Preparation, Is It In You?

Backups aren’t just for databases.

BitLocker Blowup
Are you ready for the BitLocker of Doom?

Back in 2012, I started on a journey of sharing my technical knowledge by giving technical presentations. Now this might scare the living jeepers out of most people, but I found it exciting and fulfilling. Since then, I try to speak at ten events a year. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak the most awesome SQL Saturday Houston. Everything lined up for this to be a slam dunk. I was scheduled to give a presentation on Entity Framework, a presentation that I had given many times including the PASS Summit last year.

The afternoon before the event I was in my hotel room about to rehearse the presentation one more time. I take out my laptop, hit the power button, and nothing. It doesn’t boot, it just sits there. I whip out the power cord, plug it in to the laptop and it boots! Disaster averted. As it turns out the battery totally failed. Now, I could have used the laptop as is and everything would have gone just fine but I pulled out a second laptop, started it up, and rehearsed from that. I didn’t have to install anything. I didn’t have to restore a database or move files. I just opened Visual Studio, SSMS, and PowerPoint and I was ready to go. When you’re a speaker you need to be ready for anything, especially hardware problems.

So in celebration of my near disaster here are some of my tips for a disaster proof presentation.


It’s going to happen at some point. Your machine is going to die. Sad but true. You don’t know when, you don’t know when. So have a second machine ready when you present. Have all of your demos and decks ready to go before you walk on stage. I like to put the second machine in sleep mode so that if I have to switch to it, it’s up in seconds. If you don’t have a spare laptop lying around, see if you can borrow one from work or from a friend. Although now that I think about it, if a friend is going to let you borrow a laptop that’s a great friend. You should take them to a nice dinner.


I’m finding file synchronization service like Dropbox or OneDrive invaluable these days. These services serve three functions: 1. Puts a copy of your files in the cloud. I hear backups are good. 2. Allows you to share your files between different machines. 3. Allows you to share and collaborate with others. That’s all well and good, but the short of it is that when you use these services when you update a file on one machine, it will sync the changes to another. So when you update that PowerPoint presentation or that demo script you can be sure it will make it to your demo machine.


Ah, the infamous demo failure. It’s the bubonic plague of technical conferences. Don’t fall victim to this epidemic. Wash your hands after…wait, that’s not it. Create a backup presentation that has screenshots of your demo. This way when the demo plague hits you can make a nice easy transition to your backup deck with the screenshots like a pro. Some presenters have even recorded their demos and used the videos as a backup. Sounds like a good way to spoof cloud presentations if you ask me.


This may be overkill but hear me out. This is your last line of defense. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! When all else fails, this is your secret weapon. You now have a portable copy of your presentation. Beg to use someone’s machine, pop in the thumb drive, and you go get ’em tiger!

Brent says: at a recent conference, another speaker was struck by disaster in the prep room: his video card died. I handed him my spare laptop, and off he went. So don’t just think of your spare as your own spare – it can help others, too.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • The day before yesterday SQL Saturday #519 was for the first time in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. And the venue had no internet access, I mean literally. We provided the speakers with our own 3G USB sticks, but still a thumb drive with your files is a must, imho 🙂

  • You don’t know when, you don’t know when.

    should read ?

    You don’t know when, you don’t know where.

  • I DJ part time and have worked in IT for close to 20 years now, backup, backup, and backup is always the name of the game for me (part of the reason database backup comes second nature to me).
    My 90K song collection is not only synchronized between two mobile external hard drives (I never put the music on the laptop hard drives) that I carry everywhere I go, but every month I synchronize the secondary drive up with the home server and that uses Code 42 – Crashplan to upload a copy of that music up to the cloud. These drives not only contain my music, but also a copy of the database (all of the start and loop points are stored in here), and a copy of the software (both the Windows and the Mac (blech) versions). I carry two laptops to every venue this way if something goes wrong I can quickly swap them out. In a worst case scenario both my tablet and phone have large amounts of music that I can play from while I am spending 15 minutes loading the software and database into a new laptop that I purchase off the shelf at some store.
    If I am DJing a wedding, I have a copy of special songs all copied to the local laptop hard drives and external thumb drive on top of the phones/tablets. Nothing like hearing the nightmare scenarios DJs have had where all they have is one laptop with all of their songs on the local hard drive show up to the ceremony and the laptop is DOA!
    Recommendation, if you are getting married make sure the DJ or band you hire has a backup… lol

  • I have no idea what might have inspired you to write this post. None whatsoever. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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