Category Archives: Community

Five reasons to be a technology speaker

I don’t think everyone should be a technical speaker.

But I wouldn’t object if everyone spent a season trying.

Why be a technology speaker?

Simply put:

  1. You learn more about your subject.
  2. You will learn more about presenting yourself, which is good in general (and especially good for interviewing).
  3. You should give back to a good community.
  4. You will have a unique perspective on your topic.
  5. Being a speaker is excellent for networking. (Networking turns out to mean, “Getting to know people, which often ends in mutual benefit.”)

How do I start?

This is one path to it:

  1. Listen to other technology speakers, whether at your job, at a user group, at a virtual UG, or elsewhere.
  2. Pick something to talk about that is interesting to you. Flesh out what you want to say about it. This will involve research.
  3. Give the talk out loud to a friend or family member, or to a recording device. Get feedback.
  4. Ask someone in the field for advice. There’s a ton of us on Twitter you can ask. Incorporate feedback, and repeat step 3.
  5. Give the talk at a local user group. I highly recommend in person talks over virtual to new speakers, because virtual talks are more difficult and nerve-wracking, in my opinion.

Notice I said nothing about PowerPoint or technical demonstrations. Your talk might include neither, or one, or both. But that’s not the critical part of the talk. The critical part is what you have to say, followed by how you say it.

Want help? Email me, Jen at MidnightDBA.com, or catch me on Twitter. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can help. Lots of us can help.

That thing you want to do? Do the thing.

I had a great time today talking to a guy at SQL Saturday Baton Rouge (great event, by the way)! He said, more or less:

I’m thinking about the next step in my career. I want to do more – maybe a blog, newsletter, videos, something. But I’m worried about…

And he mentioned several things keeping him from starting. Would it pay off? Will it be worth it? Could he keep up with it? Would he end up embarrassing himself?

Is it worth it? Will it pay off?

Is it worth putting in the time to build a brand, or create content? Is it worth it to spend all that time?

Well here’s the thing: you might have a specific end game, like brand building to get into consulting. Or you might just have a general idea, like “advancing your career”. Think about what doing the thing will get you:

  • Creating content, like recorded sessions or blogs, will teach you a ton about what you do and don’t know.  You don’t know a topic until you teach it.
  • It will also give you a reference. I go back and read my own blogs on a regular basis, to relearn something I’ve forgotten.
  • It will get you some recognition and familiarity in the technology sphere, which can lead to all kinds of inspiration and opportunity. After five years of being the MidnightDBAs, Sean and I occasionally walked into interviews and had to answer zero questions.

Are you going to make a full career off a blog? No, you won’t. But there are other advantages.

Can I keep up with it?

Committing to a blog, or public speaking, or whatever is indeed a commitment. But you can adjust that however you like. Some examples:

I have a blog, and I’ve read that you should really post once a week to build a following. This is probably good advice, but I won’t keep up with it. I post whenever I feel like it, and after (something like) 10 years of blogging, my following is just fine.

Sean and I have done a weekly webshow for eight years. EIGHT YEARS. That’s longer than I’ve done almost anything else in life. How have we done it? Very low standards, seriously. We pick topics we like to talk about, we keep it in a format we like, and we post when we feel like.  Could we get more of an audience if we had high production values and writers? Sure. Do I care? Not really. (And by the way, we’re starting to put all of the recorded episodes on our YouTube channel. Podcasting it was too much of a pain.)

What about getting embarrassed?

Okay, so the whole idea of brand building is to get a lot of people to know who you are. And that does happen – we’ve had some great things come out of people knowing who the MidnightDBAs are.

And, I’ve struggled with the embarrassment thing. What if I post something stupid? What if I get called out?  Well, I have, and I have. You live. People forget it way sooner than you do.

And! Even if you’re well branded, well known, and screw up? Fully 3/4 of the people you ever meet will have heard of you*. That’s right! Super successful, famous SQL people aren’t known by the majority of the people at a conference. There’s a certain amount of comfort in anonymity, and you’ll still have it.

Of course, be sure to post corrections when you do screw up, but don’t worry about it too terribly much (so long as it’s a “once in a while thing”).

In any case, that thing you want to do? You should probably go do the thing. And tell me about it, because I’d like to take a look.

Happy days,
Jen

 

*I seriously cannot believe how few people know who some of the smartest and most famous people in the industry are, e.g. Kalen Delaney, Adam Machanic.

The Public Speaking Roadmap

So you look around, and all the cool kids are speaking at SQL Saturdays and PASS Summit and the like. You want to be the cool kids too, so how do you start public speaking?

Step 1: Know things

While you absolutely don’t have to be a 30 year veteran and world-renowned expert, it does help if you’ve got some experience with something. In other words, teach what you know.

Maybe what you know is TSQL, or Powershell, or R. Maybe it’s performance, maybe reporting. If you know a topic, talk on that topic. I hear you saying, “But plenty of people are already talking about my topic!” Well sure, just like plenty of people are already writing rock music…it doesn’t mean we’re all done making it!

So, develop your session. Say what you want to say. It’s your unique experiences and expression that will make your teaching valuable. Speaking of which, it’s time to develop your material and your personal style.

Step 2: Practice

Oh my dear word, you need to practice. Once you’ve developed your session, practice it out loud.

Practice your session to your dog.

Practice your session on video, and watch it back. (Yes, you have to listen to yourself speak.)

Practice to your significant other, or a friend, or some co workers.

Set up a webinar, and practice to a live audience online, even if only 2 people show up.

You absolutely must practice your session, out loud, many times. It’s going to suck at first. Practice is how you make it not suck, how you work out the kinks and figure out how it should sound.

Step 3: Try the local circuit

Quite a few people skip this step, and they really do pay for it. Before you go submitting your session to conferences, speak at your local user group. Speak for a PASS virtual chapter. Present for your team at work. Get some live performances under your belt! The responses and feedback – you’re going to ask for feedback, right? – will further refine your session.

Step 4: Level up your public speaking

Okay, you’ve done steps 1 through 3, yeah? Good job, you. Go ahead and submit to a larger event, like a SQL Saturday, or a Code Camp.

If you’re feeling really froggy, then sure…submit to one of the big conferences. I do recommend that you get a couple of smaller events done first…it’ll up the odds of being accepted, and of presenting a good session, in the big leagues.

Bonus: Ask questions!

Throughout this process, make sure you’re asking advice from at least one other experienced speaker. The input from someone who has already been there and done that will make things a great deal easier. Experienced speakers can point you to speaking resources, help you with abstracts, recommend events, and so on and on.

That’s the very high level path, my friend. Now, what do you want to talk about?

Happy days,
Jen