Tips for Better Presentations

Today’s post is for those of you who give presentations to user groups and conferences.

Upload your resources before the session starts. When you say “I’ll upload the resources later,” the attendee hears you saying, “I’m winging this, I barely finished this deck 15 minutes ago, and I didn’t even have the time to upload it to the Internet.” For bonus points, upload your resources at least 2 days before the session. SQL Saturday attendees frequently tell me, “I read through your slides and they looked really interesting, so I picked your session. Thanks for sharing them in advance.” On the flip side, I’ve sat through sessions where the abstract looked really compelling, but the slides had absolutely nothing to do with the abstract – and if I’d have seen those slides ahead of time, I’d have picked a session that was a better fit for my goals. Honor your attendees’ time: upload the slides first.

Brent Ozar presenting at SQL Saturday Israel 2019

While people are walking in, show the abstract. The first slide in your deck should show the session title and the first paragraph of the abstract in large print. Make it easy for people to understand if they’re in the right session, and remind them of your goals. This helps set expectations so that your feedback forms don’t say, “The presentation didn’t match the abstract.” (This also helps remind *you* of what you need to teach.) No slide deck? No problem – put it in a text editor in large print.

Record yourself at least once. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just leave your phone on the podium and use its sound recording app. Later – at least a day later – go back and listen. You’re probably going to cringe at first, hearing yourself speak, but it’ll clue you in to all kinds of nervous habits you didn’t realize you had. Your attendees won’t write in the feedback forms, “You say ‘right?’ at the end of every single sentence.” They’re going to assume you already know. You don’t, thus the recording.

If you teach T-SQL, restore the database before every presentation. Set up an Agent job to restore your demo database from scratch. Before you rehearse or deliver your presentation, start by running that job. This will make sure you’ve got all your dependencies lined up as part of your demo scripts, making it more likely that your demos will work as you designed ’em – especially important when you only give the presentation once or twice a year. It’ll also be easier for attendees to follow along with your demo scripts later. They won’t be stuck wondering why a particular query doesn’t work the way you demo’d – because you’d forgotten to include a crucial index change or server setting.

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • No tips on showing videos of squirrels before the presentation? I’m a bit disappointed by that. 🙂

    I do agree on the title/abstract, though. That’s a big tip to people that they’re in the correct (or wrong) room.

  • Andy Benner
    June 4, 2019 10:04 am

    Recording yourself and watching/listening is the most cringe-causing thing you can do to yourself, at least the first dozen times you do it. (That first time is awful. “Do I really sound/look like that ?”)
    It is also one of the biggest eye openers into your outward appearance, mannerisms and how others might perceive you.
    One other gem I’ve picked up from youth sports coaching, is that you improve far more by working on a weakness than a strength. You might improve a strength a little bit working on it for a week. If you work on a weakness for a week, you are far more likely to see a substantial improvement.

  • very helpful tip Brent , you rock!

  • Nice recommend. Thanks

  • Martin Guth
    June 4, 2019 11:03 pm

    “Upload your resources before the session starts”: So true! I was really demotivated by some local usergroup PASS sessions years ago where the presenter said “Oh I gonna send my slides to chapter lead xyz to put them on the PASS file server” and months later there were still no slides available. If I have slides in advance as an attendee it really helps notekeeping as I am able to scribble directly on them and have all the context necessary.

  • Benno Jones
    June 5, 2019 7:50 am

    The major issue I generally have with presenters is that they have no idea how PowerPoint works. Time is wasted at the beginning of many a session as the presenter fumbles about trying to get the session going. The absolutely worst example of this was at a PASS Summit session 15-odd years ago when the presentation had to be cancelled because after 20 minutes the speakers still could not get their deck to load (“We’ve never run it on this laptop before!”), but even as recently as a few months ago in a virtual group session 7-8 minutes were wasted as once again the presenter struggled to get things going.

  • Augusto Brito
    July 5, 2019 2:37 pm

    awesome tips! 100% useful


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