Few days ago, saw the blog on presentations. As I have been giving many public speaking assignments at SQL Saturdays, the SQL Server Geeks Annual Summit, and at user groups in the last 12 months, I thought of coming up with a detailed article on preparing for presentations. Obviously, there is always more than one way to skin the cat; this article will just share one of them, which I am comfortable with.
Step 1: Pick a topic
Timeline: 3 to 4 months prior to the actual presentation
The choice of a topic plays a huge role in how the presentation shapes up. If one is trying to speak at SQL Saturday or any other big event, try to figure out the taste of the local audience and the organizers. Looking at their past event's session list gives a good idea of their preferences.
After identifying an area (this can be like Indexing / Query Store / Azure) one needs to pick a title and write an abstract.
Outcome of this step: Right Topic
Step 2: Pick a title and write an abstract
Timeline: 3 months prior to the actual session
Title needs to be little catchy, but not too flashy or tacky, giving the audience an idea what to expect out of the session. Before writing the title of the session, one needs to come with a good abstract. Essentials for a good abstract are:
- Abstract needs to have a clear motto and a little story to narrate with a starting and an ending.
- Abstract should define the problem it is attempting to solve.
- Abstract should explain how the feature or concept is going to solve the problem.
- Abstract should define what the audience gets at the end of the session.
- A few hints about any super cool demos that would attract the audience can be added.
All of the above preferably needs to be done within 5 sentences, short, sweet, and crisp
Outcome of this step: Title and Abstract
Step 3: Work on the topic
Timeline: 2 to 3 months prior to the session
One needs to learn as much as possible on the subject. Sources to look for information can be the MSDN site, blogs, TechEd presentations, or other videos. Make sure to keep track of the links referred as they may need to be quoted as references. Learn and test. Again, learn and test; this cycle is repeated many many times.
Once a good understanding on the topic is reached, come up with a screenplay for the original story prepared in the abstract. The screenplay is the flow of the presentation, i.e. which section follows which, showing the order in which the content needs to be narrated. For example, decisions need to me bade, such as whether to explain the problem and then the proposed solution or to introduce the feature and then explain the problems it addresses.
Taking references on the narrative from popular presentations is not a bad idea at all, but be sure to quote them in references and ensure one doesn't copy the actual slide and content.
Outcome of this step: Clear idea on the sections of the presentation. Rough idea on the slide headings and content
Step 4: Slides and preparation
Timeline: 1 month prior to the session
Actual slide preparation is one of the most key parts of a presentation. I tend to follow the below guidelines
- Write the slide sections and come up with just slide headings initially.
- Write just the keywords in the individual slides. Prepare a raw, first draft of the presentation with just text (without any pictures or animations) initially.
- PowerPoint is a visual medium. Convert the draft text presentation with apt pictures, diagrams and animation. Make good use of “smart art” feature in PowerPoint.
- Avoid too much text. No slide should have more than 6 lines and a line shouldn't have more than 4 words.
- Animate each item in the slide to make them appear one by one as you narrate. Never show entire content of the slide at one go. This helps in keeping the listener engaged and prevent the audience from being distracted by the slide instead of concentrating on the speaker.
- Decide the placement of Demos - ie., how many demos and which ones come after which slide.
Outcome of this step: Final Slides.
Step 5: Demos
Timeline: 2 weeks prior to the session
Prepare and test the actual demos. Ensure to get the data that suits the demo. Verify if the examples and scenarios are apt. Number the scripts as shown below in order to make it easier during the actual presentation.
If it is a performance related demo, ensure to test it several times to get the desired result. If you are using a 3rd party tool during demo, ensure to test that too.
Outcome of this step: Working Demos.
Step 6: Practice, Practice, Practice!!!
Timeline: Week to 10 days prior to the session
Rehearse the presentation few times. Work on time management, to ensure to complete within the stipulated time. Always leave 15 minutes of time per hour for Q & A. Initial rehearsals are bound to exceed the session duration. Practice makes one realize where to spend how much time, identify potential pit stops in your presentation. Think about getting the right modulation, key lines and phrases to emphasize etc. Ensure to run the demos in rehearsals, too, as it makes you comfortable with your own scripts.
While the number of rehearsals varies from person to person, I usually get it right after 3 - 4 rounds of practice. Also, don't rehearse the presentation too many times which can make one get bored with one’s own content.
Outcome: All set and ready!!!
The above method listed is my personal method while preparing for presentations and few others may have a different take. Someone that is a lot more experienced speaker may take a much shorter time to complete the same process. For someone who is starting his / her public speaking career in SQL Server (or any other technology too), I hope this article is helpful and gives a few tips in preparing for presentations.