I’m going to give you some advice using my favorite Ru Paul quote “Good luck…and don’t f*&$k it up”@MikeHillwig
Speaking at SQL Saturday Boston was the most exciting, rewarding and terrifying thing I’ve done in a long time. Despite all of my initial impostor syndrome fueled self-doubt, I survived. No one laughed at me. All of the horrible thoughts streaming in my head didn’t come true. What did happen though was that I learning a lot about myself, SQL Family and the sheer magnitude of work that goes into these events by all involved.
Prior to SQL Saturday Boston I was not someone who had ever spoken in front of a group larger than 5 people, who were not at a wedding, let alone 60. I was, and still am to some degree, an introvert. The concept of presenting was so far out of my comfort zone that It never crossed my mind to submit a session. That’s why If someone had told me last year that I would be getting a new job and giving my first presentation, at a SQL Saturday no less, I would have said that person was crazy. And not just a little crazy either, full blown Gary Busey crazy.
Up until September 2016 I had been a lone DBA for nearly 13 years. Not only was I the DBA, but I also had a bazillion (yes it’s a technical term) other responsibilities including application support, NOC engineer, Data warehouse developer, Application developer and on call 24/7. It was the kind of busy where working every weekend and weekday 3am calls were normal. However, I’ll save the lessons learned and war stories for another post, which will most likely be titled “how to burn out your DBA”.
So what did getting new job have to do with me speaking at SQL Saturday? Everything! Well, more accurately my manager Mike Hillwig (b|t) had everything to do with it. He was the one who encouraged me to submit a session.
Planning and inspiration provided by Mike Hillwig.
This “inspiration” came by way of a subtle kick in the pants to submit a session I was passionate about. My crossfit like passion for powershell seemed like the perfect place to start down this new speaker path. I don’t even do “the crossfit”, so I totally get how annoying I am while weilding my new shiny PoSh hammer. Want to deploy a change? Powershell! Want to do a thing? Powershell! Excuse me do you have time to talk about our powershell savior dbatools?
I read blog post after blog post about speaking, presenting and the importance of not typing in demos(which I broke). I reformatted my laptop, ordered more RAM and brought my 10 year old laptop to its knees with VMs. I created way too many demos and loaded way too many slides in my power point. I felt ready and had practiced it in my head. What I didn’t account for were questions and my awkward delivery. Both slowed things down, which was good, but it wasn’t something I had accounted for.
My last bit of preparation came by way of studying a few presenters before the big day. I had gone to see Derik Hammer(b|t) present at NESQL, and Mike Fal (b|t) at his SQL Saturday PreCon and was in awe of both their delivery and preparation. At one point Derik had issues with a VM for a demo and just loaded up an already made PPT of that demo like a boss. Mind = Blown.
My palms were sweaty, my knees weak and my arms were heavier than normal.
Actually on the day of the event I felt alarmingly less nervous than I had anticipated and much more relaxed(until exactly 1 hour before my session started) . I had met a majority of the speakers the night before, at the speaker dinner, and started to finally realize what this whole #SQL Family thing was all about. Every single person I met was amazing. They were smart, funny (Lenny is a national treasure) , kind and completely willing to answer any questions. I had read about these people on blogs, read their books, and seen their videos. Yet, the support I felt during this event was something that I really can’t put into words. It helped push me forward and even propped me up as I presented.
You would think that having a couple MVPs in your very first session would be nerve-racking. However, the opposite was true as I looked out and saw Mike Fal, Aaron Bertrand (b|t) and Grant Fritchey (b|t) in the audience. Knowing these guys were there to not only give me feedback, but to support me, felt awesome. When Mike Fal was the first to emphatically raise his hand like an excited 3rd grader when I asked “who uses powershell” I laughed and was able to start my session off with a smile. In fact, I think Mike raised his hand for every interaction and even helped with a few questions. Its nice having experts, who are amazing people, in your corner.
What I Learned
A lot < /end blog>
I learned I’m not a natural public speaker. I don’t talk good loud. I stayed behind the safety of my laptop because my legs didn’t work. I tried to put too much information into the session and didn’t get to all of my real world demos. Heck, I didn’t even get through all my slides. Like a said earlier, you can’t account for audience interaction and self induced demo failures. Definitely don’t add to already working demos seconds before walking in or you’re going to have a bad time. Move on and move forward.
The biggest takeaway was that someone actually learned something! I had a few individuals approach me, thank me and ask for my demo code and slides. This blew my mind and made me feel like it was all worth it. Now I need to make my delivery better.
My advice is to just dive in. Start with a local group, or toastmasters. Or if you are already comfortable speaking in front of a group then just go for it. Simply reading and watching videos on a subject give you an inkling of what is involved, but only taking action and doing it help you improve.
practice. practice. practice.
Speak up. Ask if everyone can hear you.
Get out from behind the safety of your laptop/lecturn and engage.
You have something to say. Your voice and experience is different than everyone else.
I’m going to keep going. I’m working on my public speaking with toastmasters and I’m full steam ahead with more user group sessions. I want to get better and grow in areas that need improvement and the only way to do that is to keep going.