So, you’ve attended a few SharePoint Saturday events. You’ve sipped the Kool-aid and it tastes good. You started a blog and feel it is time to take the next big step in giving back to the community: Speaking at an event.
Well, I’m NO expert here, but again my blog is not about being the expert. It’s about helping give new people a boost where I can so they don’t have to face the horrors I’ve faced. It’s also where I try to document all the little quirks I run across so that I can remember where to find that information when I need it again.
So! With that being said, what can you do to make your first presentation a success?
Select Topic For Presentation That You Already Know
First thing you need is an idea about what you want to speak about. Make sure it is something you know and have experience with. Don’t use your presentation as an excuse to learn something new or you won’t be comfortable up there talking about it. Is there some problem you encountered and conquered that you can talk about for an hour? Some of the most successful presentations are “Here’s a problem, and here’s the solution.” You don’t have to be the world’s leading expert in IIS Compression or be able to explain in minute detail WHY x + y = z. You just know that you needed x + y to equal z and this is how you do that! Don’t get me wrong, it helps to add credibility to your presentation if you have the depth of knowledge to answer any question about what you are doing, but just knowing what you are doing and having a passion for it goes a long way.
Still stuck about finding a topic? Go back to one of your blog entries. Is there one there that you could turn into an informative one hour presentation?
Write a brief summary and outline of your presentation.
Request To Speak At an Event
Now that you have your topic and your summary you need to find an event to speak at. Always a great place to start is SharePointSaturday.org. Look for upcoming events that you can get to. They will put out a “call to speakers” where you can submit your presentation. The SharePoint Saturday events are so numerous now that they are the perfect place for new speakers to get started. Also check on twitter for any call to speakers.
You might get turned down, you might not. If you are active in the community and people know who you are they will bend over backwards to give you the opportunity to speak. So, don’t get discouraged and keep on trying.
Great! Someone actually wants to hear your presentation… Oh crap… someone actually wants to hear your presentation. Okay, calm down. Don’t get too anxious, you’ll do fine.
You’ve got your outline, right? Start developing slides around your outline. A fairly smart guy told me to think of your presentation like a story. It needs a beginning, middle, and end. Think of anecdotes that help tell your story. Give it some meaning.
So, what kind of presentation are you going to do? There are two basic types. Those that have nothing but slides, and those that have code and demos. Think carefully about which you choose, especially starting out!
If you have never spoken at an event before I would highly recommend that you don’t rely on any code or live demos. There are too many variables to worry about. What’s great about the no-code presentations is that you can truly let your slides guide you and you can much more freely “go with the flow”.
My entire presentation is based upon experience and first hand knowledge which means I don’t have to memorize ANYTHING. Sure, I may miss an anecdote here or there but I’ll probably remember it next time. This works out well for those unfortunate few who see my presentation more than once; they’ll get to hear SOMETHING new every time I do it. What’s also great about speaking from experience is that you are much more likely to have an answer to a question that comes up in the audience instead of just sitting there with a deer in the headlights look.
Again, make sure you have well rounded experience with your topic. If you do a presentation with something you have never had problems with, how do you expect to answer questions people will have about the problems they have encountered?
Code / Demo Heavy Presentations
So, the other types of presentations you will see are those with a lot of code and demos. Again, I highly recommend you stay away from these demos starting off. There is way too much that can go wrong (this is SharePoint remember). However, if you feel you HAVE to do this here are some important things to mitigate your problems:
- Make sure you can do the demo without internet access. - This is the absolute most golden rule I can think of. You never know what might happen with internet access. It may not be at the event. It may be down. There may be metal shielding in the building that prevents your Dell card from getting out. Who knows? Just DON’T require your demo or code to have internet access.
- Practice, practice, practice – With these types of demos you need to have your demo perfect. You need to know that the code will work 100% of the time and that you can fix any sporadic problems that come up. Nothing is worse than that awkward silence from trying to debug an issue on the fly.
- Create slides in case your demo fails – Even after you’ve practiced over and over and over, things can STILL go wrong. Have a video or slides readily available of what was SUPPOSED to happen so you can switch over to it and still talk. You’ll look like a professional for having a backup.
- Make sure people can read the code! – Most of the time the code on the screen is WAY too small to read and people are really wanting to see how you did something. Make sure your font is large enough to read from the back of the room BEFORE the demo starts. Another option is to use a tool like ZoomIt to zoom in on the code when needed.
- Beware of “Stump the Chump” – I have NOT seen this as an issue in SharePoint presentations, but I have been to my fair share of .NET presentations where one or two people just HAVE to show they are smarter than the presenter and are critical about EVEYRTHING. Be aware these guys might exist and be prepared to handle them. Worst case scenario, ask them if they want to come up and do the presentation for you.
So, have I given enough reasons why I avoid Code / Demo presentations? I have done them before with pretty good success and will most likely do them again. Just be really aware of what you are getting into and mitigate those problems.
Don’t Give Up, and Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. There is always something you could have done better. Many times how good your presentation is depends on the interaction from the crowd. See if you can get them energized and laughing. A comfortable crowd is much more likely to give feedback and help direct the presentation into some great directions.
So, there you have it. You may never speak at a Best Practices Conference or at a SharePoint Conference but speaking at events is a great way to give back to the community, learn a lot, and meet these awesome SharePoint people I keep talking about.