Many of you may have seen me speak somewhere along the way, such as at TechEd, PASS, or even a local SQL Server user group somewhere in the country. I want to thank you for coming to my sessions even if you didn’t like them; I don’t get offended easily when it comes to things like that. I just got my PASS score in e-mail, and I’m reflecting a bit on it so I figured it may help some of you who are looking to get into speaking.

One of the first MS-related events I spoke at was a MS-sponsored symposium that was basically TechEd light at the Hynes Convention Center here in Boston about 10 years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since. The funny thing is that no matter how much I present, I still get nervous and have butterflies. I always spend too much time worrying if my demos work (I’m usually feverishly in the speaker ready room prior or up the night before), and if my content is good enough. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. We can’t all be Buck Woody or Brent Ozar (who just blogged about his PASS scores as well, ironically enough) 🙂

This year, PASS was pretty good overall. No one had an insanely low score (at least that got published), but I wound up in the bottom third. The scale is 1 to 5, so it shows you how intense things can be. Most people were above 4, so that says a lot about the overall quality of sessions. Winding up in the bottom third, my overall score was a 4.145. The overall number doesn’t tell the whole tale, so I’m going to break it down as I see it. There were 157 people in my session, which was in the top third for attendance (so definite interest there), and most submitted reviews. So there’s a good enough sampling; if only a few people were in there and commented, it’s hard to draw a conclusion sometimes.

Here was my talk:
Advanced SQL Server Deployment Techniques for Virtualization (DBA-313)
Instead of deploying physical hardware for their server deployments, many companies are now turning to virtualization. Since this wave is now also affecting SQL Server deployments, DBAs need to know how to ensure their deployments will be available, scalable, and reliable. Besides covering the things to think about when deploying in a virtualized environment, this session will demonstrate how touse the new SysPrep feature of SQL Server 2008 R2 with Windows SysPrep to create an image for deployment. Hyper-V’s Live Migration and VMware’s vMotion will also be demonstrated to show how they fit into the availability picture for virtualized SQL Servers.

Here are the ratings:
Question: How would you rate the usefulness of the information presented in your day-to-day environment?    3.97
2    4        
3    17      
4    49       
5    22      

My fault on this one. Out of 92 responses, 77.2% found it useful. The average does somewhat suck, and I own that, but when you break things down, it’s better than it looks. This to me is an important score because if it was off the mark, I failed to deliver anything of value to the attendees.

Question: How would you rate the Speaker’s presentation skills?    4.08
3    20       
4    45       
5    27       

Not the lowest score ever, but definitely not fantastic. I actually felt comfortable on stage this year, so I clearly messed up somewhere. Was I too stiff? Not animated enough? Boring? Something else? I have some room for improvement. I’d be more worried if it was under a 4, but I’m not going to rest on my laurels.

Question: How would you rate the Speaker’s knowledge of the subject?    4.59
3    3        

4    32       
5    57      

Score one for the home team here. So clearly there’s something lost in translation because an overwhelming 96.7% rated me above a 4, with an overwhelming 62% giving me a 5. Thank you! That means, sad to say, my presentation skills are lacking somewhere but they recognize I know my stuff. Sometimes you can have great presenters but poor content (seen some of those). The goal is to have the two match. I need to figure this disconnect out.

Question: How would you rate the accuracy of the session title, description and experience level to the actual session?    4.15
1    1        
2    4        
3    9        
4    44       
5    34       

Those low scores suck – especially the 1 – but look where most of the numbers are (4 or 5). So I was more on than off.

Question: How would you rate the amount of time allocated to cover the topic/session?    4.04
2    1        
3    14       
4    57       
5    20       

This one I’m not sure how to interpret. Most felt it was enough time (reflected by the 4 and 5s), but I know my pacing was a bit off as I was rushing a  bit at the end. Definite room for improvement.

Question: How would you rate the quality of the presentation materials?    4.04
1    1        
2    1        
3    16       
4    49       
5    25       

Again, more positive than negative here. The majority liked it, but the reality is that this one is all me. A 4 is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not a 5. My materials were just OK (the 3s) or poor (1s and 2s) for nearly 20% of the audience.

Verbatim Comments – See How They Range
The Good
Great overall presentation. Thanks!
good topc, very timely. glad i atended
Helpful demos
he certainly knows his subject.  Note:  There should be a set of microphones to help the audience hear questions.
I will definitly be using the information from this session when I get home.
Nice combo of slides, demo and videos to effectively use the time.

Thank you! Not much else I can say here.

The Bad
Recommend using some graphs to show the relations within physical, virtual machine, network, disk, etc.  Much easier to comprehend in a graphic way.
Fair criticism, although this was not a 100/200 level talk. At 300 I assume you walk in knowing some of this stuff. And that is part of the problem with levels – even at 300, some attendees won’t have 300 level knowledge. So it is my fault, but at the same time, it really isn’t.

seats marked as “reserved” were not used but seating was scarce. please remove the reserved seating if not used.
Here’s one where as a speaker, you just have to shrug it off. I didn’t control that aspect of the room, but you have to realize you get the ding for it. The microphone comment above also falls into this category.

knew some of it already
This is to be expected. Sometimes I feel like when I speak it’s, “Impress me, Mr. Expert!” The truth of the matter is you may know some of this stuff. If you do, it means you’re ahead of the curve.

The Ugly
should have put hyper in title.
Title & description implied more generality than presentation.
just assuming everyone uses hyper u is poor planning. that should have been in the descrioption!
I own these, and this means my abstract and title were off. Not much else to say here. My screw up.

the class was not what i was expecting. i was looking for sql setup. speaker was not a good presenter.
Well, sorry I didn’t meet what you wanted but quite frankly, I did walk through using SysPrep both in Windows and SQL Server. My goal was never to teach SQL Server Setup in general. This person may have meant different things when it comes to SQL Server setup, so I’m just guessing. I think given my scores, my abstract wasn’t far off of what I taught.

too much time for content
This one is a bit cryptic – I’m thinking they meant not enough as I did use all 75 minutes nearly.

Brent is the best speaker/presenter at PASS
See above 🙂 I like Brent, too, and I’m sure he’ll be happy to see this. But was it a dig at me? If you’re going to leave a comment, please try to make it more constructive. This comment has no relevance to my session.

I was looking for real world gotchas.  Very few in this prs.
Ouch, but then again look at the comments above. A lot of people did get something out of it, so while this does sting, I’m not going to dwell on it.

had hoped for more about deployment tuning
I posted my original abstract above. Nowhere do I talk about deployment tuning. I did talk about scalabiliity in my abstract (and in the session), so I’m not sure what this person meant by deployment tuning. I’d be curious to know.

way too low level, not a 300 level class
See comment above for “knew some of it already”; also contrast with the good comments. I apologize to the person who felt this way, but again, it means you’re ahead of the curve.

A bit hard to follow some of the demos…
Would have liked the video demo to be better rehearsed and faster
some pre-recorded too slow
This is all on me, and something I’ll have to look at. Now, some things you can’t get faster. Had I shown all of SysPrep in the live demo, we’d be sitting there all day. It’s a delicate balance. These are constructive, and as a speaker, these I can learn from.

Improving For The Future and Other Observations
The thing about speaking is that at some point – at least I feel this way – you are chasing your own tail. What do I mean by that? A few things.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
I think some of us get trapped by what we’re known for. For example, whenever I try to veer too far away from things like high availability and clustering, my scores tend to go down. I do other stuff (virtualization, consolidation, etc.). Maybe part of that is some of my shortcomings as a speaker in communicating my ideas; that is something I can improve on because I have satisfied consulting customers. Whatever the reason, I think some of us can get pigeonholed. I know I sometimes feel like I want to break out of the HA stuff and do more in other areas, but I sometimes get the sense people don’t want to hear anything else from me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Work On My Speaking Skills
The only way to do this is to just do it (to quote Nike). I know when it feels good, and I know when it goes bad. You can sense it on stage. Now, to be fair, one of the measures I use is “How many people walked out of my session?” Not many did, so I take that as a compliement. It doesn’t mean I’m a better speaker, but I held their interest enough to keep them there for 75 minutes. At some place like PASS, there are many other good options, so I just need to improve to get that score closer to a 5. People recognize my technical expertise, but I need to bring my A game better to my speaking.

Tighten Down My Demos
I already said I fret over them, but clearly I need to do more and figure out some pacing issues that happened in that session. No one else to blame but myself.

Don’t Get Mired In the Numbers and Comments
You can analyze this stuff to death and turn it into a competition for yourself vs. everyone else. I did that in the past; not anymore. I’m going to take this year in stride and just aim to improve for next year. I’m my own worst enemy and will beat myself up way more than trying to be better than anyone else. I’m disappointed in myself.

Comments like the one saying the session level was too low can hit you as you may come to realize your detractors may be more vocal than those who loved you. If you have a lot of comments saying that, you’ve got a problem. If it’s one or two, accept it, acknowledge it, and move on.

Tips For Speakers As I See It

1. Make sure your abstract and title matches what you are actually going to deliver.

2. When devising your abstracts for consideration, make sure they are as interesting as possible.

3. Level your session right. This is hard, but when you put 300 or 400, you better have some good content. Don’t give 200 level content. You will be slammed.

4. Have a good balance of demo and slide; the more demo, the better.

5. Ensure the audience can walk out with some usable stuff.

6. Realize you won’t win everyone over and don’t take it personally when you get comments to that effect. Take them in stride.

7. You can’t control the environment (room size, temperature, seating, screens, mics, etc.). Just recognize you will take the ding for it.

Final Thoughts
This by no means was my worst PASS session in terms of scoring over the years. I generally have a pretty good track record and wouldn’t get asked back if I stunk up the joint, was a horrible speaker, wrote bad abstracts, etc. Nearly 2/3 of the 157 commented and scored me, and for that I am grateful. If the other 65 people had scored me, would my numbers be higher? I’ll never know. All I can do is take what was submitted and strive to get better. I certainly hope to be up on a stage in front of you next year presenting and getting all 5s, but that’s unrealistic. The way I see it, those good comments – the ones where people took stuff away and found it usable – show I was a success. If no one walked away satisfied, I completely failed.

When you get session scores back from PASS or anywhere else, put them in context because one number may not tell the whole story. One thing is for sure: all of this is good news for PASS attendees. If a “mediocre” score is still above a 4, you all win.