Aug 28 2012

Please, Call Me Richard

I presented a session at the SQL Saturday event in Oklahoma City last weekend. The event itself was pretty good. The organizers put everything together pretty well and the venue was quite nice. Plus, since I grew up in Oklahoma (Tulsa), it was a chance to go home. The event was good, but my presentation went a little downhill.

The name of the session is “Top Tips for Better Stored Procedure Performance.” I should rename it to just say “T-SQL Query Performance” because it’s not focused on stored procedures, but on queries. The presentation is 1/3 talking about how you write your queries, naming syntax, formatting, etc. The second 2/3 is all about common mistakes made in writing T-SQL such as using NO_LOCK everywhere, nesting views, joining and nesting multi-statement table-valued user defined functions, operations on columns that prevent index usage, etc. It really is a session that could be sub-titled “You’re doing it wrong.” I’m trying to deliver a hard message and offer alternatives.

From the start of the session, it felt rushed. Not sure what happened, but it was a little out of my control and it shouldn’t have been. Still, I hit most of the major points. I have a few points that I can gloss over for time and I found that I was glossing a little more than I wanted. However, I finished it all up and I thought I had the major points I wanted to hit well covered. I had some fun with the audience and people were laughing at the right spots. So, while a little rocky, it was basically good. Until I saw this in the evals:

No, please, call me Richard

And that, is hands down, the single worst comment I’ve ever received. Ever.

So, of course, I went through the rest of the evals, in a panic. There were about 72 people in the audience and I received 60 evaluations. That’s when I spotted another set of comments that said “All we did was whine about bad code. Very few constructive and helpful comments… Informal and overly-expressive, and whiney[sic] presentation style left me feeling like he was trying to cover up not really knowing what he was talking about.”

Great. First I’m a dick and now I’m a “whiney” dick. A dick who used whining to cover up a lack of knowledge.

There were two measures offered on the front; “Expectations” and “Overall quality of the presentation.” The Expectations could be “Did Not Meet”, “Met”, or “Exceeded.” The quality question was numbered 1 to 5 with 5 being the best. Out of 60 evals, 41, or 68%, rated me as “Exceeded.” 28% (17) rated me as “Met” expectations. I received only 2 “Did not Meet” And before you think it’s just the two highly negative comments, you’d be wrong. Another person wrote “Too simple starting out. No time left when getting to the good stuff.” Which, I can live with as a very fair representation. Oh, but the dick commenter, he gave me a “Met” expectations. With the scores, 73% (44) gave me a 5 and 25%(15) gave me a 4. There was a single 1 from the “whiney” guy. Yep, the dick person gave me a 4. In short, a pretty fair representation with good reviews and fair comments, except for the outliers.

I do feel like I didn’t give as good a presentation as I can. It did feel rushed to me, making that one comment quite valid, but I sure don’t see where I came across as a whiny dick. The other comments were pretty good, including this “Not only informative, but also entertaining” and “Very useful pointers & suggestions! Good Q&A interaction.” So I’m seriously at a loss to understand the extreme nature of these two comments. I’m used to the “you were too basic” next to the “you were too advanced” comments. That’s pretty normal. This presentation is meant to pop bubbles (nesting views leads to problems, sorry you don’t like that statement of fact, but that doesn’t make it less true). But whiny dick… And, one guy says I’m covering up a lack of knowledge and the other says I’m a know-it-all.

Let’s just say I’m going into a little navel gazing to see if I can make a few adjustments to my presentation style.

Thanks everyone who attended, and thank you, everyone, for the feedback. It’s appreciated.

34 Comments

  • By Thomas LeBlanc, August 28, 2012 @ 8:39 am

    OUCH!!!

  • By Brent Ozar, August 28, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    HAHAHA, ouch. I’ve been there.

    I used to have a session about what the typical mid-career DBA does (switching to table variables instead of temp tables, for example) and talked about why these things were a bad idea. I realized I was beating my audience down too, and so I turned it around on myself. Now I start that session out with a 2004 picture of me in my office, and I show thought bubbles over my head like, “I’ll switch to table variables because they’re only in memory!” Instead of poking fun at other people, I spend the session poking fun at myself, and I explain why I was wrong. It makes the audience identify with you, feel like they’re growing along with you, and nobody gets hurt.

    I’ve gotten a lot of help from management book chapters that talk about how to deliver bad news. There’s a lot of fun techniques like this that can minimize the Richard impressions.

  • By Allan Hirt, August 28, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    As someone who has had a bit of self-reinvention over the past year which I’ve publicly blogged about, don’t let two comments get you down when the overwhelming majority were positive. We all have good days and bad days.

  • By Aaron Bertrand, August 28, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    I agree with Allan. There are certainly ways that these people could have expressed what they wanted to say without calling you a whiny dick. As you might remember, I’ve had my bitter pills with inexplicable feedback too. As hard as it is, you just have to look past it. Some people are just going to be impossible to satisfy, no matter how hard you try, even at a free conference.

  • By Neil Hambly, August 28, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    Hi Grant
    I feel you on this, I’m sure many other presenters do as well who have received such IMHO undeserved marks and comments, I know you DO indeed know your stuff very {very} well indeed and your style of delivery is both informative AND entertaining for all the presentations I seen you do
    Perhaps you could as you say done a “better job” but we all have our good and bad presenting days, and if they are not paying for it, then perhaps maybe they should just remember that fact before putting abusive like comments on the reports, I’m sure it wasn’t perceived like that by others
    This does sound like sour grapes of some type and I’m glad I’m not that type of person
    Neil

  • By James Fogel, August 28, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    You call yourself scary and intimidating and for that, it isn’t a shocker someone called you a dick. What is surprising is that it doesn’t happen daily or even hourly! I don’t know you so I can’t say. Still, there were few complaints given the number of people in the room so I would say it went okay.

  • By Aaron Bertrand, August 28, 2012 @ 8:58 am

    I concur with Brent too… I have been giving a similar session to yours called “T-SQL : Bad Habits to Kick” and I recently changed it to be less negative. It even has a new title: “T-SQL : Bad Habits and Best Practices.” All the things I want people to stop doing are on red slides, and all the things I want people to start doing are on green slides. I spend more time on the green slides and make sure on the red slides that I’m pointing out the flaws in the code, not the flaws in the people writing it.

  • By G Bryant McClellan, August 28, 2012 @ 8:58 am

    Sounds like someone else was having an off day too.

    Nothing I ever read from you came over as know-it-all or complements of Mr. Richard Cranium. Sure, people speak differently than they write but I’d be hard pressed to think you’d come across that way in person.

    There is no denying you know what you are doing and you admit when you don’t “know it all”…then you find out.

    I agree with Allan. 2 outliers does not an evaluation make.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 28, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    Thanks for the feedback guys.

    James, when I’m not acting like a dick, I’m a little shocked to get called one. I will, do, have, and can, act like one. Proudly.

  • By Allan Hirt, August 28, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    The ultimate problem we have as speakers is sometimes we (but not all of us before everyone jumps on me) have a tendency to focus in on the really bad comments. I would never change my presenting style for two people. If you get a large number that were unhappy or middling at best, maybe there’s something there to revamp (and just for that presentation, not necessarily everything you do or your other presentations).

  • By James Fogel, August 28, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    I get called worse thing all the time. It only bothers me when it isn’t true!

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 28, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    Brent & Aaron,

    Excellent advice for this type of presentation. Only issue I have is that I usually spend more time getting people to understand the problem. Solutions are frequently easy once the problem is understood. Still, great advice. I’ll work on it.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 28, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    Yeah Allan. The “informal, overly expressive” comments are sliding right away. I am informal. I am overly expressive. Those are cooked-in and not changing. No worries.

  • By Allan Hirt, August 28, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    Why I had a bad fall last year (and somewhat the subject of my own blog post today) really forced me to look at things not just in terms of my presos, but in life, too. It’s a shame people can’t give you constructive feedback (problem at any conference – free or not) instead of just being negative.

  • By Dave Mulanaphy, August 28, 2012 @ 9:30 am

    Were these members of the BIM team? This made me laugh very loudly. Everyone stopped and looked at me.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 28, 2012 @ 9:39 am

    Ha! That’s great. I love the BIM team. I still tell stories about them.

  • By Chad Churchwell, August 28, 2012 @ 11:11 am

    Grant, I attended your session at SQL Rally in Orlando a few years ago on Execution Plans and must say it was one of the best I have attended. Your presentation style and ability to keep the audience focused was great in my opinion. Please don’t change a thing, I think you and your content are a great asset to the SQL community

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 28, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    Chad,

    Well now I’m good & humbled. Thank you. I truly appreciate it. I’ll be working at the edges of what I do. The core ain’t changing. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • By Steve Jones, August 28, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

    I use the 5% rule on these things. Toss out 5% of the top and bottom evaluations. Too easy to have someone be way out of line.

    However, I do look to see if I think the comments are valid. I have learned a few things from bad comments since I recognize that few people are actually willing to write something down.

    I like Brent’s idea and try to point out my mistakes, or mistakes I’ve seen in the past very specifically as just that: mistakes. Try not to denigrate anyone if they’re making the same ones.

  • By JP Jones, August 28, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    As someone that also speaks at tech conferences and has done adjunct teaching at the University level, I completely feel your pain. I’ve actually never seen anything worse than what some college students will write in an evaluation comment—though their penmanship is a little better than this guy’s. Don’t let this one person’s negativity cloud the presentation you have developed that matches your style and personality. We all have days when we present and wish we could have been a little better or had better timing, but the truth of the matter is you were asked to speak, and this guy wasn’t. Chalk it up to insecurity or jealousy. =)

  • By Dave Burrows, August 29, 2012 @ 4:02 am

    Having attended several of your presentations (even those that do not go exactly to plan) I can honestly say you’re not a dick nor whiney.
    Keep up the good work :-)

  • By dmmaxwell, August 29, 2012 @ 8:06 am

    Don’t change your speaking style. It works. Well.

  • By Peter Lake, August 30, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

    Grant,
    I have been to several of your talks over the last few years and they have been great. You are (appear to me at least) extremely knowledgeable on the subjects you are talking about, bring in lots of real world experience, and treat your audience with respect. Also bring in some levity. Having said that, I did feel exactly the same way as the commenter did after the first talk of yours I attended. I wouldn’t give that as feedback because it’s not very constructive, but to me you did come off as pretty arrogant (though the talk was good, probably a 4). I have since come to see that it is just confidence in your subject matter and your natural confidence with yourself. Probably more of a failing with my self, intimidated by it unconsciously. I certainly wouldn’t change my style if I were you. Didn’t someone once say ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’ or something like that?

  • By Stephanie B, August 31, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    I have seen your T-SQL presentation at SQL in the City in London this summer. It was brilliant.

    Please don’t change it because a few prima donna developers didn’t like what you are saying – they don’t have to deal with the non-scalability of their code when it hits production.

    As a production DBA I think:

    1) Your presentaion is spot on.

    2) I really enjoyed your presentation style and I think it very effective.

    Why take to heart some unprofessional comments made by people who didn’t like what you were saying ?

    As a production DBA

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 31, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    Peter,

    Thanks for the feedback. You see, it’s that arrogance that bothers me. I sure don’t feel that way, so I’m bothered with that as an impression that I give people. That part of the presentation style is what I want to try to tweak. I don’t think I can do much, but I want to try to avoid that. Thanks again.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 31, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    JP, thanks for the feedback & advice. I’m not so sure I should take the “I was chosen approach” From what I’m hearing I may already be coming across that way and it’s not my intention.

    Dave, you were in London on Friday? That was some bad demo juju right there. I KNOW didn’t come across arrogant that day. I was almost crying with frustration. I’ve rebuilt it all from scratch. Seems to be working… cross my fingers.

    David, thanks, but I’ve got to try to improve, all the time.

  • By Grant Fritchey, August 31, 2012 @ 7:06 am

    Stephanie,

    Thanks. I loved the London audience. You guys are such a blast to talk to (especially when we can do it over a beer). Thanks for the feedback.

    What’s interesting is that I think, with only a few exceptions, most people are getting good information from the sessions, so my goal there is met. I also have three words that I try to achieve in everything I do; direct, instructive, useful. To a degree, I think direct upsets some people. I’m not sure why. But I’m not changing that. It’s fundamental to who I am. I just need to be careful that direct doesn’t become arrogant. That one just scares me. If people think I’m arrogant, then they might not hear my message and then the instructive & useful parts are lost.

    Thanks for attending my sessions and for the wonderfully kind feedback.

  • By Stephanie B, September 1, 2012 @ 4:15 am

    Grant, there is no way at all I would describe you as arrogant.

    Believe me, I have met some really arrogant people during the 15 years I have spent in this industry and you are certainly not one of them.

    Just the fact that you are concerned that you may be perceived as such, shows a self-awareness that precludes arrogance.

  • By Greg Ackerland, September 1, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

    Grant,

    What you will find is that perceptions can be misleading. A bad breakfast can sour anyone’s mood.

    Some people search for traits to find faults in others but many times those traits are those they themselves happen to have.

    Others are threatened when they realize they themselves don’t know it all.

    And some… Just like to make sure the reviews aren’t 100% positive just for kicks.

    As long as you spent time on honest reflection I’m sure you’ll be fine. You’ve received great feedback from some of the top speakers on SQL Server and I’m sure you’ll incorporate it and still hold true to your core.

    Stay scary Grant

  • By Robert Young, September 1, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

    Having taught “short courses” to paying adults (although not very many shorter than a full day), they’re far worse than your average self-absorbed kindergartener: they expect to be entertained and re-inforced, because they paid, damn it. Not every class/presentation will go as intended, but a thought out syllabus (and followed) leaves the “students” with little room to wiggle.

  • By Grant Fritchey, September 2, 2012 @ 7:20 am

    More useful stuff. Thanks everyone. Don’t worry. I’m not even going to attempt to change myself based on this stuff. It’s just something that I think I need to stay on top of. Appreciate the kind, and useful, feedback.

  • By Craig Cannon, September 3, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    Grant,
    Thanks for sharing this. It has been really interesting seeing the “World-wide SQL Community” (western, anyway) – your fellow “SQL super-stars” (from my point of view) and the SQL professionals that have attended your talks, respond to your grief about this. Everyone had positive feedback for you, and most even had warm-fuzzy encouragement. That was good to see. I don’t have anything to add that has not been mentioned. Steve Jone’s recommendation to throw out the top and bottom is a good plan. Chalk those up to people who completely related to your presentation style (the top) and those that just do not (the bottom), then take the middle more seriously. Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback to this post by people that you respect, keep doing what you’re doing.

  • By Paul Hunter, September 3, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    I was at that SQL Saturday & found your presentation to be informative & useful. Red-Gate has a book on Team Based Development (but you already know that) which covers many of the same points you discussed. You do have a rather “intense” personallity that comes thru in your presentations. I like presentations where the presenter is passionate and personally invested in the topic.

  • By Mike Walsh, September 4, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    On any given Sunday at a church across America – someone will get mad and tear a Pastor apart (normally behind his back – or anonymously).. Because the message was poorly delivered? No… Because the style was bad? No… Nope… They may use all of these excuses but really – he just happened to pick something a little too close to home… Kind of like the dentist and his probe.. That tool doesn’t really do much until he hits “the bad tooth” then you just about jump out of your chair and you’d deck the dentist if you were less of a person…

    I think this person thought you were talking about them and their horrible code. Instead of taking your advice, he got insulted and decided to scribble out a mini screed to make himself feel better. My guess is that he comes from an environment where the DBAs and Developers don’t get along that well (blogged about that today – communication skills – actually) and he’s just taking it out on you…

    If only he knew, it wasn’t an act though ;-)

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