Tips on Speaking

I’ve been seeing quite a bit of posts about speaking mentorships and I wanted to share a few speaking tips I recently gave to my buddy Garry Bargsley who will be speaking about dbatools at SQL Saturday Phoenix 2018.

The first time I ever spoke in front of a live audience was in Antwerp, Belgium for SQL Server Days Belgium 2015. I was petrified. Years earlier, I was on a regional television show called Good Morning Acadiana and couldn’t even speak. Fortunately, my mom was a co-presenter and picked up my slack. Remembering this, I wondered if words would successfully leave my mouth when I presented in person. They did :D

Since then, I won Best Speaker Overall with Rob Sewell and Best Lightning Talk at SQL Saturday Dublin. I was sooooo blown away, especially considering many of my SQL idols were speaking as well.

me crying tears of joy with co-presenter Rob

The good thing about my first presentation was that Cathrine Wilhemsen was there to support me. She was amazing and awesome and if you can ever have her at your first time speaking, I highly recommend it.

Tips

  1. If you’re high energy, don’t be like me on Good Morning Acadiana: don’t drink a lot of coffee before you present. It gives you dry mouth and makes you even more nervous. I, instead, opt for vodka (see point 4).
  2. In the previous months, I was having A/V issues that required me to basically give my speech about 120 times if not more. My speech became muscle memory and even my wife knew every word. It helped knowing I’d be immediately prepared if I ever lost my place.
  3. I videoed myself to see what wasn’t coming across right. Because of this, I noticed that I used my hands in a way that was distracting. I thought it was helping with emphasis, but it became a crutch and a distraction.
  4. My buddy Crawford told me he always takes two shots of whiskey to start a presentation. Whiskey is nasty, so I take 2 shots of Grey Goose vodka. My wife even packs me a tiny cute vodka bottle. The first 2 minutes are often the hardest and vodka or Belgian beer makes it easier.
  5. Cathrine pointed out that my session was fab but that it ended on a weak note – you couldn’t tell that I was actually finished because.. I never really practiced that part. Now I always say something like “My name is Chrissy LeMaire, thanks so much for joining me today”
  6. I don’t aim to teach a whole subject in 60 minutes or less. I’d bet that I suck at teaching PowerShell from scratch. My aim is to excite people into learning more. I knew I accomplished this at SQL Days Belgium when one of the organizers came to me and said that my session made him want to run home and play!
  7. Audiences generally prefer demos, so do a lot of those if you can. And keep your demo environment simple. I used to have a whole domain with clustered and stand-alone instances. It was so stressful! Nowadays, I just roll with a single VM (using Parallels) with 2-3 local instances. I rely heavily on Snapshots and update my VM regularly.
  8. When I practice at home, I always practice as if there’s an audience. I’m standing, my voice is booming and I’m looking at the wall. This, incidentally, helps me when I’m too exhausted to maintain eye contact. I look right above the audience, at the closest wall above people’s heads. This gives me the appearance of being engaged without having to exert the effort of finding the ultra-friendly face.

Something you don’t see on this list is Toastmasters. I actually went to a meeting but found that I’d potentially be picking up bad practices. Our meeting’s toastmaster played very much by the book. They had pauses, eye contact, and articulation but it felt so robotic. I opted instead in embracing myself and not thinking “Pause. 1-2-3. Speak.” in my head. Others may find it useful but it wasn’t my style.

Just do it

For the first year or so, I dreaded presenting but felt compelled to share my PowerShell story. I needed show the SQL Server community how simple PowerShell could be. I needed to change minds and wanted to excite people. So even though I was tortured up until the day I presented, I still did it anyway. And those memes you see on Twitter were true for me. The stages of presenting:

  1. Dread and anxiety
  2. Presenting
  3. Wow, that was actually super fun and rewarding! Let’s see where else I can present!
  4. Dread and anxiety

But that eventually goes away and speaking gets easy! Now, my original argument against public speaking has been invalidated. I used to say “Public speaking is like eating canned lima beans. I hate it. And no matter how often I do it, I always will.” Well, I still hate canned lima beans, but I enjoy speaking publicly about PowerShell ;)

And a wonderful side effect of speaking for me has been making new friends. Now, I don’t feel so isolated here in Belgium. I know within a couple months, I’ll be seeing my friends somewhere neat and new, like Iceland, Ireland, Vienna, Lingen or Seattle ❤️

And don’t give up

My first year or two of session submissions was filled with rejection emails. But I just whimpered a bit then continued to submit every place I’ve ever wanted to visit.

Now, I get to present precons at PASS Summit and even SQLBits! So if you get several rejections in a row, just keep refining your abstract and keep on submitting.

Speaker dinner

Oh, and don’t ever skip a speaker dinner! Like Cathrine told me, it’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience. And the food is always awesome!

If you’re a new speaker, congrats! I hope these tips help. If not, take 2 shots and call me in the morning ;)

Chrissy is a PowerShell MVP who has worked in IT for nearly 20 years, and currently serves as a Sr. Database Engineer in Belgium. Always an avid scripter, she attended the Monad session at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles back in 2005 and has worked and played with PowerShell ever since. Chrissy is currently pursuing an MS in Systems Engineering at Regis University and helps maintain RealCajunRecipes.com in her spare time. She holds a number of certifications, including those relating to SQL Server, SuSE Linux, SharePoint and network security. She recently became co-lead of the SQL PASS PowerShell Virtual Chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @cl.

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3 comments on “Tips on Speaking
  1. Robert Prust says:

    Great inspirational read… Now to pass the dread and anxiety myself.. :)

    • Chrissy LeMaire says:

      Thanks for helping make it better! The good news about the dread and anxiety is that it eventually goes away 🤗

  2. Erik Heeres says:

    I definitely recognise points 1 and 4 every time when preparing for a session. Great write-up Chrissy!

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