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Presentations

Speaking Out

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.

For example, we have three established groups here in Colorado, with fourth one getting started.  The three established groups all provide the same general format for speaking slots:

  • 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.

The importance of listening

A while back when I was still studying music, I went to a master class conducted by a prominent tuba player. We covered a lot of the usual stuff, like breathing exercises, intonation, and specific excerpts and audition pieces. A major portion of the time, though, was spent on another important aspect of musicianship: listening. As a group, we talked about listening to different musicians to how they would phrase melodies or shape dynamics, discussing guys like Sinatra, Rush, Miles Davis, and many others. It was stressed that spending time listening critically to music was just as important as practicing and something we should be spending a couple hours on daily.

I began to think about this vital part of musicianship recently when I was at SQL Saturday 107, talking with other presenters about how we approached our presentations. For many of us, the practice of public speaking isn’t just about sharing with others of the SQL community, but also about improving our own skills. I’ve written before about how presenting is like performing and, while I’ve been practicing and rehearsing my presentations, I’ve also been trying to watch other presenters to learn what techniques others use and what might help me improve my own skills.

There have been a couple speakers that have taught me a lot, simply by watching them use their craft. Probably my biggest influence to date is Grant Fritchey(b|t). I’ve learned a fair amount from watching him, but one of Grant’s greatest strengths is he presents with passion and excitement. When a speaker is energized about a topic, the audience will be engaged and drawn in by that energy. It’s important because the energy becomes cyclical. The more the audience is engaged, the more comfortable the speaker gets, and the better the presentation flows. I’ve also noticed that Grant doesn’t try to force the audience to respond, but allows his own excitement to resonate in the audience.

Another lesson I’ve learned is how to use humor to relax an audience. Wes Brown(b|t) does some fantastic presentations on storage and part of what makes them work is his easy, natural humor. If you’ve ever met Wes, he’s always got a joke ready. This works for presentations because it relaxes the crowd when everyone shares a laugh. It also gets the audience to respond to the presenter, breaking down the wall between the two. This is important, because it helps create and drive that energy between the performer and audience.

A quick follow up on this, I’ve seen a lot of people use “funny pictures” in their presentations to interject this humor. While this works for some folks, I found this doesn’t work for me. In the style that I give presentations, I find that this approach is a little forced and takes away from the story I’m trying to tell. This isn’t to say that it won’t work for you or for other folks, it’s just a case of observing how others do something, evaluating it for my own use, and making a decision based of that analysis.

Some other thoughts on what doesn’t work. I’ve seen demos blow up on folks, presenters who lose focus, session that try and cover too much material, presentations that end to quickly because a speaker lost control of the pacing, etc. While none of these are related specifically to one another, they always remind me of how important it is to practice. The more you go over your presentation material, the better you will be at presenting it to others, and you can recognize the lack of rehearsal through critical observation.

The key with all of this is to become a student of the craft. Many of us have great technical knowledge, the ability to figure out those tough problems like memory pressure, storage bottlenecks, security, application caching….the list goes on and on. Much of this is because we read and study that craft. If we want to similarly immerse ourselves in the study of public speaking, we should watch what others do. This can be done at the PASS Summit, SQL Saturdays, or your local user group. You also can go online and watch any number of presentations at TED or other webinars given by the community. In fact, it could be very helpful to watch non-technical presentations to add perspective. Just as any musician would spend at least part of his day listening critically to music, you should watch videos, webinars, and other demonstrations with a critical eye.

Now I want to note, you’re not looking for errors just for the sake of errors. I had a music teacher who called those folks “calculator kids”, just figuring out everything that went wrong. That’s not what this is about. By watching presentations critically, you want to catalog what you like and what you don’t like, and try and figure out what things in a presenter’s style works for them. The goal is to find those skills and techniques that will make you a better presenter.

Here’s a little exercise: The next time you watch an online video or go see someone talk about a topic (any topic), write down three things you liked. That’s it, simple enough. Try and do that each time you’re in a session. You don’t even have to say these are three things you will do in future presentations, but by just writing them down you’ll start thinking about those tricks and will choose some for yourself. I promise you, just by doing that, your presentations will better and not only will your audiences get more out of them, you will too.

Upcoming Presentations

More on the how later, but I wanted to let folks know about some presenting I’ll be doing over the next couple of months. I’m extremely excited for all of this speaking and the opportunities to share with the SQL Server community.

My partitioning presentation, Eating the Elephant, is now slotted for three upcoming events:

  • PASS Virtual Performance Chapter – For those following this group, Jes Borland-Schulz(b|t) did a great presentation on filegroups last week. Partitioning will be a natural follow up to this topic and I’ll be presenting to this group on March 22.
  • PASS Virtual Data Architecture Chapter  – Tom LeBlanc(b|t) asked me to give this presentation in April 19 after we talked at SQL Saturday #104 in Colorado Springs.
  • SQL Rally in Dallas – Seriously, I’m giddy about this. The SQL Community selected me as part of the Community Choice vote and I’ll be giving this presentation sometime during the conference. For those of you interested, I blogged about the first SQL Rally last year. It’s a great event, much cheaper than the Summit, and was a fantastic boost for my career. Even if you don’t come to see my presentation (I forgive you), you really should go.

I’m extremely excited and honored that people want to hear me speak. Presenting is a lot of fun for me and very rewarding, both on a personal and professional level. It’s a vicious cycle, too, because while I’m giving the same presentation three times over the next three months, I’ve already got 2-3 more presentation ideas bubbling around in my head that I plan to give by the end of the year. Stay tuned, 2012 is turning out to be pretty awesome!

Planning for success in 2012 (part 2)

If you missed part 1, you can head over here.

Speaking

In 2011, I jumped in to the presentation gig with both feet and found that I really liked it. If you’re an avid blog reader, you’ve probably heard the benefits of presentations ad infinitum. So instead of talking about those, let’s talk about why I like them so much.

First off, it’s a chance for me to study up on something I find really cool. I find databases and some of the topics in SQL Server to be really neat, most likely because I’m a geek. It’s stuff I want to learn about anyway, but since there’s a definite end point (giving the presentation), it helps me put some structure around learning an aspect of SQL Server.

Secondly, I like to talk. I’ve actually been offered criticism that I talk to much, but I figure that’s something I can work on and it’s easier to overcome chattiness than a reluctance to speak. And it’s more than just talking towards an audience in a presentation, I’ve found the best experiences I’ve had giving presentations are when there’s a good Q & A period at the end of a presentation.

Thirdly, people are genuinely appreciative of my efforts. I’ve written and talked at great length about how giving the SQL Community is, but one of the reasons it is so giving is because it’s also very thankful for the knowledge we share. I’ve received numerous compliments and “thank yous” for the sessions I’ve done, which really makes me feel good about the work I’ve been doing.

I want to continue speaking, so for the upcoming year, my second set of goals will be focused on presenting, with the following specifics:

  • Speak at 4 SQL Saturdays. Now, I’ve already got a jump on this because I’ll be speaking at SQL Saturday #104 in Colorado Springs, giving a new presentation on SQL Server partitioning.
  • Speak at SQL Rally – Dallas. Granted, this means I have to be selected, but I will be at least trying. I will submit my sessions by the end of the month and cross my fingers.

No, submitting for the PASS Summit this year is not one of my goals. I still might, but I’ll let that unfold. There’s some other items in the works, plus the nice thing about going to an event where you’re not a speaker means you can just be at the event. That’s what I liked about the 2011 summit, is I was able to experience it without worrying about obligations.

4-5 speaking engagements for the year may not seem much, but I’m finding out that speaking at user groups and SQL Saturdays can quickly beget other opportunities. By setting this goal, I establish a bar for myself, but also plenty of room on my plate for other things. In fact, I actually already have a couple things lined up already that I’m very excited about and will talk more about soon. But while I want goals that push me, I don’t want to overload myself and burn out.

Stay tuned, one more goals post coming soon!

P.S. If you can make it, we’d love to see you at SQL Saturday #104. I’ll be giving this presentation:

Eating the Elephant: SQL Server Table Partitioning – Is your table fat? Do you need to manage a table that has billions of rows within it and are overwhelmed by index rebuilds that take more than 12 hours? SQL Server’s table partitioning gives the DBA the tools to manage this beast and support very large tables in a way where index management and data retrieval does not become unwieldy. This presentation will take you step by step through choosing an appropriate partitioning key, setting up the partitioning on the table, and finally maintaining the partitions.

It will be a great time and an awesome way to kick off your SQL career in 2012!

Performing your presentation

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.

SQL Saturday #94 Wrapup

So take one part road trip, one part awesome community event, one part hanging out with friends old and new, blend thoroughly, and you get my weekend at SQL Saturday #94 – Salt Lake City. It never ceases to amaze me how much fun the SQL community is, but I love it and can’t wait to get more.

As stated previously, I was asked to do my security presentation, which was nice because after four times presenting the session is very comfortable. (I’m going to need to stop submitting it, though, so I can present on other topics.) The session went smoothly and I finished 5 minutes early, but there was good engagement from the audience, with plenty of questions and folks who stayed after to talk more about the topic.

The event itself was run in conjunction with a code camp event and, while that got the bulk of attendees, I felt like we had a nice sized audience for the SQL sessions. Things seemed to run pretty smoothly and (I don’t think) we had any major crises going on. Attendees floated between both floors, so it was nice to get a good cross section. Also, the code camp brought in a lot of open source and non-Windows people, which added to the variety. We even had a session about MySQL! (which I unfortunately had to miss because it was up against my own session)

Besides attending my own presentation, I sat in on a couple others:

  • Mitch Bottel (b|t) spoke on Policy Based Management and Central Management Server, a topic I’ve been dancing around lately. It was good to get his take on it and he gave a good enough taste that many of us in the room were excited to take what he had taught us back to our workplaces.
  • Chad Crawford had a fantastic presentation on partitioning. While I’ve got experience with the topic, Chad really gave a good foundation of all the principles of table partitioning and enough practical knowledge to get folks started implementing it.
  • Ben Miller (b) had a solid session on SQLPSX for Powershell. This is a topic I’m really excited about because there are a lot of management possibilities out there for shell scripting. I saw enough of SQLPSX to know that it’s going to make my life a lot easier once I start piecing together my own scripts.

Outside of the presentations, we also had a nice chance to hang out. Randy Knight(w|t) and his wonderful wife were incredibly generous by entertaining a group of us Friday night at his house with conversation, cheesecake, and ice cream cake. T Jay Belt (b|t) was an awesome host, putting 5 of us in Colorado up in his camper. Then, on top of all of this, the both of them took a group of us up in the mountains after the event to wind down with some barbecue, a campfire, and beer on a comfortable Saturday evening. Really, I can’t think these guys enough for what they did for this event.

Thanks to the vendors who supported the event as well. It’s because of these fine folks that we can have these events, so don’t hesitate to chat with them at these events. The tools they offer have definitely helped me out managing my environments and they can save you a lot of time, too. The reason they invest in the community is because their success is determined by our success, so they want to see all of us do well.

Finally, big huge gigantic thanks go out to Pat Wright (b|t) and his crew for putting this all together. Hosting a SQL Saturday is a non-trivial event and really can take it out of you, but the benefits are huge. It’s what I love about being a SQL Server guy, because we have this awesome grass roots effort to share and learn to everyone who is involved in our technology. I came out of this event with half a dozen new friends (technical contacts, sure, but I consider ‘em friends first), additional speaking experience, and some new info about technical topics. If you haven’t had a chance to participate in something like this, take some time and figure out where your local user group meets. Check out the SQL Saturday website and get involved. Once you do, you’ll not only see your career take off, but you’ll have a sh*t-ton of fun doing it.

After all, that’s what’s happening for me!

SQL Saturday #94

First off, I apologize for not posting for a while.  I’ve switched jobs and have been spending the time getting sorted at the new job.  On the one hand, it’s exciting to move into a new environment and learn new things.  However, it’s also been oddly comfortable, since it’s all SQL Server.  Anyway, more on that later.

I found out yesterday that I’ll be presenting at SQL Saturday #94.  Hurrah!  I’m very happy the Salt Lake City folks have given me a chance to present.  Unfortunately, I present opposite to Doug Lane, but at least I won’t have to worry about him heckling me.

For those wondering, I’ll be doing my security presentation again.  For those curious, it’s definitely a beginner presentation, but it was well recieved at all the Colorado groups.  I was even told by a DBA of 20+ years that he got something new out of it.  Hopefully you will to!

Managing and Auditing SQL Server Permissions

When your boss asks you who has access to your databases, do you break out into a cold sweat? Or, instead, are you worried about those other people who might have ‘sa’ access to your server and might be causing trouble on your server? Either way, as DBAs we need to be able to audit our SQL Server security. This presentation will give you a general overview of the different types of roles that you can use to manage access, what they mean, and how we look at the security gremlins hiding under the covers of our databases.

I look forward to seeing you in Salt Lake City!

First post and first presentation!

Last Thursday, I got a chance to present to the Denver SQL Users Group on Managing and Auditing SQL Security. I crammed a lot in for 30 minutes and got some good immediate feed back. I think the one thing that made me nervous was no one really asked any questions, but since it was my first technical presentation in a long time, I’m not sweating it.

Anyway, for those of you who attended, thanks for listening. If you have a chance, please leave me some feedback at Speaker Rate. I’d really appreciate it. For those who didn’t make it, the presentation was an overview of creating accounts in SQL Server, granting access via GRANT, server roles, and database roles, as well as queries that you can use to audit that access.

Here’s the meat for all those interested:

Powerpoint Presentation – SQL Server Security
(Please note the presentation is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license)

Scripts:
server_logins.sql
server_roles.sql
server_role_audit.sql – Uses xp_logininfo
database_roles.sql
db_roles_audit.sql – Uses xp_logininfo
object_grants.sql

Enjoy!

Last Thursday, I got a chance to present to the Denver SQL User’s Group on Managing and Auditing SQL Security. I crammed a lot in in 30 minutes and got some good immediate feed back. I think the one thing that made me nervous was no one really asked any questions, but since it was my first technical presentation in a long time, I’m not sweating it.

 

Anyway, for those of you who attended, thanks for listening. If you have a chance, please leave me some feedback at Speaker Rate for me. I’d really appreciate it. For those who didn’t make it, the presentation was an over view of creating accounts in SQL Server, granting access via GRANT, server roles, and database roles, as well as queries that you can use to audit that access.

 

Here’s the meat for all those interested:

Powerpoint Presentation – SQL Server Security

 

Scripts:

server_logins.sql

server_roles.sql

server_role_audit.sql – Uses xp_logininfo

database_roles.sql

db_roles_audit.sql – Uses xp_logininfo

object_grants

Last Thursday, I got a chance to present to the Denver SQL User’s Group on Managing and Auditing SQL Security. I crammed a lot in in 30 minutes and got some good immediate feed back. I think the one thing that made me nervous was no one really asked any questions, but since it was my first technical presentation in a long time, I’m not sweating it.

Anyway, for those of you who attended, thanks for listening. If you have a chance, please leave me some feedback at Speaker Rate for me. I’d really appreciate it. For those who didn’t make it, the presentation was an over view of creating accounts in SQL Server, granting access via GRANT, server roles, and database roles, as well as queries that you can use to audit that access.

Here’s the meat for all those interested:

Powerpoint Presentation – SQL Server Security

Scripts:

server_logins.sql

server_roles.sql

server_role_audit.sql – Uses xp_logininfo

database_roles.sql

db_roles_audit.sql – Uses xp_logininfo

object_grants