Every January, many talk about what they want to accomplish in the New Year. Goal, resolutions, attempts to improve both personally and professionally. Within the community, a lot of my friends have set goals for public speaking, aiming to talk at user group meetings, presenting to their peers at their jobs, or larger aspirations.
Time and again, we hear the refrain about how presenting can boost your career. I know I’ve spoken about it myself on a number of occasions. The problem for most is their first presentation and how daunting it can be. Sometimes someone’s not sure where they could first chance to speak. Other times it’s a question of finding the “right” topic to speak on. Not surprisingly, I’ve had a number of conversations in the past months with community members who are grappling with these issues. The desire is there, but they need a little guidance in order to start down the path.
Finding the audience
I think the issue of finding a venue is the easier problem to handle. Over the past two years I’ve become more involved with the Professional Association for SQL Server and I’ve gotten to know many of the local and regional organizers. Recently, I’m became one of those people as well, joining the board of the Denver SQL Server group this past January. Over this time, I’ve learned that your local user groups are always looking for speakers and typically have several different ways to help new speakers get started.
- A 30 minute “lead off” slot, where the meeting will usually have someone speaking on an introductory topic
- A 60 minute “main event” slot, typically featuring a local or national name on a more in-depth topic.
When I started my own presentation path, I got my feet wet with the 30 minute intro slot. 60 minutes is a bit much to take in for a first presentation, both for assembling material and also for the intimidation of talking for a full hour. Also, when it’s the first of two presentations in the evening, it takes some of the pressure off because there will be someone else speaking after you.
I also know that many local groups are looking at other options with their formats in order to promote new speakers. With the success of lightening talks at the Summit, many user groups have been talking about implementing that format within their own meetings as a way to give new speakers an even easier way to get started. For those unfamiliar with the format, several short presentations (8-10 minutes each) are lined up next to each other. Topics are fairly limited, as there’s only so much material you can cover. In Denver, we’re planning on using this format to open our March meeting and having only new speakers
Speaking….in the Cloud?
Unfortunately, local user groups only meet once a month and aren’t always convenient for everyone. The good news is there are other speaking opportunities outside of these meetings for new presenters to make use of, found in the PASS Virtual Chapters. There are many of these groups built around various areas of interest within SQL Server and they’re always looking for speakers. The great thing about these meetings is that they’re held online, so that many of the scheduling and possible travelling difficulties are avoided.
I personally had the opportunity to present to two virtual chapters last year and they were great experiences. It took a little while to get used to the limited audience interaction, but it also meant that I was a little more control of the flow of things. For new presenters who may be intimidated by the audience, this is a great in between step. Also, you’ll have a meeting moderator who can assist you getting things going, which helps expand the comfort zone because you basically have someone backing you up.
We always talk about the Cloud and how it will change our careers. This is yet another way that it’s impacting us. Through virtual chapters, we have even more opportunities to present and reach a larger audience. Certainly, we hear every day how many of the top consultants are reaching out to the community through free training and it’s easy to observe the success they’re having. There’s no reason new speakers can’t have the same success with these very same tools.
Yeah, I’m Region Wide
If you’re involved the community, it’s hard at this point to have not heard about SQL Saturday. I love these events and I’ve been very pleased to see the explosion in the number of SQL Saturdays over the past year. One of the reasons these events were started was to grow the SQL Server speaker base and, by necessity of the sheer number of these mini-conferences, they are continually in need of new speakers.
While it may be a little intimidating to start speaking at one of these events, the benefits are amazing. Even if you have had a chance to speak once or twice already, it can’t be understated how important it is to speak at one of these, even if you have to drive a couple hours or plan a quick weekend getaway. It’s not just about the opportunity to speak, but also to network. While attendees get a chance to meet local SQL Server professionals, speakers have a chance to talk with regional and national speakers that are also in town for the event. For example, if you were speaking at SQL Saturday Albuquerque, you’d have a chance to chat with Aaron Bertrand, Steve Jones, and Denny Cherry.
Keeping it in house
Lastly, the easiest place to present could be no further than your workplace. Presenting within your company has several advantages, the biggest being that you are probably already familiar with your audience. Also, you can probably have an easier time scheduling your presentation, which becomes more convenient for you. Overall, presenting to your co-workers provides you a more comfortable experience, which might be an easier first step if you’re not sure about getting up in front of a bunch of strangers.
The Longest Talk
Whether you speak at a user group meeting, online, or to your team at work, you have plenty of options for a venue. “I don’t know where I could speak” is not an excuse that’s available to any SQL professional. I used this excuse for a while, but then when I spoke with my local speaker wrangler for the Denver SQL User Group, it committed me. Suddenly, I had a time and a place where I had to speak and I couldn’t back out. Well, I could, but what would that say? We’re in the tech world because we love challenges, we take on new problems, and we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. This is just another challenge, so grasp it and help your career go further.
Next week, come back and I’ll provide some additional information on the second hurdle: How to choose a topic.