How to Do a Successful Lightning Talk

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 1 Comment

Ten-minute presentations aren’t easier than 60-75 minute sessions.

They’re much, much harder.

Start by writing the first sentence and the last sentence. If you only have ten minutes, you don’t get the luxury of an agenda slide or a recap slide – you get a single sentence for each.

Ideally, the first sentence describes a pain or a frustration with not understanding a concept. Here’s examples I’ve used:

  • Database administrators often wonder what the term CXPACKET means.
  • Are you stumped about SQL Server licensing under virtualization?
  • Why are we supposed to make sure Page Life Expectancy is over 300?

These sentences can seem cryptic if you’re outside the target audience, but that’s a big part of a successful lightning talk: knowing what you’re not going to explain.

Make a list of things your audience already knows. In ten minutes, you don’t get the luxury of bringing people up to speed. For example, in my CXPACKET lightning talk, I assume that the audience already understands the basics of wait stats and how to measure them.

Make a list of things you won’t cover. No one is going to walk out of your lightning talk thinking that their learning is over, so stop trying to cover every concept. Your goal is to get from the first sentence to the last sentence with as few concepts or definitions as possible, and then give them a place to continue their learning journey.

Only do demos if you’re comfortable with failure. In lightning talk sessions, several speakers are lined up, and you have no idea whether you’ll go first or last. You may have to walk your laptop up to the podium between lightning talks and get things working in a matter of 30 seconds. The projector may not get along with your laptop, or the resolution may be something you weren’t expecting. If you have to show processes, use screenshots or a movie.

When in doubt, think about these people watching you troubleshoot your demo:

My lightning talk audience

My lightning talk audience

Rehearse it in front of your coworkers and write down their questions. Give it in a slow, regular pace, not a lightning talk pace, and let them ask unlimited questions. Don’t answer the questions – only write them down. Figure out which questions you have to cover inside the lightning talk material in order to make sure the audience understands your final sentence.

Aim for 8 minutes of material. Be comfortable pausing for laughter, giving the audience time to think, and finishing a little early. You never, ever want to hear the moderator say that time has expired.

Above all, be relaxed and have fun. Nobody goes to a lightning talk session to learn rocket surgery.

How to End Every User Group and Conference Presentation

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 7 Comments

“To learn more, go here.”

Say this while pointing at the screen, which is displaying a short link to a page on your blog. That page has your list of resources – not just things you’ve written, but things you find interesting about the topic.

Why? Because you just got done presenting about a topic you love, and you’ve gotten the audience excited about it too. They already picked your session because they needed help with something, and you’ve shown a few ways to get started. Now they see you as an expert, and they want to keep the learning going.

After you drop the mic, some folks will come up front to ask you questions, but most of them are just going to file out. It’s not that they’re not interested in your topic – they just don’t have the time to stick around. If they see a URL up on the screen, they’ll write it down, visit it later, and bookmark it (yeah, people still do that.)

“And for help, contact me.”

Those five powerful words are the key to the rest of your career.

Presenting in Portugal

Presenting in Portugal

You may not be a consultant right now, but what if you developed a widespread reputation as the person who’s really good at something? You know, like the thing you just presented about? And what if dozens or hundreds of highly technical people sat in your presentations, and started calling you up to help them with that thing?

That’s exactly how I got started with consulting.

I’d presented about SQL Server, storage, and virtualization for a couple of years, pointing people to my resources pages, and I started getting more and more emails for help. Most of them were just quick freebie questions, but some of them actually wanted to pay me to guide ‘em through stuff. I did a few weekend and after-hour gigs for spending money, valuable experience, and blog fodder.

Eventually a company wanted to pay me real money to be onsite with them during the week. I explained to my manager that the company wasn’t one of our competitors, and asked if I could take a few vacation days to earn some money on the side. One of my cunning arguments was that the experience I gained troubleshooting their problems would help make me an even better troubleshooter during my day job. My managers agreed, and let me do it.

Today, I’m a full time consultant doing that stuff.

It’s a long road between these points, but the first step is an easy one. Just close every talk with ten words:

  1. To learn more, go here.
  2. And for help, contact me.

Why I’m Not Learning Analytics

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 17 Comments

Business analytics is a hot career right now. Here’s why I’m smiling and nodding as it goes whizzing past:

Analytics projects start as short term experiments. This sounds awesome at first for consultants because you can parachute in, jump on the data, and give the business actionable information. You can use whatever tools you want right now – and boy, do you have choices.

There’s an analytics gold rush, which means many competing tools. To make money during a gold rush, you don’t mine gold – you sell mining supplies. Companies see the rush to analytics, so they’re slinging all kinds of tools out there to see what sticks. Think back through the last several PASS keynotes, and every one of them had a wildly different strategy for what data consumption meant. I don’t see the market settling on a winner this year or next year.

My favorite slowly changing dimension.

My favorite slowly changing dimension.

The real work in any analytics project: ETL. When the company points you at the data, you have to figure out how to make sense of it. 99% of all data is garbage. (See, I just made that statistic up, and it’s garbage too.) The big problem with big data is big cleansing – even the most basic tutorials devolve into data cleansing. I hate dealing with letters where I’m supposed to find numbers, or trying to figure out what Combo #3 meant four years ago.

ETL means boring meetings. Be prepared to spend hours around conference room tables clarifying the options for a particular field over time, what a birthdate of 00/00/1900 means in someone’s medical record, or why Mrs. Jones’ orders don’t really map up to Mrs. Jones. Booooring.

Bottom line: that’s not for me. Short-lived ETL projects with disposable, immature tools run by easily replaceable staff – that’s where I click unsubscribe. Most of you probably aren’t interested in it either – if you’re reading this, odds are you’ve already got a decently paying job in databases or development or systems administration. Be careful what bets you place in your career – catch a ride going up the salary ladder, not going down.

So who’s doing it? People who love helping businesses get that “Eureka!” moment, and can afford to place some risky short-term bets. There’s a lot of money in this at the moment, and if you do it right, you can build a consulting business around it. Once the money’s coming in, you can subcontract out the boring parts like ETL and meetings, and spend your time learning about The Next Great Thing. That way, when today’s expensive analytics project becomes yesterday’s commoditized business intelligence project, you’re ready to surf the next high-value wave.

Survey Says: the PASS Summit 2014 Session Ratings & Comments

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 4 Comments

After conference attendee feedback comes in, I like to blog about it to talk about what worked and what didn’t.

Here’s the abstract PASS selected this year:

Developers – Who Needs a DBA?
You store data in SQL Server, but you don’t have enough work to keep a full-time DBA busy. In just one hour, you’ll learn the basics of performance troubleshooting and index tuning. Brent Ozar, recovering developer, will teach you the basic care and feeding of a Microsoft SQL Server 2005, 2008, 2012, or 2014 instance and give you scripts to keep you out of trouble.

I keep trying new forms of training, and this year I tried telling a story. I wanted a hero and a supporting cast, so I bought cartoon characters from Shutterstock to use as Dan the Developer, his manager, and an “expert” DBA.

Meet Dan.

Meet Dan.

I bought lots of poses of them, and used them throughout the deck. They weren’t just clip art: they were an integral part of telling the story from the projector, and even from the stage. See, I’d also been reading a lot about how to use physical space onstage. I tried to do Dan’s lines from one part of the stage, then gave the manager and DBA points of view from another part of the stage, always with the appropriate character always on the same side of the slide and stage.

The story focused on training Dan how to use a few simple techniques and tools to make his database server as fast and reliable as he can – but only in his spare time of a few hours per week.

Survey says: the attendee ratings

  • Session Presentation – 4.95 – I was exactly one checkbox from one attendee away from a perfect score. Woohoo!
  • Speaker Rating – 5.0
  • Session Focus – 2.9 out of 3
  • Environment – 4.8 out of 5 (gauges the room setup, size, temp, etc)

Wow. I’m totally humbled – these are the best scores I’ve ever gotten, just a few checkboxes away from a perfect score sweep across the board.

I’m most proud of the Session Focus score.

Not because I did well, dear reader, but because you did. Here was the question:

Think fast - was the session focused, yes or no? Now answer.

Think fast – was the session focused, yes or no? Now answer.

First off, it’s just confusing – I was worried that people would see “Session Focus” and think, “Why yes, the session was focused,” and mark Yes. However, that’s actually a negative answer on this question.

Dan sees the 6 steps for the first time.

Dan sees the 6 steps for the first time.

Second, I walked a really delicate line in this session.

I know Dan really well because he represents a lot of the people I work with every day. My coworkers and I spend a lot of time building free tools for Dan to make his life easier, and this session included references to those tools.

This was a huuuuuge risk.

Over the past year or two, PASS has become very anti-blog, anti-branding. For example, here’s part of the 24 Hours of PASS contract:

“Your contact information, company logo and any applicable copyright notices may ONLY be included on the Presenter’s bio slide in your presentation. You may not refer to your company’s products or services or products and/or services provided by any companies with which you have a business relationship. By signing this document, you acknowledge and agree that the purpose of your 24 Hours of PASS session is to provide educational content and not to be used as a sales or marketing platform.”

Uh oh – depending on how you read this, you could consider sp_BlitzCache®, sp_BlitzIndex®, and sp_AskBrent® as part of our company’s products. After all, notice how I had to stick those registered trademarks on there. We don’t charge anything to use our stuff for yourself, but we have to protect our work or else folks will use it in ways we don’t like. (Typical example: we often get requests to bundle our code into someone else’s products so they can say “Powered by sp_Blitz®.”)

I always wonder if people “get” what Jeremiah, Kendra, Jes, Doug, and I try to do at Brent Ozar Unlimited. We give away more free videos, tools, blog posts, webcasts, newsletters, and entertainment than any other business in the SQL Server community, full stop. If I was an attendee, I’d want to learn about these tools from the very people who write ‘em – after all, I want Adam Machanic to teach me about sp_WhoIsActive, and I want Ola Hallengren to teach me about his backup scripts. Are those guys “selling” me anything? Well, maybe – Adam sells training, Ola has ads.

That’s why I’m so incredibly proud of the 2.9 score – you, dear reader, got it.

Comment highlights

“The story telling was excellent. The session presented clear steps to help the accidental DBA keep their SQL Servers performing well. Would recommend.” – Woohoo! Perfectly sums up what I was trying to do.

“Brent refused to mention himself in the third person even though he has every right to.” - I wanted to make doggone sure I didn’t do too much self-promotion, so when attendees asked questions, I tried very hard not to mention my own blog posts. I felt like I’d already done enough of that just by linking to our tools. At one point, I actually said out loud, “Oh, man, I’ve got the perfect blog post about that, but I really don’t want to promote myself here. Lemme think about other folks in the community who’ve written similar stuff…ah, how about…”

The "expert" DBA character tries to scare Dan off

The “expert” DBA character tries to scare Dan off

“Want proof? The room was littered with DBAs even though they do this stuff on a daily basis. Brent tried to take out the DBA trash but they refused to leave. That’s the mark of a great speaker.” – I’m trying to write crystal-clear session titles so that people know just from the title whether or not they should attend. This one – Developers: Who Needs a DBA? – seemed really clear, but maybe 1/4-1/3 of the audience was still DBAs. I don’t blame them because I pick sessions by speaker too. We had a similar challenge at SQL Intersection when we ran a post-con called “Developer’s Guide to Tuning Somebody Else’s SQL Server,” and the vast majority of attendees were DBAs who needed to tune their own servers. When we asked why they attended, most said they would just attend anything we presented. We laughed pretty hard about that one, so now I’m back to the drawing board for topics. If I’ve got a lot of DBAs who want to see me present no matter what, then I suppose I’d better do more DBA-focused material to keep training ‘em.

“Excellent planning leaving plenty of time at the end to go through questions which allows the whole room to learn from the questions and presenters answer. This is great as otherwise there are a bunch of people who have questions and a short time” – I had the last slot of the day. Going into the session, I kept agonizing about whether or not I should include 15 minutes worth of demos. Right at go-time, I decided the slides worked well enough on their own without demos, and I would rather let people go 15 minutes early at the end of the day. As it happened, we got a full 15-20 minutes of Q&A, so the timing worked perfectly. The only reason I’m mentioning this is that I know other presenters got dinged for finishing 15 minutes early and doing 15 minutes of Q&A – it’s just the luck of the draw.

“I missed this session, but have seen it before and am a fan of Brent.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching after the conference.” – and another – “I’m sure Brent was awesome as usual” – Ooo, no no no, don’t do that. Don’t rate sessions you didn’t attend in person. I could have completely bombed the delivery, and this upvote would suck for people who nailed their delivery and want to get into the Top 10.

Environment comments:

“Room could have been bigger” – the capacity was 352, and 120 people showed up, so the room was actually pretty oversized. The week before Summit, I actually asked for a smaller room because I knew my turnout would be relatively low. I originally had a bigger ballroom, and Erin Stellato had the 352-person room, but she had a great execution plans session. I knew she needed the bigger ballroom for her turnout – after all, my session was aimed at developers, and this is a SQL Server conference. PASS made the switcheroo, and I think everybody won there.

“Creaky stage” – I saw this in most of the rooms. I noticed it as a speaker, and I wondered if attendees would. I had a tough decision to make – should I stay in one place and avoid the creaks, or move around and do the storytelling technique that I’d practiced? I’m still not sure.

“It could have used more lasers, fog machines and holograms. Next year I fully expect a WWE intro.” – Dang it, now I need a wrestling name.

I also did a lightning talk this year, and I’ll blog about that separately. The ratings weren’t done on a per-speaker basis (understandable given the tough logistics) but there were still some clear lessons I need to share about how to do a successful lightning talk.

If you enjoyed this post, here’s some of my past reflections on how I did, and how I’ve worked to get better:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 28 29   Next »