When I write blog posts or presentations, I want to write posts that will impress people. I want people to say, “Wow, that guy’s a rocket surgeon. He really knows his stuff. He’s working on the cutting edge.” I’ve talked to other people who want to get started blogging or presenting, and they usually have that same desire.
Thing is, we’re not impressed by the stuff we already know. If I know it, I figure lots of other people know it – because frankly, I’m not a rocket surgeon. We think we need to craft some amazing, jaw-dropping gem of a T-SQL script that does magical things, or else everybody’s gonna laugh at us.
So whenever I’m writing a new presentation, I remind myself that I gotta stop trying to impress presenters, and focus on impressing attendees instead. Sure, I’d love to write something Paul Randal or Kalen Delaney would admire, but they’re not the kind of people attending my sessions.
To stay in touch with my attendees, I ask a lot of questions when I’m out presenting. In my 101-level course at our recent #SQLServerPediaTraining day, I took a poll of the attendees to ask how they currently find out what’s happening on their SQL Servers. More than half of the audience used sp_who, sp_who2, or Activity Monitor. These are okay solutions, but there’s such better stuff out there! My 101-level course introduced people to Dynamic Management Views (DMVs) and Adam Machanic’s excellent sp_WhoIsActive, both of which are free and blow the doors off sp_who2.
The fact is there’s more junior people than senior people. The For Dummies books sell better than internals books. If you’re going to write blog posts or presentations, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with delivering information about something that feels very old to you. The key to being a successful presenter isn’t about delivering the newest information – it’s about delivering information in the newest ways.
Doing a technical presentation involves:
- Assembling the technical content – not necessarily writing it from the ground up, but gathering material that you want to show the audience. For example, in my 101-level course, I didn’t write a new replacement for sp_who2. I simply gathered a better set of choices and showed the audience how to get them and use them.
- Crafting a story around the content – if you string a bunch of bullet points together and break them up onto different slides, you’d better have extremely exciting bullet points, or else people are gonna get bored. Build segues to smoothly transition from one topic to the next. Have pictures. Tell a story. Your presentation should have an identity bigger than just the technical content. In my 101-level course, I called it Reading the Signs, and I tried to illustrate my points with road signs. I’ve used themes like race cars, playing doctor, and lolcats.
- Telling that story in front of people – no matter how good your presentation is, if you’re not relaxed when you tell it, people will notice, and they’ll remember it. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If you’re going to present at a local event, practice in your company first, delivering that same presentation to your coworkers. If you’re going to present regionally, practice at a local user group first. If you’re going to present nationally, practice at a SQLSaturday event first. Build up or you’ll fall down.
But above all, remember that all of these points matter. Stop focusing so much on that first bullet point, and realize that you can be a well-respected presenter without the most advanced content.
Time and again, my most popular presentations are the ones that help beginners get started with something that seems really difficult to them. Attendees rule.