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The Rambling DBA: Jonathan Kehayias

The random ramblings and rantings of frazzled SQL Server DBA

Q: Should You Present At Your Local User Group?

A: You Bet!!!

Lets face it, User Groups need speakers and while its great to have the experts in the industry like Andy Leonard, Buck Woody, or Joe Webb come to your user group, if you get one of them once a year, you are doing good.  One of the most interesting sessions at our local user group in the last two years, at least to me, was actually given by one of the members of our own group, Andreas Etelkozi on Data Scrambling, scrambling the data inside of a database to remove personally identifying information and the ability to correlate what belongs to who in reality(ie. Joe Woody, Buck Leonard, or Andy Webb in the resulting data).  What made the session so interesting to me was the fact that it was just something that Andreas does as a normal part of his work, and he was sharing that information with the group.

I did my first presentation on SQL Server just under eighteen months ago to a group in Orlando about running SQL Server virtualized on VMware ESX, and lessons learned from two years being virtualized.  This is actually where I first met Jorge Segarra (Blog/Twitter) who also is a member of the Tampa Bay SQL User Group.  I was later invited to present the same session a month or two later at the Tampa SQL Server User Group, and I’ve been presenting from time to time since then.  I’ve presented to as little as six people and to over two hundred last month at PASS Summit, my first time speaking at a major conference event.

But I don’t know what to/have anything to talk about….

RUBBISH!!  Let me first dispel the idea that you don’t know enough to put together a session.  Some of the most popular sessions at local events have been the TSQL 101 sessions that cover how to write a proper SELECT statement, JOIN two tables together, use ISNULL and COALESCE, or aggregate data with GROUP BY.  The key here is “If you present it, they will come…” It doesn’t necessarily matter what you are presenting, or that you don’t know everything about the subject, the odds are that you are going to cover things that most people don’t know or think about in their day to day work, and perhaps that information will help them at some point later on. 

Need some ideas for topics, what are you currently working on, or even better, what are you interested in knowing more about?  If you just solved a problem with SQL Server at work, think about how nice it would have been if someone had presented about that problem and how to overcome it before you had to deal with the problem.  I sometimes present about trending or common problems I see from the forums, or in question and answer sessions at our user group.  Other times I will pick a topic to present that I want to learn more about myself.  Why, because it motivates me to learn the materials, and while I am building my presentation I am fortifying my own learning about the topic.  Then I’ll actually present the material at an event, and get feedback on the material.  I’ve had people pull me to the side and correct mistakes I made after my session, and I’ve had people openly challenge things in the middle of a session as well.  I’ve also had people mention specific points in the presentation where I might have covered another topic as well.  I learn from every presentation that I do, and I am learning to become a better presenter as well.

Someone else already presented that…

SO WHAT!!!  Someone already wrote this blog post too.  You are still reading this one, and people will still want to listen to your presentation.  Ever hear a joke before, and then hear it again?  Is it any less funny the second time because you knew the punch line?  Not for me it isn’t.  I still laugh my behind off when the punch line comes if it is a good joke.  What if you miss an important part of the joke?  Does that matter?  Sometimes, but people rarely miss the meat of the joke, and you would be hard pressed to miss the meat of the material giving a presentation.   What’s really great though is every now and then you meet someone who is retelling that same old joke, but they add in a new twist, a funny gesture, some good visuals and it becomes even more funny.  The same thing goes with presenting the same materials, you might just create an example that solidifies the material and really makes the subject come to life.

I won’t compare to Experts like Andy, Joe, or Buck…

NEITHER WILL I!!  Lets face it, some people really have it when it comes to presentation skills.  However, if you talk to any of these guys, they will tell you that they aren’t anything special.  (Ok, so Buck is special, but it is a different kind of special. Write down those who are special.)  Have you ever actually talked to some of the big names in the SQL Server community?  People tend to put them on a pedestal all the time, and I tend to do it myself, but in reality they are just like you and me, normal people.  However, what you will find is that most of the experts are very focused on what they are an expert in.  Paul Randal doesn’t answer SSIS package development questions and Andy Leonard doesn’t answer complex problems with CHECKDB for a reason.  Andy is a SSIS expert and Paul is a CHECKDB and storage engine expert.  If you are presenting on a storage engine topic, chances are that Paul Randal knows more, but I can’t imagine that he would ever interrupt your session unless you offered up some really, really bad advice that would be damaging to someone's system.  The same goes for Andy Leonard, and Buck Woody, though Buck might interrupt your session with members from his audience by telling them that you were buying the beer at the end of the event (true story).


So now that I took away all of your reasons to not present, pick a topic, open up Outlook, compose a new message, address it to a user group leader and find out when the next opening to speak is at the user group.  Then build your presentation.  Don’t know where to start with that, take a look at Joe Webb’s SimpleTalk article Creating Technical Presentations (see I told you someone else already wrote this blog post, but you’ll still read his too).  Don’t let you stop yourself from sharing great information with your fellow community members. 

Published Tuesday, November 24, 2009 12:15 AM by Jonathan Kehayias
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Rob Farley said:

Well said.

Also, if you're travelling somewhere, find a group and present there too. You might find it a better option than hanging around a hotel if you're away on business, and if you're in holiday you can meet some locals who will happily recommend local attractions and give tips about the area in exchange for your SSRS tips (or whatever you preach on).

November 23, 2009 11:42 PM

Jack Corbett said:

Good post, Jonathan.  And Rob makes a good point about trying to speak when you travel.  There is never a shortage of opportunities.

November 24, 2009 9:00 AM

BuckWoody said:

Another point - don't limit yourself to your local area. You can present "virtually" these days with a variety of software - there's always a small user group out there that would be willing to set up a projector and some speakers, and let you go at it.

Great post!

November 24, 2009 11:16 AM

Brad Schulz said:

Inspirational blog post, Jon...  Thanks.

For month after month, it seems, our group has had presenters from large local corporations giving generalized presentations on how they handle data and certain challenges, but they have been more on the "general" side than the "meaty" side.

I think we need some more down-and-dirty presentations.  When Brad McGehee presented at the group earlier this year, he went over how to interpret query plans... it was Query Plan 101, but everyone in the room was riveted, and I was surprised at some of the questions that were asked (and questions by Brad to the group that were not answered as well)... it seemed that most people in the room had never looked at a query plan before.

It was the same when Peter Myers did a presentation on Data Mining (also earlier this year)... there were ooohs and aaahhs in the group from people who had never seen SSAS before.

Perhaps I'll have a talk with the coordinator of our group and see if we can do some "getting back to basics" and see if I can put together some ideas for a presentation or two.


November 24, 2009 12:01 PM

PHenry said:

Great post to try motivating people on the fence to present at their local user group!  Here here!  All your reasons are great and people can work through them!

November 24, 2009 12:31 PM

Glenn Berry said:

Good post Jon. Everyone has to start somewhere, and local user's groups are a good place. Another alternative is doing a "Lunch and Learn" at your own company.

November 24, 2009 11:56 PM

Sankar Reddy said:

Good one Jonathan. After reading your post, I am sending a draft to our group leader and see if my attempt will materialize in the next year.


I remember the Peter Myers session and this is where I met you in person for the first time. Look forward to your sessions as well in the next year.

For readers, Paul Randal's primer on public speaking also is must read.

November 27, 2009 2:54 AM

Sanjeev Jha said:

Great post....nice shout outs to Andreas and Jorge!

December 1, 2009 10:09 AM

Chirag Roy said:

Excellent post Jonathan.... certainly inspired me!

Guess, the next step for me... get off my lazy behind... wipe the dust off my drawing board and come up with a zanny topic and find a UG to speak at. Perfecto!!!

December 2, 2009 4:47 AM

Vidhya Sagar said:

Damn! Really nice inspirational post.. I love the content.. Great Jonathan.. Sure many speakers will turn on after reading your post :)

December 3, 2009 7:29 AM
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