According to the rules of the game established by Jen McCown for Un-SQL Friday, this post was due Monday June 6. Even though the time has come and gone, I still wanted to write because of the topic – Speaker Lessons Learned. Coming off my last presentation at SQL Rally last month, which I wanted to be perfect but wasn’t, I felt that contributing to the topic would help me put my thoughts together and improve my next presentation, and could help others as well.
My presentation titled The Data Mining Lifecycle wasn’t terrible and the evals weren’t that bad either. I got dinged mostly on time management which I knew I didn’t do well. I had too much material and rushed at the end, skipped a few key points, took too long to start the demos, and answered more questions than usual. I had given essentially the same presentation at the Orange County SQL Saturday in April and I felt I did it as well as I can do it. I made all the key points, had good audience interaction, and finished right on time. But we had 70 minutes, so I knew I needed to cut 10 minutes for SQL Rally and planned for it. I was angry at myself for not handling the shorter time frame since I knew I needed to account for it.
These are the lessons I learned at SQL Rally and at a couple of other events in the first half of this year:
Time Management It’s always difficult thing to make the session finish right on time. Even though I cut 10 minutes from my presentation, I was still short on time because I got 10 more minutes of questions than I did in Orange County. Also, in Orange County I allocated 30 minutes for slides and overview and 40 minutes for demos. When I cut it by 10 minutes for SQL Rally I left 30 minutes for slides and 30 minutes for demos. With the extra questions it turned out to be more like 40 minutes of slides and 20 minutes of demos, which made it more Powerpoint and less of the interesting stuff.
Lesson #1: Make your key points and show demos early so you don’t feel like you need to squeeze them in at the end.
Question Management I got a couple of questions that came out of left field, and one that I didn’t understand at all. I think I let these questions throw me off and I lost my momentum for a minute.
Lesson #2: Be quick to recognize a question that is off-topic or can’t be answered to maintain momentum.
Improvise At a .NET conference I decided I would talk about BI to .NET developers. While I prepared it as a beginner session, I quickly became aware that it needed to be much more beginner than I had planned based on the questions I was getting.
Lesson #3: Be prepared to adjust the presentation for the Audience if necessary.
For the Audience
I have one recommendation for people who are session participants. There were several sessions I attended at SQL Rally where the speaker was struggling. They had done their best to answer a lot of questions, had been challenged by a couple of ‘experts’, allowed for unrelated comments from the audience, and needed to move forward. When you see that happening, help the speaker out. Hold a question for later, or catch up with the speaker at lunch and ask the question then. If you need to discuss your own particular work environment and how it applies to the speaker’s presentation, don’t take up everyone’s time.
For the Speakers
I have one request for the speakers who are typically excellent. When you refer in a talk to someone else’s work don’t just use their first name. More than once I heard a speaker mention Paul and Kimberly or Adam or Patrick and I guarantee you that half of the people in the session don’t know who they are. Instead, introduce people properly by citing their full name and credentials, it’s more professional and doesn’t lose people.