If I asked you when was the last time you went to an awesome rock show or movie, I’m betting that not only do you remember the day, but probably also remember how excited you got. Maybe it was Rush, getting you to move to the beat and sing along with the lyrics, or Captain America, cheering while he took on the Red Skull. I’m sure we all can think back to some artist that got us excited about their art because they put their heart and soul into their performance. Now what if I told you that giving a presentation isn’t really that much different?
For those unaware, I am a musician as well as a database administrator. I studied Bass Trombone performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder and have played in several jazz bands, orchestras, and chamber groups over the years. Sometimes it was a large gathering, other times we probably could have taken the audience in a fight. Every one of these was great, though, because of the rush I got playing music for people and sharing with them some of what I felt when I got to play.
Recently I’ve started doing SQL presentations, trying to build that professional development thing. I’ve enjoyed it and had a reasonable amount of success(well, no one’s thrown rotten fruit at me yet), but it struck me how similar giving a presentation is to a musical performance. I’ve found that just live I’ve tried to share the excitement I feel about music with an people who come to listen to me, when I give a presentation I’ve got the chance to share with people something that I found within SQL Server that’s cool and fun (in a geeky sort of way).
If you look at presentations you have given, I’m sure you can think of the parallels of preparation and practice, both of which take so much of a musicians time. The time spent building slide decks, researching minutiae, and talking in front of a mirror with a stop watch are so very much like a musician studying a score, practicing etudes, and doing breathing exercises. Most of an artist’s life is spent getting ready for that performance. It’s often lost in the mix is done on stage that really brings a song or a show to life.
I want you to think about that last great rock show or movie you went to. You know, the one that had you dancing in the crowd, cheering the hero, or singing along with the band. Musicians find ways to reach out and involve the crowd, so that their audience doesn’t just feel like they’re listening to a show, but that they’re actually a part of it. This is where the magic is, and if you can capture that in your presentation, your success will soar.
“But Mike!” you say, “We’re just talking about the dull stuff. No one’s going to bob their head to query plans, right?” Untrue. After all, the reason we work in this industry, that we participate in the community, and that we present to groups because it’s fun and gets us excited. The folks coming out to these events share that excitement, we just need to tap into that as presenters. It’s this magic quality that I’ve been working on in my own presentation style, so I canengage my audience and break down the wall between me and the people sitting in the room. It’s not easy and I know that there’s a lot that I can still learn here, but these are some of the things I’m trying to do:
- Lighten the mood. Sure, we’re seeing a lot of dry stuff with databases, but find ways to make it fun. It could be humor or handing out candy for good questions, but try to loosen people up.
- Get the dialog going. We always expect the audience to ask questions, so it’s uncomfortable when they look at you stone-faced. Typically, people aren’t asking questions because they’re afraid to be the first one. Get past that by asking the audience questions. Once your group realizes that this is a two way conversation, questions will start flowing.
- Don’t be afraid. After all, people have come to the presentation to hear you. And they’ve come to hear you because they are interested in your topic and you do know what you’re talking about. If you have that confidence, it will project through and engage your audience.
Presenting really is another performing art, and I think if you approach it like an artistic performance, not only will your abilities as a presenter grow, but it will be more fun to boot. It’s hard for me to really put in to words the rush I’ve felt after a great performance, like when I played the Pines of Rome or Count Bubba, but it’s a feeling that can’t be beat. That’s what’s great about presenting, is I have gotten the same rush getting up on stage in front of PASS user’s group. So while most of us can’t shred like Satriani or sing like Tori, we all have the ability to share our passion for SQL Server with people who are just as fired up to learn about it. Revel in that, it’s a feeling to few people get to have.