Your First Public Presentation

Making Your First Public Presentation

Have you ever found yourself sitting at a conference like the SQL PASS Summit or your local SQL Saturday listening to a dynamic speaker making a complex topic seem simple and found yourself thinking that you wish you could do that? If you are like me, you have.

A great presenter does more than teach. A great presenter makes you want to get up and teach too. Making that first step into presenting publicly is intimidating.  Taking that step does not have to be a huge leap. Start small and build up to a larger audience to gain the confidence you need to present at one of the conferences. There are a lot of venues out there for you to get some speaking experience.

Toastmasters

Toastmasters is a great way to get practice speaking in front of others and for getting hands-on guidance on better speaking. Chances are good that there is already a Toastmasters club near you that you can join. Your employer may already sponsor one of the clubs.

Toastmasters was where I got my foot wet in the speaking pool. It helped me learn how to put together a speech in a way that engages the listener, how to select a voice for your speech, and how to cover a wide range of topics.

Brown Bag Lunches

A good way to give a topical presentation is to do so at work. The opportunity to give a true technical presentation at work doesn’t happen often, and you may have to create your own opportunities. Unfortunately, there are plenty of employers that may outright discourage presentations at work because they wrongly think it hinders productivity.

Brown bag lunches create the opportunity to deliver presentations without interfering with productive hours. Schedule a brown bag session during your group’s lunch break and encourage people to ring their lunches to work that day and get some free learning while eating their food. A nice side benefit of these types of sessions that I have seen is that when the company sees how motivated people are to learn, the company may start to encourage it even spring for pizza for everyone.

Local User Groups and Virtual Chapters

If you want to try your hand presenting for a small number of strangers, try volunteering to present for your local SQL user group or for one of SQL PASS’s virtual chapters. This will introduce you to presenting via a small audience either in person or online. You can find a local chapter near you or a virtual chapter that matches the topic on which you want to present on the Chapters page on the SQL PASS website.

In addition to SQL PASS, there are other groups that may have local chapters or virtual chapters for whom you could present such as the SQL Server Worldwide Users Group. You might also consider looking for a tangential technology (such as SharePoint or DevOps) user group that needs SQL Server presenters.

Time to Step Up

Once you have built up your presenting skills and confidence enough to try to step up to present at a formal conference, like SQL Saturday. If you have no already done so, this may be a good time to find an experienced presenter who can help you prepare for your first big public presentation. Have the mentor attend your first session and arrange in advance for them to help you out if something happens that you aren’t sure how to handle.

Everyone gets stumped by a question or gets challenged by someone that doesn’t agree with them from time to time. Your natural instinct in these situations may not always be the best way to handle a situation where you don't know the answer or are challenged. There is absolutely no reason anyone should have to go into their first presentation alone, and the experienced presenters were all in your shoes one day and it is easy to find one that is willing to help you out.

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