First Time SQL Saturday Speaker Tips

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A few years ago, I wrote about my first experience speaking at SQL Saturday. Recently I had a conversation with one of our first-timers speaking at SQL Saturday Rochester 2020 and realized I should do a follow-up with some additional tips.

Use the FAQ

Did you know that PASS has an FAQ section for speakers on the SQL Saturday site? But don’t limit yourself to that - look through the whole FAQ, you might get some new insights into SQL Saturday.

There is a PowerPoint template!

PASS provides (in the For Speakers FAQ) a PowerPoint slide template (direct link). Most SQL Saturdays don’t require you to use the template but if you’re trying to decide between a default PowerPoint template and winging it, it’s a good way to go.

Thank the attendees

Folks took a day out of their weekend to come see you speak. That’s awesome! Without our SQL Saturday attendees, we wouldn’t have an event. Make sure they know that they’re appreciated.

While you’re thanking the attendees, ask them to be sure to fill out their session evaluations and pre-thank them for doing so. Those evals are how you improve as a speaker, so that you can do a better job for them next year.

Thank the sponsors

And encourage the folks in your session to talk to them. Sponsors are often traveling from far away to come to SQL Saturday, so they’re away from their families for a couple days and dealing with all the “joys” of business travel. Sponsors who have good experiences with event attendees will be encouraged to continue supporting the SQL Saturday community.

Practice, practice, practice

It’s how you get to Carnegie Hall, and we have at least one SQL Saturday speaker who knows it firsthand. I might be guilty of over-preparing as I’ll practice at 8-10 times in the weeks leading up to an event, even for a session I’ve given in the past.

Don’t mess with your slides

I learned this one from Elizabeth Noble (blog | twitter) at SQL Saturday Albany. She doesn’t touch her slides in the 48 hours prior to giving a presentation. It makes a lot of sense - if you just practiced a dozen times with your slides in a particular state, why risk a mis-step on the real thing because you were tinkering 2 hours before getting on stage?

Use Presenter View

Both PowerPoint and Apple Keynote have a “presenter view” which shows you the upcoming animations & slide transitions, your slide notes, and timing. These views can be customized - check out the options, especially the font sizes.

But don’t be completely dependent upon this. You don’t want to be stuck behind the podiumlectern the whole time. Use the presenter view for short notes to jog your memory, and to keep track of your timing. As you practice your session more and more, you’ll develop a feel for how much time has elapsed/is remaining when you reach particular slides.

Don’t ask “do you have any questions?”

You were probably taught to do this in high school at the end of a presentation. Most speakers in the community I’ve seen don’t do this - or at least they don’t end with the question formed in that way.

Instead, budget your time so that you have about 5 minutes to spare at the end. Encourage people to ask questions mid-session if you’re comfortable with that, but be mindful of time (this is why you built in 5 extra minutes). It’s OK to say “that’s a longer answer than we have time for, so let’s talk afterwards.”

At the end, thank the attendees and say something like “we’re a couple minutes early so I can take a few questions, and I’ll be around all day if anyone wants to chat more in depth.”

Repeat the question

This is something I’m still working on doing consistently. Repeating the question does at least three things for you:

  • Allows everyone in the room to hear the question (someone in the back row likely won’t hear someone speaking quietly up front)
  • Ensures that you understood the question as asked
  • Gives you time to start working on an answer

Post your materials

Session attendees often want a copy of your slides so they can refer back to them later. If you upload the deck (and any sample scripts/code and other materials) to the SQL Saturday site before the event, it’ll stop you from tinkering at the last minute.

Check out the room early

When you first arrive at the venue, take a look at the room you’ll be speaking in and how it’s set up. Where’s the lectern? How close are you to the front row? Is it a projector or a display? Do you have the right adapters to connect to everything, or do you need to borrow something? If you need network connectivity, can you get on Ethernet, or do you have to use WiFi? If WiFi, get connected right away so you aren’t fighting it when your session time comes.

Make room for the next speaker

Unless you’re the last speaker of the day, there will be someone else coming into the room behind you. It’s cool to stick around when you’re finished to talk to folks, but pack things up while you’re doing that so that the next speaker can set up and make sure everything’s working for an on-time start.

What did I miss?

Experienced speakers, drop your suggestions in the comments below. Less-experienced folks, is there anything else you’d like to know about? Let’s hear it!