Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Building a Technical Presentation - Part 3

After a longer delay than I wanted, it's the final part of my Building a Technical Presentation series! If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, see those links to catch-up.

Practice, Practice, Practice and Practice Some More!

The biggest key to success with presenting that I have learned over the years is that the more practice you can do the better you will feel when it is time to do the presentation. Most of the time that I have been really nervous for a presentation is when I have not practiced the presentation enough or it has been a longer break from presenting. I actually had that happen just this last weekend at SQLSaturday #191 in Kansas City. I was doing a presentation that I have done at least 5 times now, so it was nothing to do with not knowing the material, but it was just because it had been a few months since I was at a SQLSaturday and presenting in front of people. The nervousness only lasted for the first few minutes of the presentation, but it was a weird feeling that I don't recall having in the recent past since I have been presenting pretty regularly this year.

So, you might ask how do I practice? Well everyone does it a little different and you will have to find the way that works best for you. For a lot of people they will stand in front of a mirror and do the presentation or use a video camera or even do it in front of friends/family. I have found that I can practice in my head and it comes off as well as I expect, but that has only come after a few years of doing presentations. The most important thing is to find the way that works best for you and do it, trying to do a presentation cold, without practice is not recommended unless it is something that you are EXTREMELY comfortable talking about (or it is a panel discussion or something like that which really requires no preparation).

Presenting

The next thing that will happen, is to actually do the presentation! Hopefully you have had the chance to get to the room you are going to the presentation early to make sure you understand how things are setup. Leave yourself plenty of time to get your laptop setup and test the connections to the projectors. If you are going to be using a microphone, that is another good thing to make sure you have time to test out and get connected correctly, nothing throws me off faster than fighting with a mic to get it working. Same goes for making sure your slides are working and showing up correctly on the projector.

If you have some time with the people in your presentation before the session starts and there won't be a formal introduction, it might be a good time to do some conversation starters or what some call, "Breaking the Ice". That can help both you and the crowd get relaxed and ready for you to present to them. I like to try and do it sometimes as it does help to take your mind off of the presentation for a few minutes, especially if you are extremely nervous.

As you were practicing, hopefully you worked on not putting in a bunch of "umhs" and "ahs" that are typical time fillers you might say as you are trying to think of the next thing to say. Don't feel like you have to fill every single second of a presentation with your voice, a few pauses are natural and good for the audience as it gives them time to "digest" what you just said. It also gives the audience a chance to ask some questions, assuming you are going to take questions during the session. When questions are being asked it is a good time to take a drink of water to help calm your nerves as well.

Once you have finished your presentation don't forget to thank the audience for attending your session and this is also a good time to thank the selection committee for the event, if appropriate.

Feedback

After you have completed the presentation you will probably be on a bit of a "rush" as your adrenaline will still be flowing and hopefully it all went well. Now you will want to hear from others how you did, hopefully you will get some people that come up to you and tell you how it went, but you can also ask those that you know what they thought too. Another great way to get feedback is to use sites that specialize in that, like speakerrate.com, which I have used for years to track my presentations. This does require that people go to the site and fill it out which can be difficult to get them to do especially when there is no internet access. Some of the events that you go to will provide speaker feedback forms, so you can either collect those at the end of the presentation or the event will collect them and provide the results to you. It is always good to keep track of how well you are doing. Try not to take all of the feedback too personally, some people will be a bit rough, and others will not give a lot of details, so take it all together to help you improve.

Demos/VMs

For this series of posts I wanted to focus on just the speaking and presenting fundamentals for those that have not presented before. The big step that you eventually need to take with presenting will be doing live demos along with talking about topics. While this can be very scary to do, you can make it easier on yourself by making sure that the environment you do these demos in is stable and repeatable. I switched many years ago from doing any demos on the actual laptop or computer that I have connected for the presentation, just because of the stability issues as you usually have lots of other programs running in the background on your main computer (think about Dropbox, backup and virus scanners, IM programs, etc. that are all running in the background). Instead of trying to remember to manually stop all of these programs before you start your presentation, I have switched to using only Virtual Machines or VMs for my demos. The reason I do this is because the VM is something that I build, so it gives me the experience on installing all of these programs and also I make sure to only install what I need in those VMs. And for me the best feature of VMs is that you can setup what are called Snapshots in most VM hosting programs, where the disk image is "frozen" to that point in time and you can just restore back to that before you start your presentation so that you know everything is reset to the way it all worked the last time.

I have tried just about all of the VM hosting applications out there over the years and I have been using Oracle's free VirtualBox for the last 3 years without any issues. Previously I was doing a lot of my demos on a Mac and using either VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop and both worked perfectly fine on the Mac, so if you are using a Mac I can recommend both of those, along with VirtualBox which also runs on the Mac. For the last couple of years I have been using Windows laptops, so I did try Microsoft's Hyper-V, but found that it was not built to work well with a laptop, since it has issues with wireless networking and display resolutions. Hopefully with some of the future upgrades to Windows maybe I can switch back to Hyper-V, but at this point I'm using VirtualBox exclusively.

For whatever VM program you do choose, the other big hurdle will be where to get your licenses to install Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, etc. As I have mentioned in previous posts I do have a personal TechNet subscription that provides those for me, but that program is being phased out. You can use the evaluation versions of Microsoft server software in your VMs, with the warning that those are time-bombed, so make sure you do check before you do your presentation that you still have time left. Otherwise you hopefully have access to an MSDN membership through your work. I still have hopes that Microsoft will come out with some membership that does not require as much cost as MSDN in the next year to replace TechNet, but no word yet on that.

Conclusion

So that covers everything that I have been thinking about to put into this series of posts and helps to document how I go through the process of creating new technical presentations and then some tips on actually doing the presentations themselves. Thanks for following along with this series and I hope that you found it useful. The best thing that I can hope comes out of this series is if even one person that has not presented before uses this to help them put together their first presentation. If you do that, please feel free to contact me with any feedback!