T-SQL Tuesday #84 : So You Want To Present A Session
Speaking has always been near and dear to my heart. I majored in Communication in college – public speaking is just a part of that, but I did have to give a lot of speeches. I served in a community service organization which provided lots of opportunities to speak. Speaking on technical subjects lets me tie in my other love, which is teaching.
Now to be completely clear – speaking isn't for everyone. While public speaking isn't actually the biggest fear, being afraid of being embarrassed while speaking has to be up there pretty high. So first think about whether this is something that you want to do. It's completely doable, but it's a process and you should spend your time on things that benefit you. While I believe that everyone is capable of presenting, there are plenty of other ways to give back to the SQL community.
Last year I wrote a blog post named The Years of Speaking Technically. In that I gave some tips that I thought could help new speakers. Since writing that, I've had the chance to speak at some additional events, including the SentryOne Bootcamp pre-con at the PASS Community Summit in 2015 and 2016 and at SQL Bits 2016.
There are two main components when you're thinking about presenting a technical session. One, do you feel comfortable speaking in public and two, deciding on the content. For me, I was pretty comfortable presenting. I was was much more concerned with the content. Fortunately there are ways to ramp up with both the presentation piece and the content piece. I'll explain both below.
For most of you, it's getting up in front of people and speaking. So if you can get content that you feel comfortable with, then you only need to think about the presenting part. I would be willing to bet that there are a ton of current speakers who would be willing to provide content that they've presented on before. I've presented on content created by someone else. Of course you attribute it, but it takes part of the pressure away since you know the content is good. So reach out to the community. Or reach out to me. I've been known to arm wrestle in the past.
Another thing to think about is what makes you the most nervous while speaking. Just stringing words together coherently (something I have problems with) or people watching you while you try to string words coherently. If having people watch you is difficult, consider presenting virtually. I had the opportunity to present to the FoxPASS user group a month ago and it was a great experience. PASS also has a number of virtual chapters that regularly need speakers.
For the stringing words together piece, all I can suggest is figure out what kind of notes work best for you and practice. I personally can't speak from a script – I lose my place pretty quickly. So on my notes (either in slides or written), I use bullet points and write out any exact numbers/phrases/syntax that I might forget. Other folks need the full script. Presenting on your own only takes you so far. It's helpful for working out wording and finding the places that you get caught up on, but it's too easy to stop and restart – things that don't work as well during an actual presentation. This may be overkill, but I practice until I can give 90% of the presentation without any notes whatsoever – I don't worry about exact numbers, but more the content and flow. Then, drag together your friends, family, co-workers – whoever you can get and present for them. I would also ask for and use their feedback.
The final fear that I see quite a bit is questions. Questions are actually a good thing. If people are asking questions, they're not sleeping (a big win for technical presentations!), and you've sparked their interest! While I think it's usually best to know more than you're presenting on, it's not unusual to have questions that you don't have answers to. The only thing to do is admit it and offer to follow up afterwards. I usually say something to the effect of "Great question! I hadn't heard that before. Can I follow up with you later?". 99% of people will be fine with that response, but do make sure you follow up. Then both you and the audience member learn.
I hope these tips prove helpful. I've had a ton of good experiences presenting. While I was crazy nervous initially, I really look forward to those opportunities as they present themselves. If there's anything that I can do for people wanting to speak, don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com. Good luck!