How To Become A Speaker

How to Start Speaking

Start Speaking 

At the last few events I attended, I’ve gotten into conversations on how to begin as a speaker. So, I thought I’d share some of my advice that I provided.

First and the foremost, get your first talk scheduled. Reach out to your local user group and ask to be “penciled” in for a meeting a few months out. Giving yourself a goal and deadline is essential to putting yourself out there to speak. Next, write down ten topics you may want to speak on. Narrow down that list to five by thinking about what you would be most comfortable speaking about.

Next, look at your five topics and really think about what kind of experiences you can talk about and what kind of examples you can talk about. Jot those ideas down under each heading. If you come up with a little lacking in ideas, scratch that topic off your list as there probably is not enough content to make a talk. The key is to narrow it down and keep going down levels of detail. You’ll notice after you get down a level or two that you can begin to see a slide deck constructing itself. Each topic and subtopic becomes an individual slide with bullet points for each slide.

Example (randomly streaming ideas while I type this)

Query Store

  • Forcing a plan

    • How to figure out which plan
    • When not to do this (how can it hurt)

  • Query Regression

    • What is that

  • Configuration

    • Proper Settings

  • Top Consuming Queries

    • Standard reports you can use
    • How to identify which ones

  • What not to do

Performance Tuning

  • Best Items to change to get biggest results

    • RSCI
    • Statistics

  • Memory

    • Proper Settings
    • Issues I’ve seen
    • Multiple Instances
    • Extra Services Running

  • Indexes
  • 3rd Party Tools
  • Key Metrics

Now that you have a topic, it’s time to write an abstract and come up with a title. An abstract is what you will submit to the event and tell the attendees what your session is about. For events outside your user groups, this is also what they will use to determine if your session is one they wish to have presented. I advise you to read some abstracts on SQL Saturday site to get an idea of how people write them before you get started writing your own. This can be the hardest part of building a talk, and that’s why I come up with a list of topics first. I then utilize the list of topics to help create my abstract. Keep in mind that you have a limited amount of words in an abstract to try to convey the full message of the talk. An abstract is much like a movie preview. The preview has to capture the attention of the audience in a short amount of time and inform them of the plot of the movie.

Once you get the abstract written, be sure to get a second set of eyes to review it. What sounds good to you may not convey a clear message about your topic. Having another person read it and give you feedback is an important part of the process.

After building a list of topics, creating an abstract, getting it reviewed, it’s time to build your slide deck. Using your bulleted list, create a slide for each item and fill in any missing items that come to your mind. You’ll find it coming along pretty easily since you have already created talking points. Be sure to add lots of notes for each slide when you create your deck. It will help you keep on track and know what to cover or even what stories to tell. Some speakers, myself included, can blank out or get off topic easily; these notes will help guide yourself. For an hour presentation, try to create 20 slides as a starting goal, not including your title and about me slides. Approximately, 2-3 minutes spent talking on each slide is a good rule of thumb and that will give you a 50-minute presentation with a buffer for introductions, questions, and tangents.

Now, the VERY most important part before giving your first session is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE. Set a timer in PowerPoint and go through your slides over and over. Once you feel comfortable, try to give the session to a family member or friend. Ask them to take notes like the things below. They need to know nothing about your topic, they are just there to help you hone your presentation skills.

  • What is your go-to word?
  • Do you say umm too many times?
  • Did it seem fluid?
  • Could they follow along?
  • Are the slides too distracting?
  • Did you fidget?

Use these notes to make improvements. After you give your session for the first time to the User Group, ask for feedback and session evals. Speakers are constantly improving their sessions and slide decks each time they give that session. You may not knock it out of the park the first time, but as long as you keep building on to your skill, you are well on your way to being a great speaker.

All speakers had to give their very first session once. We all had to bite the bullet and face the fear of no one wanting to hear us talk, what if I teach something wrong, or what if I throw up because I am too nervous. We’ve all been there. You’re not alone in your journey of becoming a speaker. I know many speakers within the SQL community that would be willing to review the slide decks and listen to to give notes.