Presentation Nerves

My previous post on interviews and a number of conversations this year inspired me to write this post. I am lucky enough to have been selected to speak at numerous events over the past few years and I am really lucky because I thoroughly enjoy doing them. The feedback I receive from those sessions has been wonderful and it seems that in general most people really enjoy them.

This leads to some misconceptions though. Recently people have said to me “Oh I am not like you, I get far to nervous to do a session” and also “I am so glad that you get just as nervous as me before presenting I thought it was just me” even though I have blogged about this before. I think it is important for newer speakers as well as more established ones to know that more presenters than you realise get very nervous before they speak.

Many don’t publicise this (which is fine) but I will. I get nervous before I speak. I know that it doesn’t show when I start my presentation but it is there. My stomach does back flips, my hands shake, I forget to bring things to the room. I worry that I will make a catastrophic mistake or that I’ll open my mouth and nothing will come out.

It’s ok. It doesn’t last very long, it’s gone at the moment I start speaking. Other speakers need a few moments into their session before they stop really feeling those nerves but it goes.

Whenever I am involved in a conversation about nerves and presentations on twitter I respond in the same way

I love this quote by Joan Jett (young people link) To me it means that you should be nervous before speaking because that energy will ensure that you give a good presentation. If you get up to do a presentation and you are blasé or complacent about it this will be obvious to your audience and not in a good way.

So what to do?

Practice

You can’t just approach a presentation knowing that you will be nervous and expect it to be ok. You need to have a background of confidence that your presentation will turn out ok.

You need to practice.

You need to practice your presentation.

You need to practice your presentation out loud.

You need to practice your presentation out loud more than once.

You have to get used to hearing your own voice when presenting. It can be off-putting hearing yourself blathering on and you don’t want that to surprise you or interrupt your flow. This will also help with projecting away from your screen and into the room if you practice correctly. Imagine all the people in the room and try to speak in their direction with your head up and not pointing down at the screen.

You also need to practice your timings, so that you know that your session will fit in the allocated time. Make notes of your timings at certain points in your presentation so that when you are presenting your session you can be aware of whether you are still on your expected time. Some people will speak faster in their actual session than the practice and some slower. As you practice and learn you will understand your own rhythm and cadence and be able to alter it if required. This will help you to build that confidence that your presentation will be ok.

More Practice

You need to practice.

You need to practice your demos.

You need to practice your demos more than once.

Being able to reset your demos and run them through will teach you more skills. Using Pester to make sure your environment is in place correctly will help.

Run your demos with your machine set up as it will be for the presentation. If you need to have PowerPoint, SSMS, Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code and three SQL instances running then practice with them all running. You should do this so that your timings when running your demos are the same as when you actual present your session. This is even more important if you are doing a webinar as that software will require some of your machines resources which may slow your demo down.

Knowing that your demos are consistently repeatable and how long they will take will also help to give you the confidence that your presentation will be ok.

Deal with them

If we accept that you will have nerves and that’s not a bad thing you have to be able to deal with them, to use them to make your presentation rock.

This is a distinctly personal thing and I have no idea what will work for you. You will have to try some things and see if they work or not. Recently I found a new way for myself

Normally I like to be in the room I will be presenting in before I do my session as this gives me something that I can listen to, I can see and feel the layout of the room and also usually prepare my laptop with the correct programmes and run Pester to make sure all is as it should be for my demos. In Portugal I was chatting with someone and missed the start of the session and because of the room layout I did not want to disturb the presenter before me. Slava Oks was giving a presentation which I started to watch and it was so mind-melting I completely forgot that I was presenting in the next time slot! Surprisingly, I had almost no time to be nervous and for this time that was a good thing. The fact that I had already opened my presentation and run my Pester tests also helped.

Some speakers like to be amongst the hustle and bustle of a common area. Some like the peace and quiet of a speaker room or work area. Some put their headphones on. Some go outside. Some pace up and down. Some sit quietly. Many sit in a session in the room. Find the one that works for you.

A few deep breaths

Then just before you are giving your presentation take a few deep breathes, reassure yourself that it’s all good and go and be amazing.

Deep breaths will also be useful if you start to feel nervousness overtaking you during your session. Stop, take a deep breath and carry on.

Incidentally, during a presentation in Exeter at my first SQL Saturday I felt decidedly light-headed and as if I was going to pass out. I had literally forgotten to breathe!

What about…… ?

Don’t forget to leave time for questions at the end. Don’t practice to fill all of the allotted time with your presentation. You will need some time for the audience to ask you questions about your presentations.

Having people ask you questions is a good thing. It means that people are engaged in your presentation and interested in what you have shared. Well done, you have achieved what you set out to do and this is some validation

Repeat the question

Repeating the question that you are asked is recommended best practice for presentations but it has another advantage to you. It allows you a little thinking time to organise your thoughts and calm your nerves if needed.

I don’t know

It’s ok to answer a question with I don’t know. Follow up by asking if anyone in the audience can add some value or say I will research that and find out for you come and give me your contact details afterwards.

Feedback

Some events will provide you with feedback from your attendees. You can also ask your friends or other friendly community members for feedback on your session. Use this to improve. Don’t take all the feedback to heart. Look for trends in the data. Don’t let the poor feedback get you down and don’t let the good feedback go to your head (Remember the complacent quote at the top of this post!)

On a side note, whilst providing a score for feedback is useful, what is more useful is some reasoning behind the score. Remember also that the speaker is a human being with feelings. Be kind whilst being constructive.

Your knowledge

Don’t let worry about nerves prevent us from hearing the great knowledge and experience that you have to share. You wont be alone in feeling nervous and you can help yourself to overcome those nerves and get as much out of speaking as I do.

You will find members of the SQL community wiling to help you if you visit the SQL Community Slack you can ask questions in #presentingorspeaking

 

Speaking? You? Go on. #tsql2sday #84

This is a blog post for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday post, hosted by Andy Yun (b|t). T-SQL Tuesday is a monthly blog event started by Adam Machanic (b|t). The T-SQL Tuesday topic this month was about advice for new speakers. Thanks Andy for hosting. I have created a channel in the SQL Server Community Slack for presenting which everyone can make use of to ask and to answer questions

I think you should share what you know with others.

You will be amazing.

I will give you some great advice I learnt from a fantastic person’s blog post

  1. Start speaking
  2. Keep going
  3. Listen to feedback
  4. That’s it.

Kendra has said it all, you don’t need to read any further 😉

 

 

 

 

However..

Not all plain sailing

I love giving sessions but I never knew or thought that I would. My journey to speaking started at my SQL user group in Exeter and two fabulous people Jonathan and Annette Allen who encouraged me to share some PowerShell with the group. I was terrified, didn’t think I was worthy, my HDMI output wasn’t strong enough to power the projector, I had to transfer my slides and demo to Jonathans laptop. It was a fraught and frustrating experience.

My second presentation was done on Stuart Moores MacBook Pro using Office Online for presentations and Azure for demos. Again a change right at the last minute and using a machine I didn’t know (and a different keyboard set-up).

Stuff will go wrong. Murphy’s Law will always show his head somewhere and no matter how often you test and re-test your demos, sometimes an odd thing will make them stop working

There will be problems and issues, you can mitigate some of them by following the 6 P’s

Proper Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.

You can read some great blog posts in this T-SQL Tuesday Series and also this one from Steve Jones or any of these But also accept that these things happen and you must be prepared to shine on through the darkness if the power runs out or use pen and paper or even plastic cups like John Martin 🙂

You never know you might enjoy it

I found I enjoyed it and wanted to do more and since then I have presented sessions in a wide variety of places. It was very strange to have been sat watching and listening to all of these fantastic presenters thinking I could never do that and then find out that actually it is something that I enjoy doing and find fun. You can do that too.

Equally, it’s ok to not enjoy it, think its not worth the stress and hassle and support the community in a different way but at least give it a go

You will be nervous

quote-joan-jett-you-want-to-have-butterflies-in-your-185899

I shared a train across Germany with someone who had attended the PSMonday conference in Munich and they were astonished when I said that I get very nervous before speaking. It’s ok to be nervous, the trick is to make use of that nervous energy and turn it into something positive.

I get very nervous before presentations. My hands shake, I sweat, I either babble or loose my voice. I fret and fidget and check everything a thousandillion times. I find it is better for me if I am sat in the room during the previous presentation as that generally helps me to feel more relaxed as I can listen to their talk and also out of respect for the presenter and the organisation it forces me to sit quietly.

You will find your own way to deal with this, maybe listening to music on headphones or just sitting quietly somewhere. Don’t worry if it is not immediately obvious, try some different things, talk with others and believe me, it will be ok.

Don’t try to numb it with alcohol

Once I get up and its ‘my’ turn I take a few deep breaths and suddenly presenter turns on and I forget all about being nervous.

173101-everything-you-want-is-on-the-other-side-of-fear

Something to talk about

I have nothing to talk about.

Or everyone else knows more than I do.

Or X Y and Z talk about this much better than I do.

I’m scared

Richard Munn and I gave an impromptu session at SQL Relay in Cardiff where we talked about and hopefully encouraged people to start speaking and these statements came up.

wp_20161004_13_59_32_pro

Heres (a little of) what we said

No-one knows everything. Many people know a hell of a lot but not everything. You know a lot more than you realise and you also know things that no-one else does.

If you are stuck for things to talk about think about the you of 6 months or a year ago and something that you have learnt in that time and write the session that you wish you could have seen then. There will be other people at a similar stage who will appreciate it.

Don’t be scared, they are only people.

Practice

My dog is the one person who has been present at my presentations the most. He has listened (sometimes intently) to me practicing.

You need to practice speaking out loud.

You need to understand the timings

You need to be comfortable with hearing yourself speaking out aloud

You need to practice speaking out loud

A double reminder because I think it is important. You should practice and practice and practice with an eye on your timings and if you have a good friend who is technical or a small group at work for a lunchtime maybe then ask them if they will listen and give feedback.

Wanna chat?

I am very passionate about community involvement and lucky enough to be involved in two fantastic communities – the SQL community and the PowerShell community and have made some great friends along the way. I was amazed and proud when very soon after my second presentation someone told me that I had inspired them to start to present.

Since then I have gone out of my way to encourage other people to speak and to blog and am really enjoying watching them blossom. If you want to have a chat via email or via slack about speaking or blogging or getting involved in the community please feel free to contact me and I promise you I will get back to you. Better still go to the SQL Community Slack and ask questions in #presentingorspeaking

Go find out more

We are good at sharing and learning technical content but we can share and learn about so much more, about all aspects of our life. Go and read all of the other posts in this T-SQL Tuesday for starters 🙂 and develop

Lessons Learnt from my first talk at SQL SouthWest

The timing was good enough that I could offer to do a talk based on my previous post on Windows Azure for my SQL User Group SQL SouthWest when Jonathan and Annette.( @FatherJack and @MrsFatherJack) put out a call for volunteers.

I did my best with the 7 P’s. I ran through it at lunchtime, I made sure I had power and a HDMI lead after checking with Jonathan, I got a glass of water. I knew the first line I was going to say

However, I neglected to check that I would have HDMI in at the location so everything that was on my laptop was useless! My laptop did very odd things to the USB stick when I tried to transfer to Jonathans laptop and he didn’t have Powershell V3 installed so whilst Neil Hambly @Neil_Hambly from Confio was speaking I was busy ignoring a very interesting talk on Waits to install and configure Powershell Azure on my Azure VM. Sorry Neil.

But in the end it more or less worked and we are lucky to have such a patient and supportive user group who helped me along the way as well. Thank you folks

Things I took away from the evening

  1. Double check you have all the connections
  2. Practice and Practice some more
  3. Think about the times when something is running and what you will say when there is nothing to see
  4. Presenting completely inside a RDP session adds unnecessary complication
  5. The Demo Gods WILL hit you and the curse of the red text will fall upon you during the presentation. Accept it and move on.
  6. Have an opening line
  7. Remember to breath (especially when the demo falls over)
  8. Enjoy it!

It didn’t go perfectly but people gave me some good feedback and I am pleased to say that I have pointed people towards something new that will help them and passed over my knowledge and that to me is what the SQL Community is all about. I have a load of other ideas for things I can talk about and blog about so it is going to be a very busy time for me as I work my way through them and do all the other exciting things coming my way in the SQL world.

Visit your own User Group – You can find them here http://www.sqlpass.org/

If you are in the South West UK then come and join our group. Free training and conversation with like minded people once a month and pizza too what could be better!!