Last week, I provided some tips on finding that first venue for presenting. This is only half the equation, though. Once you’ve got a commitment to speak, the next thing we need to do is pick something to speak about.
Choosing your first topic feels like a daunting task. All first time speakers want to educate and share, but most importantly they want to impress. The problem is beginning presenters are also painfully aware of the experienced data professionals and local experts that will be sitting in the audience. These factors, combined with the speaker’s understandable inexperience, will usually result in someone selecting a topic that is a tough fit for the audience and an even bigger struggle for the presenter to put together.
What do I mean by this? Let’s look at an example from a presentation I attended at a local user group. The main presentation was a first timer and he had chosen for his topic “database performance”. Now, I probably don’t need to tell you how many different elements could go into this. The presenter could have easily talked hardware, indexing, query plans, or other topics for an hour and provided a solid presentation. As it was, the topic was too broad, leading to the speaker getting flustered while the audience was confused and distracted. It was a rough night.
New speakers typically set the bar too high for themselves. When we get right down to it, the success of all presentations is built more on the focus of the message than the depth of the topic. Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Another first time speaker gave a talk on reporting services tips and tricks. This talk was mostly about utilizing the properties window in reporting designer, with no live demos or elaborate diagrams, yet it was a success because it had a fine-tuned message and didn’t try to do more than it had to. It also had a Picard/Riker face palm, but I digress. The audience left the presentation informed and satisfied because the speaker had remained on-topic with a message that was easily digestible for that hour long time slot.
This is why I’m such a big fan of new speakers starting off with a 30 minute or less presentation. This isn’t a lot of time and forces a presentation to choose subject matter that can fit. Also, even though many user groups might consider this a “beginner” slot, you really aren’t limited on depth. Just look at what the Ozar crew does with their Triage Tuesdays sessions. The key is not biting off more than you can chew.
“Great, Mike, but what is too much” is probably what you’re saying to yourself right now. Let me provide some examples of some topics I’ve either seen or done for 30 minutes to give you an idea of what has worked. It should give you some ideas for your own presentations:
- MSDB Backupset tips and tricks
- Database roles, users, and logins
- SQL Server Isolation Levels
- Using SQL Server service accounts
- What is parameter sniffing?
This is just a short list, for other examples just look around the web. Also, ask your local speakers for advice and help. Isn’t the strength of our community built on leaning on each other for guidance? There’s no reason why we shouldn’t leverage others experience for the non-technical as well as the technical. I’m sure you have your own ideas of what you’re comfortable and knowledgeable about, but an experienced presenter can help you refine and mold those ideas into a solid first topic.
Now you should be armed with the knowledge both of where and what you can present on. If you can overcome these two hurdles, technical speaking can quickly become a snowball tumbling downhill. I was nervous when I first started. However, after I gave that first talk almost two years ago, I’ve not been able to stop. You’ve heard all the benefits of technical presentations, the boost to both knowledge and confidence that they provide. The more you speak, the easier it will become, and then someday in the future you can be the experienced presenter helping the next person who wants to speak out.