Epic Life Quest: Level 5 Achieved

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 7 Comments

Inspired by Steve Kamb’s Epic Quest, I’ve been working through my own Epic Life Quest since 2012. I’ve set up a list of future achievements, and whenever I cross off five of them, I advance one level.

Here’s what I’ve unlocked in about the last year:

Level 5: Completed February 2015

Me in Tulum, 2014

Me in Tulum, 2014

  • Marry Erika – After over a decade together, she finally caved in and let me put a ring on her finger. Completed in October 2014 in a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas.
  • Take Erika back to Tulum, Mexico – we had the time of our lives here, and it was without a doubt our favorite vacation ever. Completed in December 2014.
  • 5 million pageview year at BrentOzar.com – It’s awesome to see my baby grow up. Completed December 2014.
  • Sell out a conference pre-con – my Performance Tuning When You Can’t Fix the Queries pre-con at SQLBits London sold out with 150 attendees a few weeks before the conference. (I’ve had larger pre-cons in the US, but that’s the first time the event organizers wanted to sell more seats, but couldn’t, and I love that.) Completed Feb 2015.
  • Weigh 200 pounds or less for six months straight – I have bounced between 195 and 215 for years.  On September 1st, 2014, I committed to staying under 200, and through this week, I stayed under despite a 2-week trip to Mexico, several big tasting menus, and a lack of exercise.

I hadn’t unlocked a level since April 2014, and it’s times like this that I really appreciate having the Epic Life Quest. Part of having a small business is that work comes and goes in cycles, and this year, I spent a lot of time doing work that didn’t relate to my Epic Life Quest. I’m cool with that – the tasks were dues I had to pay as we grow – but that’s why I’m really excited to be bringing a salesperson on board. Even though I really enjoy doing the sales calls, that’s not going to help me make more progress against my goal list, and I need to refocus this year.

Time to kick ass! Here’s the first few tasks I’m working on for Level 6:

  • Hire a salesperson and hand off sales duties – I truly enjoyed doing sales work, but the time has come to hand that work off to a professional and get back to what I’m good at. What was that again? Completed March 2015, and more info to come on that soon.
  • Do a fully coordinated online product launch – in the past, I’ve done a half-ass job whenever I launch a new training video or script. For our next big video course (Q2), I’m going to use techniques that self-publishers have used for years to really make a splash.
  • Weigh 190 pounds or less for 6 months straight – it was easy enough to hit 200 by being disciplined, but taking this quest to the next level will require getting my lazy ass up out of the chair. I’m not even sure how I’m going to get down there for the first time, but if I don’t set it up as a quest, I’ll never pull it off.

Sound like fun? Join others in the SQL Server community who’ve started their own Life Quests too:

The Logistics and Economics of Speaking in Europe

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 6 Comments

I’m heading out on a tour through Europe to speak at SQLRally Nordic and SQLBits London. Here’s what the schedule looks like:

  • Weds, Feb 25 – fly out of Chicago to Frankfurt.
  • Thurs – fly from Frankfort to Copenhagen.
  • Fri-Sun – enjoy a weekend in Copenhagen and adjust to the jet lag.
  • Mon – teach an all-day pre-conference class at SQLRally Nordic.
  • Tues – teach a one-hour conference session.
  • Weds AM – fly from Copenhagen to London, get to the conference hotel on the other side of town.
  • Thursday – teach an all-day pre-conference class at SQLBits.
  • Friday – teach a one-hour conference session.
  • Saturday – teach another one-hour conference session.
  • Sunday very early AM – fly from London to Newark to Atlanta to Augusta, Georgia for a client where I’ll show up Monday morning, jet lag be damned.

Here’s how I make a trip like this work:

The conference organizers help tremendously. The folks who run Rally and SQLbits coordinated their planning so that I could make the timing of everything work. We had lots of emails back and forth leading up to the event announcements so that I could make sure I could teach at both events. This makes the financial part way easier because…

SQLRally Nordic 2013 Keynote

SQLRally Nordic 2013 Keynote

European conferences aren’t sales opportunities for me. The vast, vast majority of our clients are US-based. I’m happy if I happen to pick up a client or two during a European trip, but that’s not why I go. I go because I get a weekend in Copenhagen (a city I really love), I get to see parts of two great conferences, and I get to catch up with a lot of European friends in the SQL Server industry. Therefore…

The trip’s numbers have to work. I lose a week of consulting revenue, plus half of the prior week. I’m really, really anal-retentive about the quality of my conference sessions, and I won’t present under the influence of jet lag. That means I’ll only fly business class (where a 6’3″ guy stands a chance of sleeping on the plane), and I have to fly over a few days early to acclimate to the time zone changes. Between the flights, hotels, meals, and revenue, I need to make at least $10k USD to break even. To do that…

I have to promote the trip to my readers. As a pre-con speaker, I get paid a fee for each attendee in my class, so a big part of making the numbers work is on me. I can’t just rely on the conference organizers – they’ve got an insane amount of work to do on their own, and they’re volunteers! I put a lot of thought into designing the right abstract and recording a promo video. Next, I launch it via our mailing list and our training class pages. Leading up to the event, I send monthly targeted emails to readers who are located within driving distance of the event.

I did some performance tuning on my backup laptop to get ready for the trip.

I did some performance tuning on my backup laptop to get ready for the trip.

On this trip, the numbers work great. I’ve got 150 attendees at Bits, and 110 in Copenhagen. Depending on the conference and the exchange rate, a speaker gets $75-$150 USD per pre-con attendee. It sounds like a hell of a lot – and it is – but this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve worked hard to gradually build up a reputation and a routine to succeed. And it can all go wrong fast…

I expect travel mishaps and mayhem. Sometimes these complicated trips go horribly wrong. I travel with two days of clothes in a carryon so that if the airline loses my bag, I can still make things work with a combination of dry cleaning and a fast trip to the store. I bring two laptops in case one dies. On tight trips like this, I travel with a printed list of alternate flights and contact phone numbers so that I can quickly adapt to flight problems.

When things go perfectly, I’m ecstatic. When they go awry, I’m still pretty happy because this is what I get paid to do, and I love it.

When Good Presentation Demos Go Bad

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 5 Comments

Sooner or later, despite your best efforts to rehearse, one of your demos will fail.

You’re going to try to fix it really quickly without the audience noticing. It won’t work because the entire audience is at least vaguely familiar with the subject material.

Your entire delivery will instantly come unglued. Your posture will change, your voice will get quieter. Watch the body language of the presenter on the right:


The presenter clearly feels like he’s lost control of the demo – and the crowd – when in reality, he’s got an amazing opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, he’s under a wee bit of pressure, doing a Windows demo with Bill Gates, but listen to that laughter again.

When demos fail, the crowd is laughing with you, or at you. It’s your call, so laugh with them.

Every one of us in the technology business goes through failures every day, and not just in our demo environments, either. When the presenter onstage gets a failure, he instantly becomes one of us, and he’s on our team. We’ve all been there. Here’s how to win the crowd over fast:

  1. Stop what you’re doing, take one small step back, and grin at the audience. They’re going to be laughing. Be happy, because this is a great memorable moment for everyone involved, including you.
  2. While you’re still away from the keyboard, explain what you think the error message means.
  3. Explain the one thing you’re going to try to do to recover.
  4. Step back up to the keyboard and try that one thing.

If it succeeds, keep right on going, happy and confident in the knowledge that you’ve mastered the technology and the audience.

If it fails, stop troubleshooting, no matter how easy the situation looks. You’ve already been wrong once, but the audience is with you. If you proceed down the path of troubleshooting your own broken environment onstage, you’ll lose the audience’s faith in a matter of seconds. Instead, bail out of the demo, switch back to your presentation, and use the hidden slides with screenshots you took ahead of time while you were rehearsing the demo. Explain what the audience should have seen, and share a laugh about the failure.

Most presenters would kill for the chance to get the audience to belly laugh. You just achieved it. Done properly, even your presentation failures can be successes.

The Best Presentations are Based on Pain

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 2 Comments

Trying to figure out what to submit for 2015 conference abstracts? Over and over, I see people describing their session in terms of how awesome it’ll be, or what a great time the attendee will have, or how the presenter is really excited about the topic.

Nobody cares. Seriously. Put the exclamation points down.

tl;dr – here’s the winning formula:

  1. Identify the pain that’s driving an attendee crazy.
  2. Build the simplest, fastest, cheapest relief for that pain.
  3. Describe the pain and the relief in as few words as possible.

It’s that simple. But this is one of my favorite subjects, so I’ll keep typing and some of you will keep reading.

1. Identify the pain that’s driving an attendee crazy.

This comes from solution selling, a marketing concept that tells you to ignore the product and focus on the customer first. As a consultant, I only make money if people are in so much pain that they’re willing to hand me their money to make the pain go away. I have to ask what pains they’re feeling, listen carefully, and figure out if the pain is bad enough that they’re willing to spend their time and/or money with me.

Everybody’s always in pain – but the pains usually aren’t that big of a deal:

  • “I wish I knew more about ___.”
  • “I’d like to hear about what’s coming in ___ next year.”
  • “I’d like to improve my server’s ___.”

But if you drill down for more details on these kinds of pains, they’re usually rooted in the person’s own curiosity or private desires. Whoever pays this person’s check isn’t kicking their door down, demanding that this pain get fixed. The Mom Test is my favorite book on the subject, and it’s worth every penny just for chapter 1 alone. Read that, close it, and come back here.

You’re looking for someone who’s screaming, “If I don’t get ___ solved by tomorrow, my boss is going to fire me and our company is going down in flames.” Now THAT is a pain point, and if you can build a session to help them solve that pain, you’re going to be appreciated and adored by your attendees.

2. Build the simplest, fastest, cheapest relief for that pain.

Pop quiz: arrange these in the order that your attendee would prefer for pain relief:

  • A blog post or script that they can digest in 5 minutes
  • A 15-minute YouTube video
  • A one-hour conference session
  • A one-day training class
  • A one-week training class
  • A one-month onsite consulting gig

Take index fragmentation as a pain, for example. If someone wants to make their index rebuild jobs go faster, are they going to pay you tens of thousands of dollars to do it, or are they going to download free maintenance scripts off the web?

And even if you could convince a client to pay you mucho moolah to fix fragmentation, how do you think the client’s going to react when another consultant waltzes in and solves it for free?

As crazy as this sounds, this is why I wrote sp_AskBrent®. I don’t want a client paying me money to find out why a SQL Server is unusually slow right now. Just go run the script and find out if there’s something obvious like a backup running or a data file growing. I’d much rather solve that for free, because if I can’t solve it for free, somebody else can just by writing their own script. Then, I want them to remember me when they have a truly nasty pain that can’t be solved quickly – because that’s where value lives.

Many presentations shouldn’t be presentations at all.

If the pain you’re trying to solve could be just as easily solved with a great 15-minute YouTube video or a blog post, do that. You’ll help way more people because most folks can’t be at the conference.

This is especially true of one-day pre-conference classes where an attendee has to make tough choices between several available sessions. Should she choose the one that basically reads a bunch of blog posts out loud, talking about low-level pains that are rooted in curiosity? Or should she choose the one that will give her the skills to make her users stop screaming in pain?

3. Describe the pain and the relief in as few words as possible.

This is hard as hell. Here’s my current favorite example:

“Performance Tuning When You Can’t Fix the Queries”


The perfect attendee has a slow SQL Server – maybe an ISV app or developers who won’t cooperate – and needs to make it go faster. Her manager looks at the cost of the pre-con, compares it to licensing/hardware/time, hears the users screaming in pain, and the response is clear.

They probably don’t even read the abstract.

That’s your goal. Stop talking about yourself and your favorite concept – think about the attendee’s pains.