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Gaining Speaker Experience Credentials

One of the things I saw on Twitter yesterday was several folks saying their abstract submissions had been turned down because a lack of speaking experience credentials. I know that feeling. And even if you're professional speaker quality, you've still got to "pay the dues." I remember the first time I submitted for the PASS Summit and was turned down on all abstracts. I looked at my speaking credentials. They were:

  • Trained and worked as a drug/alcohol prevention specialist.
  • Taught (and still teach) Sunday school every week
  • Preach on occasion (fill-in... this isn't my primary role where I serve, nor do I want it to be)
  • Lead children's / youth ministry groups
  • Mentor for my department (DBAs)

Only one of those speaks to anything technical, and that's the last one. But that's a small, friendly audience and there is no public feedback of how I did. While the others imply that I might have some speaking skills, there was no way for the selection committee to get a reasonable idea of how I might do presenting a SQL Server-related topic. And that's really the key. They want to see a body of work that gives them a better feeling that you're going to do a good job. They don't want to set up anyone to fail. That's counter-productive. It makes the presenter look bad, it wastes the time of folks who attended the presentation, and it makes the selection committee look like a bunch of fools. If for no other reason other than self-preservation (that last reason), they'll try to do look for folks with enough speaking credentials to give them a comfort level. That's reality.

So if you're on the wrong side of that line, how do you change that? You look for opportunities which welcome new speakers. Opportunities like:

Not enough around you within your travel limits? Consider speaking virtually via:

When you can, ensure at least one person whom you can trust to give you honest feedback is at a session where you present. Listen to that feedback. Take it constructively. Improve your presentation accordingly.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by jcrawf02 on 16 June 2011

Did you see Buck Woody's post about speaker evals? Curious on your thoughts there. I think his version would help someone gain much more from whatever experience they did have (sqlblog.com/.../session-evaluations.aspx)

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 16 June 2011

I saw them. I tend to agree that the numbers don't mean a whole lot. How best to go about it is a good question and I think his proposal for getting quality feedback is the best I've seen short of that trusted set of ears.

Posted by Steve Jones on 16 June 2011

Excellent post. There are plenty of places where you can practice. For a high $$ event like the Summit, or even Dev Connections, I think it might even make sense to require regular sessions to have been presented at a user group or SQL Saturday.

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 16 June 2011

Excellent post.  Great advice.

Posted by Kendal Van Dyke on 16 June 2011

Good post. Adding to the list, there's SQLRally as a stepping stone between UGs & SQLSaturdays and the Summit. A lot of people who have done one or two SQLSaturdays benefit from having that as a step up to a larger audience without the pressure of feeling like you have to deliver for people who paid thousands of dollars to be there.

There's also code camps - not the traditional SQL centric event most of us think of but most have a SQL track that you can submit for.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 18 June 2011

Excellent post.

Don't forget about the local .NET user groups or even SharePoint or CRM user groups. They all run on or with SQL Server and would appreciate a good session on the right topics.

Posted by Merrill Aldrich on 21 June 2011

Suggest that next year Pass simply change the session submission form so that there's a section "Required Speaking Experience" with checkboxes "SQL Saturday" "SQL Rally" "SQLLunch" "Pass Summit." If that's the dues-paying that is specifically required, why not just say so and save everyone, submitters and submittees, a lot of trouble?

Posted by GilaMonster on 22 June 2011

Because those aren't specifically required. When I first spoke at PASS Summit, I'd done usergroup and TechEd sessions. Even now, I've never done any of your list but SQLSat.

Brian's saying those are good places to gain experience and exposure, not that they have to be done.

Posted by Merrill Aldrich on 22 June 2011

OK, I didn't list *every* SQL community checkbox in my example. What I meant was, if speaking experience elsewhere is not considered in the selection process, and the committee wants to see that you have spoken specifically at venue x, y or x, it would be helpful if they would just say so.

I was a university lecturer, for example, and my previous employer flew me all over the world to train teams on software. I've been teaching software for over 15 years. I landed in the "not enough experience" pile, which was funny - I could be faulted for many things, but that was the first time anyone has said I lacked speaking experience. Between the lines I can see that they just expected to see particular events, and I would not have bothered to submit if that were simply a stated requirement, which would then have saved someone the trouble of reading my abstract, etc.

Posted by Andy Warren on 29 June 2011

I've been working for years to get a farm club/hierarchy in place to grow and test speakers. No one should be giving a presentation for the first time at a national/expensive event. If it's non-technical it may have been at other venues, but still tested and proven, at least to the extent that we can see. If we can get the speaker bureau project done it will make it a lot easier to see on both sides where you stand, how you're rated, etc.

The farm club is important. WE have to grow new speakers. WE need new ideas, need to make the people at the top keep working if they want to stay on top.

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