Who’s Your Target Audience?

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.

How You Check Activity

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.

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • Nice post Brent. I’d add to that: resist throwing in the kitchen sink. Explore your topic, but focus on delivering what you promised in the session title and throw out all the rest.

    Reply
  • Tru Dat! I would echo the same when it comes to blogging. When I first started blogging seriously, a few months ago, i was trying to come up with really profound posts that the awesome SQL professionsals I follow on Twitter would find compelling. Well, I have only been working with SQL Server for about 3 years, so wow-ing SQL MVPs is not likely (I need at least another month or two for that, hehe). Jason Strate told me once, “If it’s useful to you, it will be useful to someone else.” That has helped a lot.

    Reply
  • Alex Prusakov
    March 12, 2010 10:40 am

    Excellent point! It is great suggestion that I am going to use in my next presentation. I have been struggling to find the ground point so I would not at least disappoint my listeners. Now I feel more comfortable.

    Reply
  • I know I find it hard to do. I made a terrible calculus tutor in University. I knew what I needed to teach and I knew the student wasn’t there yet, but I didn’t know how large the gap between them was. And I had a hard time gauging that gap.

    If I thought the gap was small, I ended up saying things that were unhelpful: “integrate by parts and you’re done.”

    Or if thought the gap was too large, I would start out by saying things that sounded patronizing: “There’s this thing called multiplication…”

    I recognize what you’re saying: The idea that bloggers (or presenters) don’t always have to strive for blow-your-mind magical content. And it was that thought that prompted me last week to write a link post Start Learning SQL Server

    (Sorry about the shameless plug of my site, but really, it’s a plug for Pinal Dave, Bill McEvoy and Jorge Segarra)

    Reply
    • Don’t apologize for the plug! You’re right – it’s hard to find good 100-200 level material that’s fun to read. When I first tried to submit sessions for PASS, I asked the selection committee members what kinds of material was needed the most. They suggested there’s not enough good intro-level stuff, and so I’ve focused on that ever since. The rooms always seem to be packed for the 100-200 level stuff. It’s not what I would enjoy attending, but there’s a huge need for sure.

      Reply
  • Great point! I try to remind myself of this often, especially when creating a new presentation for user groups.

    I think the natural tendency for user groups is to keep getting more and more advanced in their topics. When a new person starts to attend, most everything is over their head and they risk losing interest. So it’s good to have mid-level materials.

    Reply
  • Another great post Brent. I can admit that I fell into that trap.

    Reply
  • Thanks, everybody! Glad you liked it.

    Reply

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