Blog: Tips for SQL Server Professionals Making Their First Public Presentation

Making Your First Presentation

Making Your First Presentation

DB Best Technologies will be out in force at SQLSaturday #393 in Redmond, WA on Saturday, May 16 2015. I will be joined by fellow Certified Master Dandy Weyn (blog|@ILikeSQL).

Dandy will be presenting Power BI – getting it right – a full walkthrough, and I will be presenting Diagnosing Performance with Wait Statistics. If you want to talk to us outside of our sessions, drop by the DB Best booth and say hello or ask a question.

For me, this will be a return to the site of the very first public SQL presentation I ever gave. SQLSaturday #26 was the first ever SQLSaturday in Redmond, and I presented on using SQL Trace and Profiler. That was a scary day for me, and even though I’ve done scores of presentations since then, I still get nervous on presentation day. If you’re presenting for the first time, I won’t tell you to not be nervous. I’ll simply tell you to realize that it is perfectly normal and you’re not alone in that feeling. And here are a few more tips for you if you’re making your first public presentation.

Tips for SQL Server Professionals Making Their First Public Presentation

Are you getting ready to make your first presentation? Let me be the first to thank you for volunteering. You’re ready, you’re prepared, and you’ve practiced your presentation. You are set to deliver a solid presentation. As a former first-timer myself, I recall the nervousness and concern that you are feeling. Part of you wants this presentation to be truly great. Another part of you is just hoping you make it through it without embarrassing yourself.

Now that you are ready to give that big presentation and you have honed your speaking skills, here are some tips for delivering a successful first presentation. These tips cover the things you may not have thought of yet like room etiquette and how to handle questions you don’t know.

Do Not Be On Time

I don’t think you need to be told the importance of showing up in time for your presentation. However, you should be prepared to be early, not on time. If you arrive at the last minute, then the organizers have already been looking for you for a while. In a conference, there is only a little time between sessions, and if someone doesn’t show up, the organizers have to be ready to provide an alternate option. They may have some speakers on reserve who can present last minute or they may have to redirect people to different rooms.

So be early for your session. If you are in the first slot of the day, be there when the doors open or shortly thereafter. If you are in a later slot, be there at least one full sessions early. For example, if you are in the fourth slot, be there for the start of the third slot.

Do Not Use Your Entire Time Slot

You are given a time slot for your presentation. You will find that a lot of people don’t want to ask question when everyone is looking. Plan for some group question and answer time at the end of your session. Then plan for people to come up to you individually and ask you questions after the session has officially ended and everyone else is leaving the room.

You need to be attentive and helpful to the attendees with questions after the session is over, but you also need to be mindful that someone else is about to take over the room. If your session is over, you need to get out of the way so the next speaker can start setting up for their session. Do not be that person that sits at the presenter’s table for so long the next person starts late.

Ask Them to Step Outside

It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Occasionally, an attendee will try to take you off topic with a question about their specific problem. Or an attendee might want to prove that you are wrong about something that challenges their preconceptions. Don’t let it sidetrack your presentation. If they persist, you may need to ask them to follow up with you after the session is over. Be polite but make it clear that you need to keep the presentation moving forward, and you would be happy to discuss it with them further afterwards.

When I give a presentation, I like to plan to not attend a session in the next time slot. If I get to attend one, great. But I plan to be available for anyone who wants to discuss my topic further. Most conferences have places you can go for a little private discussion. If you do end up in the hallway after the session talking to people, make sure you’re not hanging outside one of the session room doors. You don’t want to disturb the people in a session.

Be Judgmental of Your Audience

When going into a presentation, we all have ideas about how long the presentation will last accounting for a moderate level of interactivity from the attendees. Be prepared for the levels of interactivity to vary wildly. Some days the attendees just aren’t into it and don’t really ask questions or make comments, no matter how much you try to get them involved.

Other days, your audience might be really on the ball and they hurl questions at you one after another. As you are proceeding through your session, you will need to judge the level of activity from your audience and determine if you are ahead of schedule or falling behind. You don’t want to end your session way too early or too late. Think ahead of time of ways to speed up or slow down the session.

My favorite way to handle these scenarios is with demos. When possible, I like to include extra demos with my sessions that I can do if I need to prolong the session or demos I can skip if I’m running out of time. Another way to handle it is to have a demo that can be done in more than one way. For example, if doing a demo to restore a series of backups to recover a database, I could show the series of steps it will run and then run it, or I could run each step one at a time explaining each individual step. This allows me to control how long the demo takes.

Just be Mindful

These four tips will help you deliver a solid presentation. If I was going to summarize these tips in one phrase, it would be to “just be mindful”. Be mindful of your audience. Be mindful of your time. Be mindful of the other presenters following you. Be mindful of keeping your presentation on track. You are the captain of this ship, and it Is up to you to see that it reaches port safely and on time.