So, my first SQL Saturday presentation had some issues

It’s been a while since I’ve had a new post here, and that’s largely due to the quantity of other things on which I’ve been working. This list of busy-ness – presumably completely uninteresting to you – includes making additional presentations for SQL Server training events.

Which makes for a nice intro to what I wanted to write about today – my first session I presented at a SQL Saturday last weekend in Orange County, California. I suppose some may read this a cautionary tale, but my intention is to let you know that even when you’re neck deep in the weeds (and I’m not even talking just about presentations here) you can still survive as long as you focus on one thing: delivering solutions to your audience.

But before I get to the parts where things went wrong…

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become interested in presenting sessions after a lifetime of fear of publicly speaking. I’m naturally an introvert, and if you find me at a party I’m the guy standing in the corner, smiling, nodding, gripping my beverage like it’s my only friend in the world. Talking to people exhausts me, especially if it is more than one person.

And yet, for some reason some a few years ago I had some wise, experienced speakers tell me “you should present.” And when I resisted the absurd notion they posed questions that amounted to “If you like to learn, why don’t you want to help others learn?”

“You can do it,” they would say. “Just focus on the audience and not yourself.”

Let’s talk about more important professions

And therein lies the path to succeeding though any adversity, perceived or otherwise: focus on others. I’m pretty sure this is how firemen, policemen, soldiers, and other folks stare death in the face. They don’t focus on themselves and their personal fears, but rather on the people they are saving or protecting.

Not that speaking and saving lives are at all comparable, but I certainly know focusing on the audience is the only way I can manage public speaking. Which brings me to the things that went wrong.

Based on many conversations with experienced speakers I created a checklist of things to do, and before any session I methodically go through that list. Turn off Wi-Fi, put my phone in airplane mode, open all scripts into Management Studio, etc. So before my session started I was ready.

The room filled up, which surprised me since I was speaking at the same time as MVP types like Grant Fritchey, Joe D’Antoni, John Morehouse, and Benjamin Nevarez. I guess SQL Saturday attendees don’t look at the presenters that much but rather the content. By a rough estimate I had at least 60 in the attendance, which included several other presenters.

Take a deep breath, and just focus on delivering the content to the audience.

The session started without incident, as I went through my opening slides and went to show the first of 10 techniques to make transactions go faster. And then I switched to my first demo.

The first thing I noticed was the audible “Oh!” from the audience. I turned and saw the projector screen was very dark. I toggled to the PowerPoint (nice and bright), then back to Management Studio (very, very dark) and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I tried adjusting brightness on the monitor, but to no avail.

“What if we turned off the lights?” someone asked. The audience seemed amenable, so we tried that. Well, that was better in that they could see the screen. But now I couldn’t see the laptop keys because I’m new at this and don’t have one of those nice backlit keyboards. Also, I couldn’t see most of my audience, which is really disorienting when speaking. During any face-to-face communication we instinctively look for facial clues from others trying to asses if they understand, if they seem confused, or if they have fallen asleep. I couldn’t see that in the dark.

Death of a presenterman

Suddenly I felt like I was performing some one-man theater, and the spotlight wasn’t even on me (it was on the screen!) Maybe I should have blurted out “I’m not a dime a dozen! I’m Willy Loman!” Err, maybe not.

As I fumbled in the dark trying to hit hot keys a kind person brought me a key light, which helped. But the key light stayed on, so I soon realized when I moved from my keyboard to speak my left hand must have looked like some kind of spastic firefly, certainly distracting the audience from whatever I was saying or showing on the screen. At least I hope I realized that soon, because I had no idea how long I had been waving that light around.

Just stay positive and focus on delivering the content to the audience.

On top of that, as I ran my demos – which are geared to show performance improvements in time – I realized the screen went down to about 2 feet off the floor, meaning only the people in the front row could see the elapsed time in the lower right corner, even with ZoomIt. I considered adding SET STATISTICS TIME ON to my scripts, but there’s already enough information with IO page counts in some of my scripts. I didn’t want to overload people.

Enough dancing in the dark

After about 20+ minutes of working in the dark a kind member of the Golden West College staff showed up to help me resolve the issue. With the lights turned back on he realized I needed to change the resolution on my laptop. Now, I had heard sad tales from other presenters of laptops dying, cables not working, and even windows updates starting in the middle of presentations. I was mentally prepared for all these things, but never did I think screen resolution would be my downfall.

There are 30 minutes left. Keep focusing on delivering the content to the audience.

The last half of the session went without issue, although in trying to avoid rushing the content I had to skip my last demo. I just didn’t have the time. I didn’t have time for questions either, but I’d rather place a priority to answer questions as they naturally occurred since I had already mentioned my email address several times in case there were any “after the fact” questions.

By the time the session was ended I felt some strange disbelief, thinking “what just happened?” I mean, I tried to focus on the audience and not the obstacles, but I wondered if everything that went wrong was too distracting. I did have a few folks compliment me on how I handled technical troubles afterwards, but I just hope the rest of folks who sat there in the dark were able to get something meaningful out of the hour.

So there it is, the story of my first SQL Saturday. I guess it’s good to have a story, right?

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