I was very happy on Friday morning to open my email and find an invitation from SQL Saturday Cambridge organiser Mark Broadbent (blog|twitter) offering me a speaker slot at the event. Accepting the offer didn’t really require much thinking about, not the sort of offer you turn down.
So I know where I’ll be on the 28th September 2013; Queens College, Cambridge. I’ll be talking about using PowerShell to Automate your SQL Server backups and Restores, offering you some ideas about to offload some of the more monotonous bits of a DBAs job and how to ensure you can sleep soundly knowing your backups are good, and you’ll be able to prove it.
Looking at the ‘leaked’ news on the Friday’s PreCons on the event’s Facebook page, I may well head down for one of those as well. Looking like another SQL Saturday event to me
The session will be about how I’m using PowerShell to manage awkward backup scheduling (instances with hundreds of databases), performing automated restores to test those backups, and then to verify the restored database. With all of this being logged somewhere to keep the auditors happy.
This is the story of how I cam to love presenting, how we went through a rocky patch, but patched it up in the end.
Years ago I was getting swamped by work. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be another call coming in, another request for something to be done, another bit of housekeeping that was begging to get done, all of it landing on me and swamping me. End result,an unhappy DBA who didn’t feel as though he was developing any new skills or progressing his career.
Then I realised, hang on I’m part of a team, why aren’t we sharing? So at a rare team meeting I asked around, and it turned out we all felt the same. While we all wrote our mandated documentation, no one really felt they could delve into some else’s domain. So we decided the best way was to do presentations across the team, cross training each other into our areas.
This was a revelation. Suddenly people were interested in helping out, documentation didn’t seem quite so much of a chore as there was a real point to it. Team meetings changed from a dull routine to satisfy management into something to look forward to as a chance to learn something new. Everyone in the team learnt some new skills, and we became a much more efficient and cohesive team. And because we were efficient we had more time to learn new things for ourselves, so everyone was a winner. And I discovered I loved presenting. Seeing the light break as someone grasped a new concept, having to approach things from a different angle, having to break down concepts to there simplest levels to make sure I understood them; all of this was great
But soon the shine wore off a bit. We’d passed on all the work related information, and the excitement of presenting had warn off a bit as I knew my audience to well. With every presentation I knew the level to target, and even the best way to address a topic to specific team members. So me and my presenting stumbled around in the doldrums for a bit. I’d occasionally get excited when I learnt something new to me, but the thrill just wasn’t there anymore…..
I’d been attending SQL User groups for a year or so, and loved seeing some of the top SQL Server gurus from around the world presenting to small groups and having to deal with such a wide range of audience knowledge and engagement. I mean, only a short slot to present something technical, to a group you’ve never met, when you’ve no idea if there’s going to be an expert in the crowd ready to pick you up on something, where there could be a large section who have no interest in your topic but you still need to win them over, this looked like just my sort of gig.
I’ve now presented at 2 SQL Server user groups. And each time I got that same feeling from years ago. The flame is back, and I’m constantly thinking about how to improve my presentations, or how I can build one out of things I’m currently working on. I’m also paying more attention to speakers presenting skills than I did before, trying to work out if there’s anything I could ‘borrow’ to improve my skills. And I dig deeper into topics, because I want to be able to explain each oddity, or be ready for the off kilter question from the audience.
In fact most of my training for the coming year is based around becoming a better presenter and teacher. I want to do more User group presentations, have submitted to a couple of SQL Saturday events, and want to try to do some of the larger conferences next year. I’m also working on an MCT, and am even considering taking some speaking classes
So go on, get up on the stage. Presenting, whether to colleagues or a User Group could be just what you need to perk up your career or rekindle your passion for your job.
While picking up new technical skills is the main reason for attending SQL Server events like User Groups and SQL Saturdays, there’s also another very good reason for attending. Watching some of the presenters just present is of great value.
All the speakers are obviously technically very good, but what really separates them from the other technical people present is their presentation styles. There’s a wide range on display, from the ultra focused business style talking about career enhancement to the enthusiastic geek motivator who’s all about getting you fired up about the newest tech.
But even with the difference overall feel, there’s still some common points that I aim to always incorporate into my presentations:
Be prepared. They make it look pretty effortless as they turn up and go. But that’s down to have rehearsed and practiced the material, and knowing they have a backup should anything go wrong
Engage with the audience. There isn’t a feeling of “you’ll sit there and watch and listen for the next 45 minutes”. They try to get the audience to interact with the material and think about how it would work for them
Time Management. They have the time built in to answer questions on the fly, but also know where they are in the presentation so they can politely say ‘talk later’ if they’re running behind. And from watching them do the same presentation to multiple audiences they also know how to extend it if noone’s asking questions.
Clear, easy to read materials. Slides aren’t cluttered with logos or fancy backgrounds. And occasionally handouts for frequently referenced info, this is a great idea, and makes it easy to take something away at the end.
So that’s just 4 quick and easy things to incorporate into your own presenting then! But in my opinion they all tie together, and the main thing you can do to bring them out is PRACTICE.
I’m sure my cats know more about SQL Server then any other cats on the planet, but they do insist on sitting there watching me present to no one with slides on the wall of the home office. Luckily my wife will also put up with me doing it, and in fact will often be a source of good feedback. As a non technical person, if she feels she’s sort of following the plot I’ve got the level right.
And it’s very rare that I’ll give the same presentation twice. Each time I present something I try to get feedback (and really appreciate it being given) and then use that to feed back for the next presentation.