Always Move Forward

By: on February 1, 2012 in Advice, PASS, Presenting, Speaking Engagement

Can you believe it’s February already? 2012 is flying by! I’m thankful that I’m crazy busy, and the partnership with Ben is going well (knock on wood). I’m really looking forward to the training class in March and psyched to have another Training Day at SQLBits X (have you registered yet? No? Go do it!). It’s been a fun travel year already. With one trip to Seattle and California under my belt already, I’ve got quite a few trips between now and April (including across the Atlantic to SQLBits in March) with a few more pending.At this rate, I’ll hit 50,000 miles in the air by mid-year. I know, first world problems – cry your crocodile tears for me.

Quite frankly, since late August when my friend Mike passed away (see Life Is Fragile and Fitting Tribute to a Hero for more info), things have been a blur. Last week (January 25 to be exact) would have been his 40th birthday. No wonder it’s been a somewhat “meh” couple of weeks for me. Considering I just had my 40th at the end of November, it’s all still very visceral for me. Little things remind me of him and probably always will. Rest in peace, my friend.

I also blogged a little about my substandard PASS scores. And no, they were not in the 2s, but certainly poor. To be perfectly honest, since I briefly looked at them back in December, I can’t bring myself to really look at them again. I remember some of the comments. Some were spot on. Looking back at the possible reasons for failure (at least in my eyes), like I said in that blog post – any problems fall squarely on my shoulders. I can’t blame anyone else, but I could certainly use some excuses such as:

  • I used a build that was not very old and I had just gotten clearance a few days before to use – and right before the holidays so I didn’t have much time to work with it. I knew the risk, and I bit the dirt on that one.
  • In retrospect, the death of my friend really impacted me more than I could have ever imagined. Even with killer material and solid demos, I probably still would have had a sub-par PASS by any stretch of the imagination. Again, not an excuse, but looking back I can see where that really weighed on me.
  • I was a bit far ahead of the curve. Since it’s not a stretch to say that SQL Server 2012 will RTM soon now that we’re at the Release Candidate and full adoption for many customers is months, if not a year or more away, doing all SQL Server 2012 material that early was a big risk.

So I went big, took risks, and failed. That’s OK – it’s a good learning exercise and I’d probably do it again. Why? Well, I didn’t get where I am today without taking some big leaps of faith in myself (and sometimes those around me) along with some risks along the way. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You can learn from both. If you never experience failure or disappointment (real disappointment, not the “Mommy didn’t buy me the stuffed animal at the toy store” kind), I’m not sure you can ever understand what success looks like. At least that’s how I feel on the matter.

Despite the fact I have done this for years, my PASS scores showed I may need to brush up on presenting, so I’m actually looking to improve my presentation skills. I’ve done a few things already (including getting a few books) that I hope will show some positive results.  Last week at the SQL Bare Metal training in Redmond, I got up and did an impromptu 20 minute presentation that felt really good. No deck, just demos; and no preparation. That was a tough audience – all MCMs, MVPs, and other really smart folks who know SQL well. Easy to bomb there. I didn’t. Maybe it is working. You can let me know when you see me present at SQL Saturday in Mountain View or at SQLBits, and even the training class in March.

To be honest, even if I never score in the top 5 or 10 at a conference, I get more satisfaction from people that come up to me – be it 1 day or 2 years later – saying they took something from a talk I did and it helped them. Those are measurable results numbers won’t ever show.

The journey matters, not just the destination. A score is just a number. Having a positive impact on someone is much better than a score in the long term.


10 Responses

  1. Karen Lopez says:

    Great sharing post.

    I don’t like the fact that many people seem to place a huge emphasis on rankings of speakers. Sure, we want to do a perfect job. But the top speaker at PASS got one evaluation. I’d love to say I was the top speaker, but he easily could have been in last place, too.

    I do want good scores, but I measure my success based on audience feedback in real time. Did I influence people? Are they asking questions, etc.

    And I hear ya on the outside challenges that can really impact a presentation. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact of how things work out.

    Based on the audience reaction, I think you did well at BareMetal and I look forward to your future presentations.

    • Allan says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Karen. I appreciate it. I was nervous getting up there last week because it could have been a total disaster, especially with PASS fresh in my mind. Maybe that’s a good thing not being so overconfident; cocky is never an attractive trait as a speaker.

      I own up to my own flaws (shhh!), and in hindsight, I know I made some classic mistakes at PASS. Some circumstances were just out of my control. You don’t see it at the time. I recognize that, and I’m not beating myself up for it. The wrong thing to do would have been to either:
      1. Give up the ghost and never speak again
      2. Act like nothing happened and not look at it as a learning experience to grow.

      I think those of us that speak – be it occasionally at a user group or frequently like you or I where we go to PASS, SQL Saturdays, SQLBits, etc. – generally care more about impact than score or driving up business. I hope so, anyway. I’m sure some care more about the number or how many business leads (although wanting good scores and more business is not a bad thing), but to me, that’s the wrong approach. Maybe that’s why I’m not retired yet 🙂

  2. Peter Vukovic says:

    Hi Allan,

    New to your posts and to SQL failover clustering, so I like your tone and style, really thinking of getting your SQL 2008 Failover clustering book on the UK amazon site.

    Hoping my 3 month clustering project I’m starting to look at will benefit from your years of SQL wisdom, since even though I’ve been in the IT industry for 24 years, I’ve not supported or designed an SQL environment in all that time.

    Yes I have Systems Analysis experience of early Digital RDMS systems of the later 80’s. Oracle in the early 90’s but that was part of my increasing Office Systems slant and years later system migration experience but now the cows come home to roost..

    I’m taking this challenge and hoping your unique style will suit me to the ground in this time of need.

    Many Thanks,

    Peter Vukovic

  3. Great post, Allan. I was beside Karen last week talking about how presentations, in general, are broken. Take, for instance, the slide deck that they want you to use.

    Risks are part of life and I have taken my fare share of them (I shared a few of them in this blog post I guess I was born that way. One of the risks I took that got me to where I am now was when I attended (and presented at) my very first PASS Summit in 2007. With a salary that almost covered my airfare and accommodation, I had to literally walk to the convention center for 2 miles every day to minimize my cost. I think that experience has inspired me to deliver my session a lot better. But if you really want to have something that you’ve never had, you should be willing to do what you’ve never done. That’s risk.

    Some resources that I’ve used that can help make us better presenters.

    – slide:ology and Resonate by Nancy Duarte
    – Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
    – Working the Room: How to Move People to Action Through Audience-Centered Speaking by Nick Morgan
    – The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo

    BTW, thanks for that quick presentation last week. It was very valuable for me. It reinforces what I’ve been doing in my test lab (a network diagram would have drawn a better picture.) Now, to fix the client access issue after failover 🙂

    • Allan says:

      Thanks, Edwin. I’ve often questioned many a PPT template over the years, but you’re forced into using them – especially at conferences. I sometimes think whoever puts them together is color blind.

      The one book I’ve read so far is “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy J. Koegel. It’s pretty good. A lot of it you know inherently and is common sense, but always good to be reminded of it. I also picked up his book “The Exceptional Presenter Goes Virtual” which I have not read yet, but clearly applies to a lot of us who do webcasts, etc.

      And you’re welcome for last week. Anytime!

  4. Unfortunately, the book The Excellent Presenter is not available on Kindle. I’ll go grab a used one from Amazon. Thanks for the tip.

  5. […] good case in point – see my post about presenting at Summit after my friend Mike died at Summit. August 28th of this month will […]

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