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.
There was a lot to like about the first (and best) SQL Rally that concluded last Friday on May 13th. It was held in a first class venue at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, FL that made it feel important and professional. Even though the Marriott is a large complex, the sessions, registration desk, vendor booths, and lunch were all right next to each other, making everything easy to find and allowing as much free and easy contact between attendees, organizers, and speakers. A diverse set of of sessions were delivered spanning the SQL Server product line and every session I attended had excellent audience participation with a lot of good questions and comments. It seems that because of the proximity of the sessions, I met more people than at any other conference I’ve attended. This was great because meeting people is one of the real benefits of being there. I also got to hang out with familiar faces from back home in Colorado including Chris Shaw and Mike Fal.
The success of a conference starts with the organizers and it was no different with SQL Rally. Jack Corbett, Kendal Van Dyke and Andy Warren and the volunteers are to be congratulated for making it happen. Registration was easy, locations were well-marked, and every session I attended was delivered by a true professional. I also went to the Women in Technology (WIT) luncheon and participated in the Speed Networking sessions. The WIT luncheon discussed the role of mentors in the high tech world and stressed the importance of finding a good mentor, especially for women. The mentor doesn’t have to be a woman, and men who have good mentoring skills should be open to mentoring women also. The Speed Networking session is a great tool for us ‘introverts’ and gives us a chance to engage in conversation with people we might not normally talk to.
On Friday morning I presented ‘The Data Mining Lifecycle’ and like the sessions I attended, had really good participation by the attendees. I think I got more questions in this session than any other time I’ve spoken on the subject, and the follow up after the session kept me talking in the hall for another hour, which I enjoyed very much. Then I went to lunch and continued talking about data mining, so I really got my money’s worth.
Two Successful Launches
I stayed in Orlando over the weekend and visited the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday. On Monday morning I looked out of my hotel room at 8:56 and saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour take off for the last time. I was luckier than most of the people who attended SQL Rally, since I got to see two successful launches in one week!
I sent my RSVP last week to attend the Women in Technology (WIT) luncheon this Friday at SQL Rally. I’m really looking forward to it. There have been WIT sessions taking place at most of the conferences I’ve been to lately, and while I’d been curious to hear what the conversation was all about, I hadn’t made the time to attend. I finally made it when I spoke at the Orange County SQL Saturday in early April and I’ve been paying more attention to the topic since then. Last week I came across another thought-provoking blog on the subject and it made me think more about the importance of participating.
The truth is that I was a skeptic. I started working in the corporate IT and software development world in the mid-80s and spent 15 years with 4 different companies. By memory I can remember 11 bosses, 7 of them female. I won’t count the number of co-workers (and don’t want to remember some of them), but it seemed to be a fair distribution among men and women on my development teams. Women were in every position too, as DBAs, Tech Leads, Analysts and Coders.
I then moved on to a technology startup for 3 ½ years, and the principal investor in the venture was a woman. She also headed our marketing efforts and along with the woman heading up sales, gave us a gender balanced leadership team.
My experience led me to believe that technology was a fair place for women, and it was easy to explain why it was fair. I worked in a modern field without the history or old traditions of other careers. We were younger, open-minded, and more enlightened. We didn’t think of what we did as a man’s job in the way people thought of nurse as a woman’s occupation, or surgeon as a man’s profession.
It’s disconcerting that there are significantly fewer women in tech in 2011 than there were a quarter century ago and I can’t tell you why. I’ve heard the rationale, been involved in the discussions, and read the blogs, but the analytical mind in me says we haven’t discovered the source of the problem(s)…yet.
For the men in tech, I strongly suggest you make yourself part of this conversation. Attend the meetings. In some ways I feel they are meant more for us than for women. Volunteer to help with the teaching, training and mentoring efforts that are out there. If you don’t want to be a hands-on teacher, give the instructors and mentors material they can use. Provide sample coursework, code, or demos that you have. Give them a presentation that gets people excited about the work you do.