Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Backstage for Launch Activity

Heading back from a fantastic week in Tel Aviv at the Microsoft Israel/Solid Quality Learning SQL Week Launch 2005 Event, I sat in the Brussels airport lounge. I couldn’t help thinking about the classic movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” in which Steve Martin and John Candy struggle through hardship and a comedy-of-errors to make it home to the ones they love for the holidays. During my stay in Israel, a group of speakers—-gurus who have spent the last year or more evangelizing SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005--sat around and told their own crazy stories about recent conferences, road shows, training events, and launch events. They recounted the drama of travel (driving great distances when flights weren’t available, countless weeks on the road without stopping by home) and technology woes (failed hard drives, a dropped laptop, rebuilding a laptop image on a flight to an event, demos gone very bad). We all recognize that this grind isn’t going to end soon, and we know the holidays will bring even more interesting experiences. Amid the furor that surrounds the huge numbers of launch events (which I highlighted in my September UPDATE commentary “Building to a Fever Pitch,” ), it’s interesting to take a glance at what goes on backstage at these events.

On November 7, I was in San Francisco, where Cheap Trick opened the first “Rock the Launch” event with searing guitar riffs and the lyrics “Hello there, ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock?!” Every presentation and demo was well-rehearsed, and every piece had a backup plan. I caught a moment when one demo was switched to a second presenter backstage while the speaker onstage persevered and finished with simulated mouse movement and narration--an act even Milli Vanilli would have admired. But think about that... that was some serious backup: a second presenter working on the same demo at the same pace so that the demo could revert to the backup at any time if needed. That level of preparation guaranteed a quality delivery for attendees.

This past week, a colleague said to me, “Everyone thinks it’s really easy just going around talking about Visual Studio and SQL Server, but it hasn’t been very easy being an expert on these new features, creating new compelling demos that mean something and actually work, and being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for speaking after a flight and few hours sleep.” This comment struck a chord with me because it’s true that the amount of preparation and poise required of presenters is often overlooked. When you look behind the scenes at an event such as the Microsoft Launch 2005 tour, you start to realize the scope of the preparation involved. Hundreds of slides, scripted demos, and virtual PC images were created. And Microsoft held special content training for speakers and even offered a professional public-speaking training session. All this goes on because of the importance of delivering quality presentations for attendees.

So the next time you attend one of these events, I urge you to do two things. First, get everything you can from the event (e.g., a one day Launch event, a tech conference, a Web seminar). Check out the sessions and abstracts, review the accompanying slides or code resources, do the complimenting hands-on labs, and—most importantly—fill out a session evaluation. Then, head out to the speakers’ blogs. Second, if you specialize in some aspect of SQL Server, consider serving the technical community as an expert. Speak at a user group, submit a session abstract for an upcoming conference, or submit an article abstract to SQL Server Magazine at [email protected] Once you’re on your way, you might enjoy the accountability that being an expert requires!

It has been a great--albeit challenging--year getting SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 off the ground. I am personally looking forward to seeing the world putting the products into play and the resulting interest in deeper conference and training content.

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