I started my career in 1994 at a training company, QuickStart Technologies (now QuickStart Intelligence). I spent my first 2.5 years there as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) teaching Visual Basic 3.0 and 4.0 amongst other classes. I was one of their best trainers and I can thank them for that. They didn’t just hand us our Microsoft curriculum and told us to “Make it so”. They invested time and money into us. We took classes each year from outside trainers on how to give presentations. They were some of the most helpful training I’ve ever had, boring as hell, but incredibly helpful.
In 2006 I helped start and become the president of The Southern California Glass Guild for LA and Orange Counties. The training I received at QuickStart paid off. I was able to lead the monthly meetings and occasionally present on a topic.
This last weekend I had the pleasure of presenting my first SQL Saturday Session (#177) up in Silicon Valley. My presentation was on the tablix controls (Table, Matrix, List) in Reporting Services and was entitled Tablix – The Rubik Cube of Reporting Services.
When I first finished the session, I thought I had done so poorly. I had technical difficulties with my monitor which meant I had to present with my back to my audience, which I hated. …. But then something happened. My students smiled at me. They thanked me. They asked questions. They didn’t leave in the middle of my presentation. And my friends who attend my class told me I did well. So now when I’m asked how it went, my answer is it went great.
The biggest difference between being an MCT and a SQL Saturday trainer, is the materials that you teach from. As an MCT, my materials were created for me, even my demos. As a SQL Saturday trainer, my materials were typed by my own fingers and my demos came from my own imagination. Which meant, I had to buy a laptop because I didn’t own one. I had to think up what I wanted to talk about it and how I would get my points across. I spent 2 months on and off preparing for my one hour session, probably about 30 hours of time.
What advice would I give to a new speaker?
I would actually give this advice to anyone who wants to improve their speaking.
- Invest time into your presentation skills. I was lucky to take classes on speaking, but if cost is an issue, then there are other ways.
- You can join local Toast Masters group.
- You could also have an experienced speaker critique you and give you pointers.
- Go watch other experienced speakers, even if you aren’t interested in their topics. You are there to watch how they present and how they engage their audience. I have three favorites and if you ever get an opportunity to watch them speak, take the time to do so.
- Grant Fritchey (b|t) – He is lively, he LOVES questions, and he has great demos.
- Kevin Kline (b|t) – He has the best voice which means he speaks clearly, he looks at home while speaking, and I swear he uses mind control to get the slides to change. You don’t even see his hand move.
- Jason Strate (b|t) – Jason has the same attributes that Grant and Kevin have. The first time I took a class from him, I was so impressed that I changed my schedule to take the other two classes he was teaching that day. That wouldn’t have happened if he was a bad presenter.
- Video tape one of your presentations (make sure to get permission first). I will warn you, you won’t like looking at it, but you need to.
- Look at your posture. Are you standing up straight? Do you look like you want to be there?
- Look at your clothes. Are they distracting? Are they neat and clean?
- Listen to your speech. Are you loud and clear? Do you use filler words like “um” or “like”?
- Look at the use of your mouse and/or pointer? Are you moving it so much that a cat would pounce on it?
- Make sure you know how long you will be speaking. (For some reason I thought I had 90 min. Nope, I had 60 min.) Bring a clock. The one on your phone is fine. I wrote down the following times on my cheat sheet. That way I didn’t have to do math in my head between remembering the next step in my demo and changing slides.
- The time the session Started
- The half point time
- 10 minutes before the session ended
- The time the session ended.
My mentor gave me some great advice before I gave my first presentation, and on Wednesday when we meet, I know he’ll have some more for me. I’ve also observed from other great instructors some tricks that I used that worked for me.
- Make 3 backups of your slides and demos, including the databases you need. Store them 3 different places you’ll have access to.
- Install ZoomIt by Microsoft and practice with it.
- Be prepared if ZoomIt doesn’t work (that is what happened to me).
- Practice with your screen resolution at 1024 by 768.
- Have a cheat sheet with any special code or numbers that you will be typing in your demo. Allen White (b|t) uses notepad in the background so that he can copy and paste. I LOVE this technique. It worked great for me. Nobody wants to watch you type a formula out. They want you to explain the different parts of it.
- Look and sound confident, even when you’re nervous.
I know there are things I need to work on, but there always are. I enjoyed coming back from the speaking grave and teaching other’s technical content that I use and they might need. I hope that someday you can attend one of my classes.