Speaker of the Month, March 2014

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This never gets easier. I was able to attend a bunch of sessions in the last month from a number of speakers that I’d never seen before. A lot of them were good, very good. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I think the general level of speakers within the SQL Server community is improving. Which means we’ll all need to up our games. I also saw several that I’ve seen before because I always learn from them. In short, my cup runneth over. Anyway, the person I picked this month, well, I’d never seen him present before. But, I have hung out with him. He’s got this incredible, fast, sharp wit and he’ll protect you from dangerous objects in orange. I’m picking Mark Vaillancourt (b|t) and his session Danger: The Art and Science of Presenting.

I’m so glad I went to this session. If I learned nothing else, it’s that I have a gut because I present. You see, a fight or flight emotion, which takes place in front of people, tends to spike insulin, leading to increased fat storage. If I just stopped presenting, I’d be skinny again… well, skinnier. But, let’s focus on Mark’s session. You see, he wasn’t kidding when he said Science in the title. There was tons and tons of discussion around the science of presenting, mostly focused on how you, as a presenter, are dealing with this situation, methods you can use to control your breathing, your focus and all that sort of stuff. Yes, he talked somewhat about good practices on slides & such, the Art aspects. But the main focus was on the science and it was fascinating. Instead of the approach so many people take towards a session on presentations, “Here’s how you do it,” Mark gave us a lot of detail on how the process of presentation works. You can figure out how on your own from there. I love the breakdown on the topics between self perception (figuring out how you’re doing), self expression (figuring out how to get across what you want to get across), interpersonal (how to deal with your audience), stress management (figure that one out), and decision making (literally, thinking on your feet as you present). Mark chatted up the crowd before the session. He had amazing delivery, which you’d have to in order to make a session like this work, and his wit was on display throughout, although it was very controlled and focused and never overwhelmed the presentation. I really got a lot out of attending the session.

My feedback has two points. Mark really didn’t repeat the questions. It was a very small room, but people can be so quiet and if they’re talking away from you, you may not hear what they say. This one is so hard to do (it’s one of my own goals to improve my presentations), but it’s vital. Second, Mark’s funny. He put bits of humor in the slides with pictures and titles and he cracked jokes as he presented. Again, this in no way hurt the delivery. It enhanced it in every possible way. But, for a lot of his humor, he stopped and quickly explained what the joke meant. I’d say, have less obscure jokes that don’t need explanation, or just let them stand. Those who get them, great. Those who don’t oh well. It’s not going to enhance the joke to the people who get it and the people who don’t won’t laugh at the explanation. But that’s all I’ve got. It really was a great presentation.

Mark posts upcoming presentations on his blog, but I don’t see any listed currently. He’s not listed on Lanyrd (and if someone has a better place to record upcoming events so we can all share them, I’m open. Until you supply me with an alternative, we should be using Lanyrd, and no, I’m not getting cut backs or anything). Anyway, congrats Mark. All the cash, gifts, slaves and other associated paraphernalia traditionally associated with this award are winging their way towards you now.


OK, fine, but what do you think?