I should be writing a technical post in the next day or so. I've been focusing more on the community and professional development side because that's what is foremost in my mind right now. And that brings me to public speaking. I will admit that I've had a lot of experience being in front of a group of folks. You can go back to my days at The Citadel as a reason for that. My sophomore year, I participated in a group called C.A.D.R.E., which was a take-off of the cadre, the upper-classmen responsible for training the incoming freshmen each year (I did that, too, as a junior). C.A.D.R.E. stood for Citadel Alcohol Drug and Resource Educators and our primary responsibility was to provide education on alcohol and drug prevention. The Citadel had been smacked around with some public incidents where cadets had imbibed and then done something that made the newspaper. Hence the formation of C.A.D.R.E. But we quickly evolved into a drug/alcohol prevention group for the schools around Charleston than so much for The Citadel. I gave one presentation at The Citadel and one more at College of Charleston, but the bulk of my work was out in the public and private schools from 1st grade through 12th. And some of those were hostile crowds, for obvious reasons. But I really learned that speaking in front of a crowd was a learned skill. And because of some personal background having seen alcohol abuse first hand, I wanted to do everything I could to ensure these kids didn't follow down that same destructive path, even if I had only 30 minutes with them. So I forced myself to stay in there, to practice, to understand what it took to reach the various age groups, and to communicate clearly that I cared. As a result, I got better and got better in a hurry.
Since then I've taught Sunday School, led youth group, preached, and a lot of that on at least a several times a week basis. So I'm constantly in practice, if you want to look at it that way. I've got to be. The ministry I feel I've been called to is just as important to me as C.A.D.R.E. was back in my Citadel days. But you know what? I knew I could do better. Enter Toastmasters. Toastmasters has been around for a while (since 1924). And its purpose is to help people overcome their fear of public speaking and to become better at it. My organization has a private Toastmasters club, so I decided one day to join up. I realized quite quickly that there is an organized plan of development both as a speaker (through the Competent Communicator track) and as a meeting facilitator (through the Competent Leader track). To become a Compentent Communicator, you must give ten introductory speeches. Each speech is critiqued by an evaluator. That evaluator's job is to tell you what you did well and give you a suggestion or two (in a gentle, affirming way) for further improvement. For those new to Toastmasters, you should be assigned a mentor who is supposed to help you prep for your first few speeches, assist you in the first several meetings you attend, and get you ready for any roles you may take on at a given meeting. In other words, it's built around training everyone to be better at speaking and interacting in public.
In the SQL Server community there are a lot of smart folks out there. I've run across a few who, in one-on-one interactions, you learn quite a bit about how much they know about a given subject. But they are afraid to get in front of a user group or submit an abstract for something like the PASS Summit to present. If you are one of those people, I would urge you to take a look at Toastmasters. We need your experience in the community. We would love to interact with you and exchange ideas, tips, tricks, and knowledge. You are a valuable resource to others around you. Just as valuable as any of us you see doing presentations all the time. And truth be told, I get nervous before a presentation, too. That's natural. But I believe in what I'm doing, I care about the folks I'm speaking to, and that helps me overcome my fears. The community has been awesome to me, giving me opportunities I would never have dreamed of when I started to get involved with SQL Server a little over ten years ago. And so I feel compelled to give back in any way I can. It's the least I can do for so many folks who have taken the time to help me learn, grow, and gain experience. Hopefully, you feel the same way and you just need a little push in the right direction. Toastmasters can give that push, in a very positive way. So if you've not checked out Toastmasters, hit the site, look for a few clubs near you that fit your schedule and give them a try. At least one (I know several Toastmasters who are members of multiple clubs) should be the right place for you: