I Spoke at SQLSat (and I Liked It)

That is the first and last Katy Perry reference you will find on this blog or anywhere else in my life.

Last weekend I spoke at the 4th edition of my “home” SQL Saturday, SQL Saturday #383. This was the end of a path that started four years ago, and the beginning of an exciting new one.

About four years ago, I was introduced to PASS. It didn’t take long for people to start talking to me about public speaking. I went to my first-ever SQL Saturday, and kept thinking to myself “I could never do that.” Then I was given the opportunity to attend PASS Summit 2012 and was hooked on the PASS community – SQL Family. I stepped onto the floor at the convention center and felt comfortable immediately. I think my exact words when I called home that evening were “I’m home. I found my people.” Mid-Summit, in a 10-minute conversation with a chapter leader, I was told “you should speak at one of my user group meetings.”

But I have nothing to talk about. I’m terrified of public speaking. I’ve only ever done it in a classroom, in college or high school and I hated it. It terrified me. And I’m not an expert on anything. Well…maybe. Someday. A long time from now.

Time passed. I got involved with my local PASS chapter, got heavily involved with our annual SQL Saturday events, and got to know (or at least meet) more people in the SQL Server community. And I kept hearing the question “so when are you going to start speaking?”

But I have nothing to talk about. I’m not a speaker. I don’t have the polish that all these people on stage at Summit or in the front of the room at SQL Saturday have. I’m not even a DBA!

In 2014, one of my professional development goals at work was to give at least two presentations. I pretty much didn’t have a choice now, I had to get up in front of a crowd. So I wrote & delivered two sessions:

  • An introduction to PowerShell. Adoption of PowerShell had been slow in my office and I wanted to demonstrate how it could benefit the entire IT department. This wasn’t targeted at any particular job role; I was addressing the whole department.
  • A demo of SQL Sentry Performance Advisor & Event Monitor. We’ve been using this software for a few years now and I’ve spent quite a bit of time getting comfortable with these two portions of it, mostly in the course of figuring out why our systems were running poorly.

I was starting to get a bit more relaxed about talking in front of people. But this was a comfortable environment – I knew everyone in the room. That summer, I attended Mark Vaillancourt’s (b | t) session DANGER! The Art and Science of Presenting at SQL Saturday Albany, looking to fill in some gaps and figure out how to put myself at ease in less familiar territory.

Well, maybe I can put together a beginner-level session.

In February 2015, I attended SQL Saturday Cleveland. One of my goals for the day was to catch beginner-level sessions. I wanted to study the type and depth of the material, as well as how it was presented. Late in the day I had my breakthrough moment. The room was completely packed and the crowd was hanging on the presenter’s every word. I finally had a grasp of how to tailor a topic to a “beginner” audience.

I don’t have to put on a flashy show with 20 different advanced features and techniques. There’s room for the basics because there are always people who are new to this stuff and they want sessions too!

That same month, we needed a a speaker for our chapter meeting and rather than find someone to do a remote presentation, I decided to dust off my PowerShell talk from work, retool it for a DBA crowd, and go for it. It went pretty well, and the next week I took the plunge. I wrote up an abstract and submitted for SQL Saturday.

Pressing this button is one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done. Deep breath…go.

At the chapter meeting, I’d gone over 90 minutes with my slides and demos. At SQL Saturday, I’d only have 60. I had my work cut out for me. I spent April tweaking and tuning my slide deck, honing my demos. I felt like I had a pretty solid setup. The Sunday before SQL Saturday, I sent myself to the basement and started rehearsing my presentation. I went 48 minutes. Without demos or questions from an audience (proving that cats don’t care about PowerShell).

Hard stop at 60 minutes. What can I cut? Where did I waste time? Am I speaking too slowly?

Every night that week I was in the basement, running through my presentation and demos. I got myself to 55 minutes for the whole package.

That’ll have to do. If I get questions mid-session, I’ll just drop a demo or two to make up the time.

I arrived home from the speaker dinner Friday night and did one last run through my deck. I had just redone one of my big slides Thursday night. Friday was a terrible run, but it was getting late. I had 38 minutes on the slides themselves.

Saturday morning, I awoke at 6 and my brain was already in overdrive; on a scale of one to ten, I was at an eleven. I fired up my Azure VMs so they’d be ready well ahead of time and hit the road for RIT. I found my room (I was speaking in the first slot) and got myself set up. I wanted to check and re-check everything. I was not about to let a technical problem take me down.

That settled, I milled around a bit and as 8:15 arrived, I found myself escalating from 11 to 15. People started filtering into the room and I tried to chat with them a bit as I’d read about doing so in Grant Fritchey’s (b | t) most recent Speaker of the Month post. That helped calm me down a bit.

8:30. Showtime. Breathe.

I feel like I fumbled a little bit on my intro (before I even got off my title slide), but by the time I hit my 3rd slide, a calm fell over me. I got out of my head and cruised through the material. It seemed like it was going smoother than any of my rehearsals. I wasn’t relying on my written notes. I got a couple chuckles out of the audience before I reached my demos. As I returned to the keyboard, I glanced at the clock.

What? 9:00? I burned through my slides in 30 minutes and I’d planned for close to 40. Am I speaking that quickly? Did I stumble that much when I practiced?

Fortunately, I’d set up my demos in preparation for such an event. I had a set of “must do” demos, and then a bunch of alternates which I could bring in to fill some time. I got through my demos, answered the lone question I was asked, and wrapped up right on time.

As people filtered out of the room and I started packing up, an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was done. I survived. And scanning through the feedback, it looked like I did an OK job. Reading through it later, I saw a few notes that meshed with things I was thinking during the session, and I will definitely take into consideration for the next time.

Yes, the next time. I’m doing this again. I’m hooked.

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3 thoughts on “I Spoke at SQLSat (and I Liked It)

  1. ScaryDBA 2015-05-22 / 09:30

    To quote John McClane: Welcome to the party pal!

    Well done. Have fun.

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