Putting Together a Presentation

You’ve submitted an abstract to speak at an event. Perhaps it’s a user group, perhaps it’s a SQL Saturday, or, maybe even the PASS (Professional Association of SQL Server) Summit. Congratulations! Your session has been selected! Now, to put together that presentation that people will be interested in.

Have you ever presented before? If not – you will benefit greatly from watching others present. Go to user groups – sign up for conferences – watch how other people do it. Everyone has their own style. Pick up on what others do well.

Are you going to be speaking from experience? Do you have real life scenarios from which to pull knowledge? Or, are you learning about your topic and tend to talk about what you learned? In both cases, you’ll probably need to do some research – perhaps not as much if you’re speaking about something you know, or if you’ve given the talk before. But, if you’re giving a talk about what you are currently learning, you’ll want to do plenty of research.

Start by taking notes. It’s like writing an essay paper, really. Gather as much information as you can – remembering to document where the information came from. Cite your sources! I can’t stress this enough. Those of us in the SQL Server community are known to share our knowledge freely. But If we’re quoted, or you’re using some of our code – we really don’t mind, as long as you acknowledge where you got the information.

Once you’ve gathered your notes – create an outline. How do you want your presentation laid out? Will it be all slides? Will you have demos? This obviously depends on the subject matter. There are a lot of presentations that are conceptual and will have very few if any demos. There are others where there will be very few slides and rely heavily on demos.

Once your outline is complete – start putting together your slides. Make sure the slides become your outline. Slides are there to show the audience the concept. Don’t read from them. Speak from your head and your heart, using the slides as guides. If you are reading from the slides it’s probably just best to post them online and skip the actual presentation, because the audience can already read the slides themselves. Rehearse your presentation. Several times. Perform it in front of a mirror. Present it to your family. Make sure that even if they don’t know what you’re talking about, they can kind of understand what you’re trying to present. Back to the demos. Do they work? Are you sure? Script everything out. Run them. Run them again. And again. Create backups of your scripts. Leave nothing to chance. Will you be using Virtual Machines in your presentation? Test those as well. Make sure you have a couple you can spin up just in case one crashes.

It’s presentation time. You’ve rehearsed, your scripts work, your slides look good. Your room is filling up. It’s time to start. Thank your audience! If this is a conference, remember that they could have attended any one of several other presentations in your same time slot, but they chose yours. Thank them! Introduce yourself with a short bio, perhaps backed up with a slide with your contact information.

I like to start my presentations with an eye catching slide – usually on the humorous side, that tries to tie into the subject matter. Don’t go overboard on the humor though (unless you’re Brent Ozar and can get away with it!). People are there to learn from you, not to pass judgement on your stand-up comedic skills. Try not to camp out in front of your laptop, unless of course you’re running demos. Walk around, make eye contact with the audience – again, knowing your subject matter inside out will make this a lot easier. If you can speak without looking at your presentation, people will listen a lot closer to what you’re saying.

Once again, if you’re sharing code with your audience, please tell them where the code came from. If it’s not yours, tell them! Give credit (and perhaps contact information) to the author! The same goes with content, graphics, etc. We don’t mind if you use our stuff – just tell people it’s ours!

Once your presentation is over – retouch the main topics. Tell your audience what you’ve gone over. Present your contact information one more time. Take questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make one up! Get the contact information from the questioner and let that person know you’ll find out, and then follow up. You’ll gain a lot of credibility that way. Show them your contact information again. I like to close my presentations with a contest question; the first person to shout out the answer gets a prize – whether it’s a book, a shirt, or just a stuffed animal. My questions rarely have anything to do with my presentation material – it’s usually about a hobby of mine or something obscure I mentioned about my pet during my introduction. If the audience answers, it means they were paying attention to you.

Lastly – thank your audience again! They came to see you – let them know you appreciate it, and tell them to enjoy the rest of the conference.
That’s it. I’ve followed that concept for my presentations, and have usually had a full house each time I’ve presented. If you’ve made a good impression, people will remember and will tell others – and you’ll present to an even larger audience your next time.