Speakers Lessons Learned at SQLRally Code Sins


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)
  • Disorganized

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.

Presentation FAIL

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[1]. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Happy days,

Jen McCown


[1] That sentence, by the way, is what inspired the Un-SQL Friday that this is attached to. Yay me.