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T-SQL #41 - Presenting and Loving It!

TSQL#41

As I was exploring the twitter verse, I came across a post with the invitation to this week’s TSQL Tuesday #41, and immediately thought what a great topic, which is “Presenting and Loving it!”  I totally thought about some of my first presentations and how I’ve come a long way since the early days, which honestly, was only a few years ago.  So, I’ll troll down memory lane a bit and thank this month’s hoster, Bob Pusateri (blog|twitter) aka SQLBob.  Bob is a SQL Server DBA in the financial trading industry. He is a blogger, presenter, and all-around data geek. – Our kind of SQL guy!

So, in the spirit of this on-going thing of ours, otherwise known as the monthly blog party called TSQL Tuesday, started way back when, by SQL MVP Adam Machanic,  let’s get to it.  Hey, I probably never even thought that I would be presenting at regular user groups, SQLSaturdays and other events then.

Now of course, I’ve given PowerPoint presentations in front of corporate colleagues, CTO’s, VPs, project managers,  and DBA dudes.  And of course I did some end-client training and demos of various proposals, processes and POCs.

Nonetheless, I’d say my presentation skills is a work in progress, and I’m consistently trying ways to improve them.  Far from a perfect presenter, I humbly accept feedback from my audience and friends as constructive criticism.  It’s part of what makes you a better presenter.

Now, maybe I’m being humble, but I am happy to report my last presentation that I did at SQLSaturday #184, I received a majority of 4’s and 5’s on a scale of 1-5. Of course there’s always one or two curmudgeons in the bunch – to be expected.  I would say, if you can, find out exactly what they were not happy about.  It could just be they are just miserable folks, they thought they were going to learn about something else, there was just no room in the session next door, or maybe they were just killing time until the raffle.  Or, maybe, legitimately, they liked the topic title, and expected a more advanced deep-dive than they thought they would get.

In addition, you always must keep in mind, just because you’re the presenter, doesn’t mean you’re the smartest guy in the room.  In some case, there always be that techno geek that knows something you don’t (even about your own topic) and he wants to show everybody this.  Don’t get rattled.  Feel free to invite that smarty-pants right up to center stage and have him demo or explain what he’s talking about.  Otherwise, just thank him for setting you straight, make a note, and move on.

Let me go back in time a bit to one of my early presentations that I did for the NJ SQL User Group.  During that time, I was fascinated with reading the transaction log, and to interpret the actual Inserted, Updated and Deleted records, as well as recover the data. I did quite a heavy deep-dive presentation on database forensics called “Who Did It and Ran 

Ah the days of Big and Little Endian, which led me to post a DB Audit challenge on translating the Hexadecimal output.  As noted by the winner, “This was a deeper dive into the transaction log than I’ve ever done before; the hexadecimal conversions threw me for a little bit until I found the endian references.

One of the things I learned the hard way was to have all your scripts and demos all pre-planned and ready to go.  I practiced this a dozen times before, so why would I have a problem doing it in front of an audience.  I did have the script prepared, but I should have had the dummy input ready as well.  Since, I didn’t, there I was standing in front of about 80-100 folks in a big room with me the center of attention behind a podium.  Boy, those lights sure are shiny, and well, can someone please open the window, it was getting warmer in there!  So, quiet, only the frantic tapping of the keyboard could be heard. But hey, give me a break; I was manually converting hexadecimal data that even would have made Rain Man’s head spin!

And then, out of a scene reminiscent from an episode of SpongeBob – anyone remember when Spongebob thought he got the promoted to manager, and he didn’t, but there he was standing on stage thanking his boss for the promo?   Mr. Krabs comes to the podium and whispers in his ear, as Spongebob is repeating it on the open mike, “Boy you didn’t make manager; you’re embarrassing and making a fool out of yourself, you’re repeating everything I say into the microphone”

Where was I, oh!  So, one of the user group peeps come up and starts whispering, “you gotta wrap it up, you’re going over time….”  Not a classic moment, but at least there were no trap doors on stage to open up and swallow me whole.  But now that I think about it that would have been a memorable exit!

The main goal of my presentations, as I have one of my first slides in all my presentations is that my #1 goal is to share my knowledge and experience with you, the audience.

My second goal, even if not stated, is as I do in many of my blogs, is making SQL entertaining.  And I often do this with visual and musical enhancements.  No, I don’t make a Broadway production out of it, but I do try to make it fun.  For example, you want to get your audience to interact with you as much as possible.  Through one of my presentations, I do this with my end of session wrap Jeopardy Quiz!  Yes, I have the musical intro “THIS IS JEOPARDY”, and increasingly more difficult questions as the amount we’re playing for gets larger.  And do not forget to put the answer in the form of a question!  Don’t want to give too much away, because, well now, it’s not much of a surprise anymore.

Suffice to say, I’ve increasingly been enjoying presenting more and more.  With each presentation topic, I learn more and more myself about SQL Server.  In fact, I often submit an abstract with a topic I’m very interested in, but NOT an expert on.  This challenges me to learn all I can on the subject, because, I will be turning it around and teaching all of you about it.

One interesting presentation that I did back in New York, during the Microsoft Special-Ops tour, was about the Evolution of DR.  Mr. Dandy Weyn (blog|twitter), aka the Belgian, (Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft) a consummate, confident and excellent speaker was getting us prepped and made us rehearse our presentations beforehand.  This was a great exercise in organizing the event better – but I have to say, when it was really show time, I, as well as my co-presenters, were a whole lot more natural, relaxed and even better than at rehearsal.

Not everyone can say this, but for some reason, when you know you’re in front of a real audience, and all eyes are focused on you, I do a lot better.  Many people are the opposite, and freeze up.  In that case, just image the audience in their underwear. LOL.

One great tip that Dandy gave us, was, if you get nervous, use the podium as your comfort zone.  Just hold on to the sides and you’ll be in control.  And, as I found out, this is the case. 

Fortunately, when I am comfortable with the topic, I do like to walk around to either side of the audience.  I figure, if I stand around in one place, folks may fall asleep, but if you’re watching the presenter trek back and forth, you’re more engaged.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

The night before, I print out my slide notes, and take them with me just in case.  But most of the time, when the session is on, I rarely even bother looking at them.  And really, if you need to, it’s not a big deal to look at a reference.  Just say “And there was one more important thing I wanted to talk about….”

Oh, and there’s one more important thing I wanted to talk about.  :-P.  Even when you’re all prepped, timed out and ready to rock and roll, you can’t avoid the uncontrollable unforeseen events that can sometimes occur.  These gremlins and snafus (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up) can occur without warning (like the infamous Blue Screen with Bill Gates rolling out its new fault tolerant version of Windows 98 :-)

When these things occur, it’s all about how you handle them.  I just try to take it in stride.  Roll with the punches – it can happen to anyone!  I often  just make fun of it myself.  For example, when I did SQL Inspire NYC back in 2011, you’d never know from the final cut (my live presentation is online), that I had to fight the gremlins and keep moving forward.  This included, but not limited to, power failure/reboot, magical moving screens up and down, and building test of alarms.  I’m sure those of you who were there, and reading this, are cracking up hysterically right now!  Andy Leonard (blog|twitter) actually, a chicken psychic that he is, told me after, he purposely scheduled me in the first slot to weed out all the technical unknowns for the rest of the speakers.  Gee, thanks Andy!  But I did honorably take one for the team.

In conclusion, seems I wrote a whole bunch here, I really do enjoy presenting.  Which is why when I saw the topic, I was really elated.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still stressful in anticipation of getting up in front of a live audience.  And I still get nervous.  But, it’s all par for the course!  Let’s just say don’t let that evolutionary instinctual fear DNA, get in the way of a good presentation.  Just because our ancestors were running for their lives away from the dinosaurs, doesn’t mean we have to.

SQLBob, sir!  That is all!  Thank you brother, for hosting this month’s T-SQL Tuesday.  I am glad to be able to participate.

If any of you are still interested in joining this blog party, make note of the rules of the road:

Required:

Your post must be published between 00:00 GMT Tuesday April 9, 2013 and 00:00 GMT Wednesday April 10, 2013.
- Your post must contain the T-SQL Tuesday logo at the top (see above) and the image must link back to the original blog post invitation.
- Trackbacks should work, but if not please put a link to your post in the comments section so everyone can see your contribution!

Optional:

- Include “T-SQL Tuesday #41? in your blog post’s title.
- Tweet about your post using the #tsql2sday hashtag.

Look forward to seeing you all at my next presentation!  Stay bookmarked at the PearlKnows blog for my scheduled appearances!  You can follow me on twitter @Pearlknows

 

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