The Terror of Talking Technical

I have to admit that I’m not a ‘natural’ with presentations. My colleagues have caught the occasional look of panic as I prepare my presentation for Redgate’s SQL in the City event in Seattle (Oct 26). It’s on the topic of “Uncovering SQL Server Query Problems with Execution Plans”, a topic near to my heart since editing Grant Fritchey’s book.

Speaking requires careful preparation and control. Not just of your technical material.

One of the biggest challenges from any relatively new speaker is mastering nerves. I still recall vividly my lightning talk at SQL Bits earlier this year. It’s a format reminiscent of a revue, with each speaker trooping on stage one after the other to ‘perform’ before an expectant audience. It isn’t a format that is geared towards promoting the tranquility of the speaker. I was eighth on of about ten, and reasonably confident and in control; at the start. As the fourth or fifth speaker left the stage to rapturous applause, I clearly remember thinking, “wow, that guy was really good”. It was probably the last clear thought I had. By the time I staggered up to the stage, my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I somehow held the talk together though I couldn’t tell you much about it.

The first person I bumped into on the way out was Itzik Ben-Gan, who gave me some very nice feedback. He probably thought that I always had the facial expression of a deer being pursued by a lion. It was around this time I remembered to breathe out, and the thumping in my ears died down. I sat down with relief: Maybe it had gone OK after all! The next person I spoke to was Grant Fritchey.

“That didn’t go too bad, did it?” I asked, almost pleading.

“Yeah, not bad. I just wish I’d had some coal to shove up your butt, ‘coz you would have made me some diamond”

Clearly my nerves had transmitted to at least some of the audience after all.

Grant is, of course, really confident on stage. I thought, somewhat enviously, that it was some natural gift, It was only later that I was reminded of the time, early in Grant’s speaking career, when he stepped up on stage at Dev Connections in Las Vegas, introduced himself, only to stop, ask to be excused and dash dramatically from the room. The audience looked around at each other in bemusement, wondering aloud if the session was cancelled. Fortunately, Grant staggered back after a five-minute interval, albeit looking a bit greener than normal. Nerves had necessitated a trip to the local rest-room to be sick, he confessed to me later. It seems as if practice makes perfect.

Hopefully, I’ve learned from past experiences and will manage a good ‘show’ on Monday. . I’d love feedback from any Simple-Talk readers who are able to attend. If you’re in town, sign up! Just don’t bring any coal.

If you’d like to confess, in the comments to this blog, your own ‘stage-fright’ when doing IT presentations, I feel sure I’d find it consoling to think I’m not in the minority.