This weekend I received word that I will be speaking at the SQL Saturday in Houston. This reminded me that I have been speaking about SQL for almost a year now. Last year’s SQL Saturday in Houston was my first time to speak about SQL outside of my workplace.
Since that event, I have spoken at a total of 3 SQL Saturdays (Houston, Austin, Albuquerque), as well as two user group meetings and presentations at my workplace. I also will be speaking at three or four more SQL Saturdays in the next couple of months (Atlanta, NYC, Houston and hopefully Vancouver).
Thinking back to that first event as a speaker, it seems like a lifetime ago. I drove down to Houston Friday afternoon for the speaker dinner that night. I remember meeting the other speakers and having them ask me about what I was presenting. I would answer and almost feel ashamed. I wasn’t presenting on some new sexy feature or some in-depth advance talk. All I was talking about was the SQL Server Agent.
The next day I went into the speaker room and while prepping for my session, I talked to a few more of the speakers. One brief exchange with David Stein (b | t) did help calm my nerves some. He told me something to remember: ‘once you step behind the podium, you all of a sudden become an expert. The people in the room are there for a reason they want to hear what you have to say.’
My session was right after lunch, and there were a good slate of speakers during that time slot , so I wasn’t expecting a large turnout. There were only around 10-15 people in the session (which was probably a good thing given my inexperience). I was so nervous going through the material that I ran through it at light speed. I finished about 15 minutes early! Afterwards I felt like I might have made a mistake trying to become a speaker in the first place. The room monitor handed me back the session evaluations. I thanked him and threw them in to my back pack with the rest of my things.
At this point I was thinking “well I gave it a shot.” I felt that I was probably the worst speaker ever. I got back to the speaker room to decompress a little. I opened up my laptop to check my email and settled down with some snacks. Eventually I decided it was time to see how bad the reviews were.
I was quite shocked. There were actually positive comments! It looked like some people actually got something out of my session. There was constructive criticism, but there were no comments like “Waste of time” or “Worst Sessions ever”. Most feedback I got was to engage with the audience more. I realize that this was a problem with my session, I was doing everything real time in SSMS going through the different parts of the agent. This meant I had to do a lot of moving the mouse around pointing and clicking on things. Doing that caused me to be looking at my computer screen more than the audience. Which, as a new nervous speaker it was my natural instinct to stare at a computer screen and not the audience.
So with this constructive feedback in hand, I worked a complete overhaul of the session by adding a massive amount of screenshots. This enabled me to click from slide to slide and engage with the audience, talking more in-depth about what each issue was showing.
I presented the reworked session a few weeks later at the local Austin SQL group (CACTUSS) for both the North and South Meetings. I was still nervous before giving the presentation, but to less of an extent as before. The new deck and style of presentation worked a lot better and allowed for better interaction with the crowd.
My next speaking event was SQL Saturday Austin where I debuted a new session on parameter sniffing. This was a session that took me many hours and several late nights to create. This time I was less nervous than the previous outings… until my room started to fill up. I ended up having a packed room with around 50 people! The session went fairly well. I still had issues, but I had a good crowd and felt pretty good afterwards.
I again looked at the session evaluations and was shocked by how positive the reviews were. There was only one review that it seemed the person flat out hated it, but they did not give any real reason why, so it is hard to figure out how I could have better connected with that reviewer. However, there was lots of great constructive feedback. Which as a new speaker is something I appreciate very much.
A week later I went to give the same session at SQL Saturday Albuquerque. This was my first time to go out of state for a SQL Saturday. I was nervous because I didn’t know very many people who would be there. This was a very different experience than the week before having the event at home.
I arrived at the hotel Thursday evening to check in at the hotel, to my delight a group of SQL family members were down in the lobby. I knew who most of them were from following them on twitter, but never had any face-to-face contact with them. One recognized me as a SQL person and introduced me to the group. That night I went to dinner with a group of them and got to talk and hang out that night.
The next day I went to Mike Fal’s (b| t) precon over Powershell. It was a great precon and I got some great info out of it. Mike was one of the people I got to talk with the night before, he also drove me around a lot over the week which was super nice of him.
Then came Saturday, the day of the event. I was slotted for the last session of the day, which was good because it gave me extra time to tweak and add some things to my session using some of the great feedback I received from the previous weekend.
When it was time for my session I was again nervous. I had a much smaller crowd than the previous week and I think most of them, like me, had their brains already full from all the great information they had received that day. For some reason things just felt off during the session. Things just didn’t seem to come out right. I made my way through it though, and at the end I was disappointed because I felt like I took a step back from the session I gave the week before.
Again the reviews were very positive but I still felt like I let them down.
At the after party I got a chance to talk more with some great people. I spent a long time with John Sterrett (b | t) and Lori Edwards (b | t) talking about things. After they left I talked with Melody Zacharias (b | t) . This event was her first SQL Saturday to speak at and she did a great job. She also came to my session and gave me some great advice. She really helped me feel better about the session I gave and about what I was doing. I also got to talk with Mike Fal more and he gave me more great advice and things to think about. He also told me to get out there a blog.
I am amazed how much I have grown and learned in such a short time. I have gotten a chance to meet and talk with some absolutely wonderful people.
I would like to formally thank all the wonderful people who have helped me over this last year. First to Nancy Hidy Wilson (b | t) , Allen Kinsel (b | t) and the organizers of the SQL Saturday in Houston. They gave me the chance to do my first session and for that I will be forever grateful. I would also like to thank Grant Fritchey (b | t) something he said in a break during his precon he gave at a SQL Saturday in Dallas was what made me decide to actually try my hand at speaking. I would also like to thank John Sterett for his feedback on one of my sessions as well as offering to review my slide decks and scripts. Also I want to thank Meredith Ryan (b | t) and the organizers of the SQL Saturday Albuquerque for putting on a wonderful event and having me as a speaker. I would like to thank both Mike Fal and Melody Zacharias for the kind words and advice. You both helped fan my fire for speaking after having it dim a little after a session I felt that was not the best. And last but certainly not least (actually most) I want to thank my wife for all of her support. She has been very understanding with my late nights working on sessions, helping me practice my sessions, and being gone on the weekends to give these presentations.
So my advice to anyone thinking about speaking at a SQL event or usergroup: Give it a shot! The SQL family is very welcoming to new speakers. There are many people out there happy to lend you a hand along the way. Even if you feel like you don’t have anything new to bring to the table I will disagree, you bring your own unique view and experience on things.