This is my contribution to UnSQL Friday #004: Speaker Lessons Learned.
I got my SQLRally session evaluation back last week. I’d given my Code Sins session, and got 84 (that’s eight-four!!!) evals back. Overall I got very high marks: a session average of 4.648 out of 5, which is 93%. I got an A!
The eval comments are very, very interesting. I’ve spoken enough now to know that in any group of evals – unless you gave an absolutely sucktastic session - you’re going to have mostly positive reviews, and just a handful of outliers that (1) didn’t think you did a good job, (2) thought the session too simple, (3) thought the session was to in-depth, and/or (4) thought the abstract didn’t match the content.
For this session, out of 62 comments, half were critiques and suggestions. That’s a big uh-oh. First, though, let’s look at the bright side…the positive comments mostly came down to:
- Very entertaining / funny
- Very informative / helpful / interesting
To that I say: thanks, guys. I really do try to be those things: entertaining and informative. The negatives can be summed up as follows:
- Too dogmatic / opinionated
- Too generic (I liked this one: “I need deeper sins.”)
- Too short / fast / too much time for horror stories (this was audience sharing time)
Now, to “dogmatic and opinionated”, I have to say well, it’s kind of the point. I put together a session about the things I feel very strongly about, the things I’ve seen do the most damage in production environments. So perhaps I can work on tone, but I seriously doubt I can actually be less opinionated. I appreciate your feedback, though.
To the rest, I say: You’re completely right. Completely and absolutely right.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, Dear Reader: I was very disappointed in my Code Sins session at SQLRally. On the plus side, I kept the session going, managed the crowd well, entertained, and shared. I didn’t swear or break anything or run off the stage crying, and that’s always a good thing (am I right, Brent?).
BUT they’re right: the session was short, ended much too soon (and with far too much Sharing Time), and I was disorganized. Here’s what happened…
Code Sins is the first session I ever wrote and presented. It’s the one I’ve given the most often, and it’s the most fun to give – and so I’ve heard, to attend. In short, I’m fairly comfortable with it. As it turns out, I’m too comfortable. I didn’t do my usual full runthroughs in the days leading up to the Rally, and I spent too much time tweaking the early demos. When I made it around to my later demos during the session itself, I realized I had the wrong SSMS project open…the one where I hadn’t added all the scripts back yet. In short: monumental FAIL on my part.
I was able to pull a couple more of the demos out of the folder where I keep all that sort of thing, and simply talk through the rest of my slide deck, but it left me ridiculously long on time. So we went into share-and-enjoy mode, knowing full well that the session wasn’t what it was supposed to be.
I suspect that every speaker has at least one monumental FAIL story. This is most definitely mine. So how did I feel? I felt absolutely horrible. I called the hubby and explained how I’d just given the most disappointing presentation in my speaking career. I also knew that I’d get over that, and there would be lessons to learn from this. Apparently, this finally qualifies me as a grown-up.
So, here are my lessons learned:
- Always-always-ALWAYS do your full runthroughs, starting a minimum of three days (but better yet, a week) prior to the session. And BTW, it’s best to tape these and rewatch them to see how you come across.
- If you know there are demo or slide deck tweaks to be done, start them a minimum of two weeks (better four+) prior to the session.
- Have extra session material ready. You never know when you’re going to rush through everything and be left standing with a laser pointer and nothing to say.
I’m actually glad I had a session like this. It’s the hard way to learn (rather, relearn) these lessons, but it has also shown me my strengths. A for effort, me.