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My Blog Has Moved! (ok, not really)

If you’re reading this post, it means I successfully migrated my blog from one host to another.  While I consider myself savvy in the world of SQL Server, web sites are not my thing.  But it needed to be done so I embarked on the migration this week.  Mind you, I did consider finding someone that I could pay to do it, but in the end, pride kicked in and I wanted to do it myself.  As is quite typical of me, I waited until the last minute.  But it’s done and I’m up and running thanks to Laughing Squid (and thanks to Kendra Little for the recommendation).

So why does this matter to you?  The move itself is unimportant, but it gives me an opportunity to thank my previous hosting provider…Brent Ozar.

Most people don’t know that Brent hosted many blogs, completely free of charge.  It wasn’t something Brent openly advertised, but if someone mentioned they were starting up a blog, he always offered to host it.  Initially my blog was hosted by a friend of mind (and it used Joomla, which I encourage everyone to avoid…just use WordPress) but when I migrated to WordPress I had Brent start hosting my site.

Did I mention that Brent didn’t charge anyone for hosting?  Right.  I should also mention that he often applied new releases for WordPress when they came out, made sure the blogs had the mobile site option, and would send us emails if there was a security update that needed to be applied…he took care of us.  And so for that, as well as for numerous other things that Brent has done for me personally over the past few years, I just want to say thank you.  Thank you, Brent, for that crazy idea called SQLCruise, for hosting your free-cons, for hosting my blog, and for supporting me and so many others in the community.  I will always be grateful for all you have done for me.

And in case you’ve been wondering whether I would continue to keep this blog after joining SQLskills…the answer is definitely yes.  I love this blog, and while I have only posted a few times since the summer, I resolve to do better in the coming months.  Thanks for reading, and for those of you that have a blog, make sure you take backups 🙂  I had to say it – it’s something else I learned from Brent!  (Check out VaultPress if you’re using WordPress.)

Many thanks...

Many thanks…

Performance Palooza: We Did It

The Performance Virtual Chapter team rocks.  Seriously.  Today was the Performance Palooza and it went off extremely well for our first all-day event.  I am so, so proud of our team:

I want extend a special thanks to Carlos, Ryan and Wil who helped host today’s sessions and also kept up a steady stream of chatter on Twitter.  They went above and beyond in numerous ways as we prepared for #SQLPalooza (thank you Wil for the hashtag!).

And a shout out to Paul and Yulia for working diligently on the web site.  Over the next few days they will both get the recordings moved over to the Presentation Archive page, where the sessions can be viewed at any time over the next year.  We are also working to get the slide decks from today’s speakers, and will post those (or links to them) on the archive page.

And let’s not forget the speakers!  The sessions were terrific, and we had no major issues – a definite success.  A huge thank you to those who presented today, and contributed great content to the SQL Community:

Please remind me, the next time I see each of you, to buy you dessert (or in Joe’s case, some nachos).

I also want to thank the sponsor for the Performance Virtual Chapter, Confio.  I mentioned today that Confio has supported this VC since it was revived in mid-2010, which is when I started to help out.  Confio has been there the entire way, and their backing is greatly appreciated.  Not every Virtual Chapter has a sponsor, and we are very fortunate as it allows us to do things like gift card giveaways for our sessions.  It’s not something we take for granted, and to everyone at Confio: Thank you.

And speaking of gift cards, we said we would give one away for each session today, and we will be doing that.  However, we do the drawings after the sessions end (it’s the only way to get a list of attendees) and that list is not always available immediately.  Right now, we’re waiting for the reports to be finished in LiveMeeting, and once they are complete we will draw the winners and contact them via email (so don’t give up hope, you still may win if you attended a session today!).

And finally, thank you to all the members of the SQL Community who attended one or more of today’s sessions.  The goal of the VC is to provide quality content to the community, and at the risk of sounding like a proud mom, we knocked it out of the park for our first event.  I can’t wait to see what Ryan and his team do next year.  Carry on my friends, carry on.


PASS Performance Virtual Chapter: The Next Generation

Just over a year ago, I put out a call for volunteers to help me run the PASS Performance Virtual Chapter.  I had a great response from the Community and ended up with a fantastic team.  Like every virtual chapter we worked hard to recruit seasoned and new speakers, provide quality content and bring up our attendee count.  We had some great sessions over the year (you can view them on our archive page here) and I would like to take a moment to give a shout out to those who presented for the VC in 2012:

Thank you all for making time to present for our VC, and for your contributions to the Community.  We appreciate you!

Our numbers rose steadily over the year, and for the past few sessions we have had over 200 attendees, which is fantastic.  I am so thrilled with our team and the effort that everyone has put forth.  Ryan, Carlos, Wil, Yulia, Paul, Phil and Neeraj, it has been an honor working with all of you.

And if this sounds at all like a farewell type of post, that’s because it is.  I am turning the Performance VC over to the very capable Ryan Adams (@ryanjadams), who did an amazing job with marketing and had the awesome idea for the VC to host a full day of performance-related sessions – which we will be doing on December 6!  Yep, we’re in the process of finalizing the schedule, but on Thursday, December 6th we will have a full day of sessions that are all related to SQL Server performance.  You can read a little more about it here, and make sure to check back later this week to see the full list of speakers.

I’ll leave it to Ryan to blog about his plans for the VC, and as for me, I haven’t figured out what I’ll volunteer for next within PASS, but I’m sure I’ll find something.  I have been a part of the Performance VC team for almost two and a half years; volunteering for the VC was one of the first things I did when I got involved with the Community.  That involvement has led to so much more…so for those of you who want to do more, who want to be more involved: talk to someone who’s involved with PASS.  Maybe it’s your chapter leader, maybe it’s the leader of one of the Virtual Chapters, maybe it’s someone you know through Twitter.  If you want to contribute to PASS and to the Community, there are many ways to do so.  You just need a bit of initiative to go find what’s right for you.

My Favorite Suggestions for New Speakers

This morning I received an email from a reader who is presenting for the first time at a local PASS User Group in October.  The reader was seeking advice for a first time presenter, and even though I know there are many of great posts already out there (I just read this one from fellow Clevelander Craig Purnell ( t ) yesterday), I wanted to share my own perspective rather than just send a few links.  Then I decided to just make a post out of it.  So EB, here you go 🙂

In no particular order:

Rehearse your presentation, out loud, in front of someone else…or at least in front of the family pet.  This practice has multiple benefits:

  • First, you get used to hearing your own voice out loud.
  • Second, you get used to talking for an extended period of time.  In real life, how often is it that you talk for 45-75 minutes pretty much uninterrupted?
  • Third, you get an idea of the length of your presentation based on your content.

Brent Ozar ( t ) talks about rehearsing in his post, How Rehearse a Presentation.  He has some great insights, but remember that everyone has different methods of preparation.  Find what works for you, and realize that this may take some time to figure out.

Record yourself rehearsing.  This is painful, but has so much value.  If you can record it on video, I highly recommend it.  Everyone has habits, and watching video is the best way to see them.  If you cannot take advantage of video, at least get audio.  Either option will allow you to catch verbal ticks – saying “uh”, “um”, “so”, or “hm” repeatedly – and video affords the chance to catch physical ones such as pacing, standing still, using the same hand gesture, etc.

If you find a verbal tick, practice speaking a five minute section without that repeated phrase.  This was a recommendation that Paul Randal ( t ) gave me the other day.  I had recorded some content and said “um” a lot.  His suggestion was to speak for five minutes without saying “um”, and every time I did, start over.  It’s harder than you think.

Know the first minutes of your presentation cold, to where you can say it without even thinking about it.  Can’t think of a five minute section to practice?  Start with the first five minutes of your presentation.  Paul recommends  practicing the first two minutes, and I think it’s incredibly beneficial.  By the time you get through that first two to five minutes, the nerves will be gone and you’ll find your rhythm.

Remember that the audience is on your side.  People are often terrified to speak because the audience is an unknown.  It’s true, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  But the vast majority of attendees are good people, and won’t go out of their way to harass you.  And if you are concerned about this, have a seasoned speaker in the audience for support.  That person will recognize if someone’s harassing you and step in to help out.  My good friend Christina Leo ( t ) had a rogue attendee at her first presentation, last year at Chicago’s SQLSaturday, and several audience members were seasoned speakers who provided support.  In true Christina fashion she got through it and delivered a great session.

Don’t take it personally if someone isn’t paying attention, or nods off during your sesion.  Last year I gave a presentation at my then-company’s user conference, and part of the session included group activities.  We had attendees get in small groups of four to six people and answer questions and go through scenarios.  One person wasn’t with a group and when I went to him and asked if he was going to join one, he simply said “No.” and went back to his laptop.  I was taken back and stood there, utterly confused for a moment.  I noticed one of my colleagues, a seasoned presenter, looking at me.  He had witnessed the interaction and motioned me over.  I walked over and with wide eyes and asked, “What do I do?”  He said, “You have no idea what’s going on in his life.  I had a person in class once who was despondent and not paying attention.  I found out later he had just received word that a family member was very ill.  That person’s actions may have nothing to do with you and this session.  Let it go.”

It was excellent advice.  Don’t overthink it.  If I see such a person when I’m presenting, I avoid looking at them directly, and instead concentrate on those who are engaged, actively listening, asking questions, and nodding as I speak.

Expect that someone will get up and walk out of your presentation.  I have found that this rarely happens at User Group events and SQLSaturdays, but it will happen at events such as the PASS Summit or other paid conferences.  Don’t let it fluster you.  My friend Allen White ( t )and I talked about this last year.  I believe it’s because some people will not sit in a session that they think isn’t valuable to them if they have paid for the event.  For a free event, people are more tolerant.

Make a connection with your audience.  Don’t feel you have to look every person in the eye, but find those individuals who are engaged and speak to them.  If you try to make eye contact with everyone you might lose your train of thought.  Instead, look at people’s foreheads, right above the bridge of their nose.  When you catch someone who is involved – someone who asks a question or is nodding a lot – then make eye contact every so often.

Make sure your slides are readable.  Kimberly Tripp ( t ) has a great (and funny) post about this, and it includes even more links to other presentation-related posts.

Include your session abstract on one of your first slides to set expectations.  This is something I learned from Buck Woody ( t ) and I love it.  Session titles should be catchy, to first get the attendee’s attention, and hopefully they read the abstract and are interested in your topic.  However, to make sure people are fully aware of what you’re going to cover in your presentation, put your abstract up before you start your session.  Buck even reads the entire abstract out loud.  Sometimes I do that as well and hopefully you’ll never have an attendee write on an evaluation, “This wasn’t the session I was expecting.”

Tell a story.  People love stories.  Not everyone is a good storyteller…become one.  This takes practice, but it will serve you well.  Buck talks about this in his post of 20 Master Plots…a book I need to read.  The best stories are your experiences.  You want to talk about the importance of backups?  Talk about a time where you had them, or didn’t, and what happened.  If you can take technical information and relate it to real-life situations, people will not only remember the content better, but they will remember you.

Have confidence.  From the moment you walk into the room where you will present, stand tall and own the room.  It’s not about arrogance here, but if you step up to the front of the room with any trepidation, attendees will notice and you can lose credibility.  First impressions are huge, and that first impression for any attendee can occur at any time you’re in the room where you’re presenting.  Be ready.  You know the material.  You can handle anything.

Think about what you’re going to do before the presentation starts.  When I first started presenting I would stand at the front of the room or the podium and look busy.  I didn’t interact with attendees, and I barely looked at anyone.  Then I went to one of Brent’s presentations where he had a different PowerPoint going at the beginning, which had trivia questions.  It included SQL Server trivia and some fun facts about Brent.  I loved this idea and shamelessly implemented it myself (and of course told Brent I was going to do this).  However, I put my own twist on it to make it more “me.”  Before my sessions I have a slide deck which includes movie trivia.  If you’re a regular reader you know that I love movies.  The movie trivia breaks the ice and gives the attendees something to do (besides read email and tweet) before I start.  And, I can immediately start interacting with people.  Other presenters talk to attendees or encourage them to come up and ask questions.  Whatever method works for you is great, but whatever you do, be engaged with the audience from the moment you walk into the room.

Remember that becoming a good speaker takes practice.  When I first started presenting I was a graduate student, and I was actually teaching undergraduates.  Not just presenting, but teaching.  I had to make sure they learned something, and then I tested them on what I talked about.  I was terrified.  I am pretty sure I was awful at first (to those students, thank you for your patience) but I got better and more confident with every class.  You have to work at it.

In Summary…

Again, these are just a few of the recommendations that come to mind.  The posts I’ve referenced throughout (and listed again below) are ones I revisit from time to time, as there is always room for improvement.  Some people are natural public speakers, others practice a lot and become very good.  You need to become comfortable being uncomfortable, and you need to be patient.  Don’t give up, have confidence, and above all, have fun.


Public Speaking: A Primer – Paul Randal

Please don’t create a painful slide deck – Kimberly Tripp

How to Rehearse a Presentation – Brent Ozar

How to Deliver a Killer Technical Presentation – Brent Ozar

How I Prepare For Presentations, And My Speaking Schedule For This Quarter – Buck Woody

Book Review (Book 12) – 20 Master Plots – Buck Woody

SQL Saturday #67: In which I survive my first speaking engagement – Christina Leo

Presentation Tips – Craig Purnell