard the question. I try to remember to repeat questions when I’m doing a presentation live, but I don’t always.
Afterwards: Once I’m done I’ll answer whatever questions are left and it’s over. I shut down my machine and walk away. This is a major letdown in a lot of ways. I have any left over adrenalin going through me and nothing to do with it. I end up pacing for a while and sometimes even

Recorded presentations

Preparation: I’ve only done this the one time so far so I’m going to talk more about how I feel like I should have prepared than how I did (although the two aren’t all that different). First of all I needed to make sure the presentation is ready. In this case that still involves a lot of practice but less practice doing the whole thing at once and more on the individual pieces. I’m probably not going to record the thing in a single shot so that’s less important. I still want to do at least a few full runs because sometimes I move chunks of my presentation around based on how they feel together. Next I need to decide on the recording software, make sure I have it installed and that I’m familiar with it. I used Camtasia and probably will continue to do so in the future because I have a license, I like the software, and I’m familiar with it.
Recording: I recorded each piece of the presentation and then stitched them together. As I did the pieces I did each of the following on at least a few of the bits.

  • Record it and it just works. No need for editing.
  • Record it, trash it, and start over, sometimes after several more practice attempts.
  • Record it, separate out the audio and the video then re-do one or the other (usually the audio).
    • If I’m re-doing the audio I play the video and narrate.
    • If I’m re-doing the video I play the audio and treat it as a demo.
    • Either of the above may involve cutting pieces out and/or stretching/shrinking sections.

I spent multiple days working on this non-stop, right up until the deadline. No, really. I submitted it about an hour before the deadline. And the only reason I left an hour was because I was certain something was going to go wrong with the upload. I felt more stress doing this recording than I’d felt in any other presentation, or before, or after any presentation.
After the recording, but before the presentation: Nightmares. Seriously. I had a fair number of nightmares during the weeks between when I’d finished and submitted the presentation and when it was shown. I think it was because I kept thinking of things that I could have, should have improved. It was terrible, it was going to flop, and I couldn’t do anything about it at this point! It’s that last bit that was the issue. Normally I think of something that needs to be changed and I can change it, even during the presentation. I can alter, tailor etc. Not this time though. It was fixed in place.
Interactions, moderators, and questions: The one time I did this I was the moderator, which kind of makes sense since the session was recorded. I answered a few questions during the presentation but just online. Obviously I wasn’t going to just stop the presentation in order to answer a question. The main Q&A part came at the end. It went well, there were lots of great comments and questions and this was actually a lot closer to speaking in person than the normal webinar. Not perfect, but not bad at all.
Afterward: And when it was done, I collapsed in exhaustion. I wasn’t really up to speaking that one time so energy was a bit sparse. It probably tainted the whole thing a bit but over all it went well and I was pleased.

Summary

As I said above I far prefer doing presentations in person. On the other hand my feelings almost always follow this pattern regardless of the type of presentation.

  • Preparation: This is pretty cool. I’m enjoying this.
  • The days before: I love giving presentations!
  • The hours before: What the heck have I done! I hate giving presentations!
  • Right after: This is where it really depends on the type of presentation. It kind of ranges.
  • The next few weeks: Not sure I want to do this anymore.
  • A month or so later: Hmm .. where should I submit to next?

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