SirSQL made a rather stirring post recently. He talked about a speaker buddy system to help out new speakers in our community that are trying to make the jump to a SQL Saturday or any larger event. I think it's a fantastic idea. He brought on a story of a girl named Anna who felt so put off by her experience that she'll never speak again. Anna was made up for his post to emphasize his point. I'm going to add a personal story to this as well.
I've been helping with SQL Saturdays in OKC, OK for going on 4 years. I decided to get into speaking this year. I haven't given a presentation or had any face time in front of a large group (3+ people) since high school.My first presentation was at our local user group. They gave great feedback and gave me some great pointers. My second one was in Tulsa's local user group. Great people, great presentation and useful feedback. 3 days after that, me and my wife drove down to Houston's SQL Saturday and I gave my first presentation at a SQL Saturday.
I noticed a few things that I hadn't before. I've been to multiple SQL Saturdays in various states. I've helped presenters who struggled figuring out how that school or building sets up their projection system. I've seen speakers and people in general that were lost to where they're supposed to go. I've seen presenters rushing in the crowd with the rest of us trying to get to a room on time. The difference for them is that they still need to sit down, set up, check that the presentation view or demo comes over correctly and calm down for the presentation.
When I sat behind the desk for my first SQL Saturday, I had to figure out what strange settings and controls their presentation setup had. I have no clue why it seems like every school and conference center insists on having a completely different presentation setup. I digress. I was a bit familiar with the drill. I got in the room, started setting up immediately, checked the screens and just waited. I was excited, nervous and a bit on edge to see how many people came in the room and what sort of questions I'd get.
I had 4 people show up. One was a couple who stared at their phones the entire time. My presentation went a bit faster than it should have since I had no audience to get some back and forth with. I was not prepared for a 4 person silent room. I had one question that was related to but off the main topic and in an area I'm not 100% familiar with. If that had been my first interaction with SQL Saturdays, it would have been my last. I had driven 9 hours down on my weekend to stand in front of 4 people to give a quick nervous presentation and not be able to answer the one question asked, even if it was off topic.
I would have loved to have someone in there that's done this a few times. They might have been able to stir a few questions out and help me see how to spin up a crowd. They could have given me some advice on what I did wrong or right. If I hadn't worked with a dozen or so different projection setups in the past, they would have been extremely useful in helping me not stress over hooking up a screen.
Now, I know that's not how all SQL Saturdays are. Very few actually end up like that. I know my topic is a bit strange anyways. I've signed up to speak and 5 locations this year. Houston, Baton Rouge, OKC, Kansas City and St. Louis. I've been accepted to the first 4 and St. Louis hasn't closed yet. I plan on treating each and every one of these as my first event. I think a first time speaker buddy system is a fantastic idea. I hope it catches on quickly.