The email telling me that I had been selected to speak was to say the least a surprise. My session “Soft Skills for Success” had been accepted for Data in Devon 2019. Yes I am very excited about the opportunity to speak in Exeter. My last time in Exeter was a school holiday many years ago, so the opportunity to return that beautiful part of the country is wonderful surprise.
It might seem a little strange that I was surprised that my session was accepted. However, I have been submitting sessions for a while now, most of which have been unsuccessful. This pattern is much like the one I experienced when I decided to moved careers into IT a couple of years ago and I was applying for IT roles. One of the lessons I learned during that time is that you are going to fail more than you succeed. So it pays to keep trying and mostly importantly learn from each failure and success. The current lesson I am learning is all about abstracts, how can I improve them? make them better? As I know if one strategy does not work, then I need review it, make a small change, then try the changed strategy, till I find the one that works, so that’s what I am doing with my submission abstracts.
To be invited to speak is to my mind an honour and a privilege. Why? People who I see as peers and who I respect have reviewed and considered the abstract that I have submitted, then invited me to speak. They are also putting their faith in me that on the day I will be there and will deliver a session which people will want to see / listen to / learn something from. When I get there on the day, yes, no doubt I will be nervous, worried, and have checked everything at least twice. Before the getting to the room on the day, I will have rehearsed the session, reviewed it been through it more than once. Just now I am working on tweaks to the session just for Data In Devon, if you want to know more you will have to attend the session.
The topic “Soft Skills for Success” is something that I am passionate about. So, I will be giving it my all. Like many projects that I work on, what people see is the final, smallest part of the project. Beforehand there will be a lot of unseen hard work to make it look good. The prize is worth the price, which is to be invited to speak to my peers about a topic that I am passionate about.
Forgive me whilst I indulge in some nostalgia first. Whilst at SQL Bits 2016, I finally made the decision to start a SQL user group in Glasgow. If I remember correctly Craig Porteous attend the infamous SQL Bits party and met a gentleman dressed as a Wookie (William Durkin). Now Glasgow has a growing SQL server user group (thanks to a dedicated hard working team). Not only that we just had our second SQL conference! (Yes SQL Bits has lot to answer for ;->)
SQLGLA was a fantastic event it has left me with some wonderful feelings. This blog post is part thank you to those involved, also just to express some of my feelings / experiences of the event.
Craig Porteous, Louise Paterson and I are the people who organised this year's event. I felt we were a team (this is a theme, by the way). Each of us contributed to the success of the event, in a different way. The success of the event was not down a single person in my opinion. It was about us all coming together to make it a success. Craig did put a lot of work into making the event what it was.
There are few words to express my gratitude about our team of volunteers. As an organizing team, we have all volunteered before so we knew what is expected of volunteers. There was a lovely mix of those who have done it before and few who have never done any volunteering. What a team though, they all worked really hard. Speaking personally, I am so proud of them, they made this event for me. Not once did I have to worry about if something was done or not being done. They just made it happen. Whilst I have said this before I cannot thank them enough for being such an amazing team, they exceeded all my expectations.
Last year thanks to William Durkin we had such an amazing lineup, and yet this year lineup was even better! A few days before the event I was looking through the list. It would be a fair comment to say I was blown away by the quality of those who choose to speak at our event. The feedback that I have heard so far the attendees also agree 🙂 Looking the depth of experience and knowledge that was shared, was to me awe inspiring. Whats even better is they all came to Scotland to share their knowledge and expertise with us.
It’s a phrase that I've seen often on social media, these are not just words it's something that can be seen and experienced in real life. To experience it is very humbling and gratifying. A few weeks before the event I was contacted by Chris Taylor (@SQLGeordie) one of the speakers. The speakers had decided they wanted to get something for Craig & Karen Porteous who are expecting their second child. It was my privilege and honor to present the gift on their behalf. Hopefully, Craig will forgive me one day for gate-crashing the closing presentation to present the gift? As Craig knew nothing about this gift.
To make the event something that little different we wanted to find a design for the t-shirts that was rather special. Having worked with Emily Chappell over the years on various projects, her quirky designs and sense of style really works for me. So I suggested we should ask Emily for a design for the t-shirts. The first design was not what we wanted. So next we all got together in a coffee shop at lunchtime. We had a chat did some brainstorming, Emily then sent back a design which we all loved (see picture below). Personally, I’ve never been to a technical conference where they sold the t-shirts :-)
First there are few housekeeping duties to take care, which we are just finishing off just now. Followed by some discussions to see what will be the next step 🙂 All I can safely say is keep looking there will be some exciting news soon....
This post is just some reflections on my experience on speaking, as part of the newcomer track at SQL Grillen 2018
Pre SQL Grillen
This is the first part of this post is written on Tuesday 19th June 2018 only 3 days to go before the session. My current feelings are rather to say the least nervous. Added to that is a considerable feeling of imposter syndrome. At this time my thoughts and feelings are these -:
Rehearsals - without a doubt, going over the presentation multiple times has helped so much more than anticipated. Whilst at this point the words that are going to be used have been repeated many times. They are in my mind. As each slide comes up, there is little doubt in my mind what I'm going to say or how.
Less is more - the amount of material that came out of my research into the topic, not all of it has made it into the presentation. So, what made it in is just what is required to get my point across. Which has upsides and downsides. It should make the session better, more focused, and if people ask questions after the session then other examples and illustrations will spring to mind. On the downside there is part of me that feels like my audience is not getting all that I want to get across. Then again there are only 60 mins which is more than enough for most people.
Imposter Syndrome - not sure what can be said about this. It seems natural, there are many presenters who feel the same. Right now, the best strategy seems to be to focus on the presentation. The goal of the presentation to help one person take one thing away from the session. Who that person is at this moment I do not know. So if just one person takes one thing away that I will count as a win. That person might just be me, which is also good.
Mentor - SQL Grillen, did an awesome job with the new comer's track. Assigning each person, a mentor, for me, I was very luck and have been assigned Cathrine Wilhelmsen as my mentor. Her insights and attention to detail was invaluable in so many ways. Cathrine made excellent suggestions and helped me to see the presentation from the point of view of a non-native English speaker's. Most importantly just generally very encouraging :->
Post SQL Grillen
Phew! OMG! That was soooo scary! Can I try that again?
Back in Sunny Glasgow. Now looking to see what lessons I can learn, and other thoughts spring into my mind.
Bunny in the headlights - It's easy to forget that as a speaker that I felt front and centre. That is to say, everyone can see you and knows you're a speaker, thats how I saw it. Even better or worse, each of the new speakers was given an orange apron to wear. The other speakers had different colours. For me, it was a strange feeling not in a bad way, more that I am usually part of the audience. On reflection its not a bad thing, all part of the learning experience.
Rehearsals – This really worked for me I was able to sit at the speaker's table check my equipment worked, run over my presentation quickly and that was me ready to go. Doing so many rehearsals (and not having any demos) meant for me that I knew what I was going to say and all the notes I needed were on the slide deck. Sitting at the speaker's desk was scary, with so many people who I have seen speak before. At least I was able to make it to a session before I was due to present. Which allowed me to relax and listen to the awesome trio of Rob Sewell (@sqldbawithbeard), Chrissy LeMaire (@cl) and Cláudio Silva (@ClaudioESSilva) talk about the new dbaChecks module.
The Presentation - nervous? YES! Waiting for the session to start was the worst part. Having seen some advice from Brent Ozar I had some music playing (that only I could hear) only thing was I had to resist dancing around. Knowing the presentation allowed me to concentrate on other things.
Audience – making sure I spoke to the whole audience front row to back, both sides, making eye contact with everyone, looking at their body language, to see if my points hit home
Pace - at some points my pace was a little faster than should be, I felt able to vary according to the material and audience reactions.
Body language - both my own to ensure I got points across. More importantly the body language of the audience. Was the audience looking at the slide, or looking at me, did they react how I expected?
The Audience - Think about this afterwards, there were so many more people than I would have even dared hoped for. My guess was about 30 people, some of the people I recognized, my colleagues from Scotland, Craig Porteous, Paul Broadwith, and of course Cathrine :->, and Grant Fritchey aka "The Scary Dba" (yes really!). Somethings seemed to work really well, like the acronyms game, and my alternative job description, yes you had to be there to get the point.
Feedback - for me this was the hardest part. The best that I had expected something like "Meh".
What I did not expect was people saying how well I had done. Grant Fritchey who attended my session, congratulated me on my presentation, even tweeting about as well. Then Alexander Arvidsson also congratulated me on the presentation, his kind and encouraging words can be found in this blog post. Catherine was very generous with her compliments and encouraged me to review the feedback, which was complimentary and insightful.
Finishing - needs more rehearsing, so that the presentation finishes on more of a high, at least from my point of view.
Timing – instead of using a stopwatch, I used a countdown timer. At several points, I was trying to see how much time had elapsed. As my notes had time elapsed at key points. The countdown timer did not make it easier for me to see the time elapsed.
Hard work – Over the years I have been fortunate enough to see many people speak who make it look so easy. Having done it now, its like a swan look they look graceful and elegant as it glides across the water's surface. Yet hidden away underneath the water are the webbed feet working really hard all the time. That’s my experience of presenting, making it look easy requires a lot of hard work, which remains unseen, the way is should be.
Last point is to thank the SQL Grillen team. William Durkin, who does an amazing job of making everyone feel welcome. Ben Weissman for creating and picking the speakers for the newcomers track. There are as l know so many more in the SQL Grillen team, thank you to all.
There are some ideas which are being considered. Where, when and what who knows, watch this space.