According to a Book of Lists survey, 41% of people’s biggest fear is “public speaking”. To put that into perspective, “death” is the biggest fear for 19%, “flying” for 18% and “clowns” don’t even register (which does make me seriously doubt the survey’s credibility).
I gave my first public presentation at IOUG Collaborate 2015 last week in Las Vegas and I didn’t die.
Why did do make your presentation debut at the second largest Oracle event on the calendar? Excellent question.
The truth is that I’m not really sure where the bravery ended and the stupidity began, but it was definitely some mix of the two. If you’re going to go down in flames, why not do it in style instead of doing a couple of “warm-ups” at smaller events first? If you fear something, you’re supposed to jump straight into the eye of the storm, right?
As I stood at the podium; as the minutes counted S-L-O-W-L-Y down to 4:30pm and as people kept entering the room, I thought to myself that 41% was a VERY low number.
Of course, it doesn’t seem nearly as bad now. My first presentation is over and is no longer that big, dark cloud of impending doom off in the distance; something which doesn’t so much “creep” up to you, as it approaches you like a speeding freight train running off the rails. In fact, i felt a sense of disappointment when it had finally ended and there were no more questions to answer.
I was fortunate to receive invaluable advice from a couple of seasoned speakers (thank you, Ray Smith and Kirby McCord) which did help calm the nerves down a lot, including two top tips which I was able to keep in my head:
- When people attend a presentation, they’re not there to see you freak out with nerves, they’re there to LEARN.
- Don’t worry too much about the clock because your nerves will cause you to speak at twice the speed of light and / or people will be asking lots of questions and you’ll get thrown off any “schedule” you might have been keeping.
No matter how well you know your subject, how many times you’ve rehearsed or how much you try and take heed of what others tell you (pause after important points, always repeat a question back to the audience, watch your body language), nothing can prepare you for that moment when you step up to the podium, clear your throat and start your presentation.
Practically everything I had planned to do in order to project an aura of confidence and credibility flew instantly out of the window when the speaking started. I was completely aware that I was ripping through the slides too fast, that I wasn’t looking at people’s foreheads and that I missed my cue to tell one of my HILARIOUS jokes. Despite this, “crazed stunt-guy” autopilot mode seemed to takeover and there just wasn’t time to worry about my stance or my pronunciation of “tomato“.
I had the best of intentions to keep my distance from the podium – to loosen my vice-like grip on it, at the very least – but I was also extremely conscious that one uncertain step on my part might entangle me in an inescapable spider’s web of furniture and A/V equipment and provide excellent comedy footage for YouTube.
Strangely, it was a huge relief when the audience started to ask questions. They were interested – which made it unlikely I was making them sleepy, even last thing on a Wednesday afternoon in Vegas. I was even able to stretch across and grab some much-needed water without too much disruption. I kept my feet firmed planted in “non-YouTube” territory, naturally.
The questions were REALLY GOOD: they were exactly the sort of questions that I would ask if I were in the audience and they were on point. There were no “UH?!” questions where the person tries valiantly to demonstrate they’ve been paying attention, but only manages to convince everyone that they should be in the room next door. Best of all, I was comfortable fielding the answers because I was confident in my content.
At the end, a lot of the audience stayed behind and asked additional questions for at least another 30 minutes, both of me and, eventually, of fellow audience members. It became a sort of “chat” after the formal presentation had ended and it was great to see people swapping ideas and sharing horror stories with one another. Whether the audience were thoroughly unimpressed with my presentation skills or not, at least they liked the content, which is all that really matters.
I don’t know if it had been any different if I wasn’t trying to pack so much information into my session – I was still chopping bits out that morning to keep it within the time limits. I actually think my session might be better suited to a slightly longer format, possibly in more of a regional user group setting with slightly more allotted time.
A week after the
traumatic experience fact, I’m disappointed that the quality of the presentation didn’t match the content and I feel I could have done much better. Despite feeling such abject fear in the minutes leading up to the start that I would have sworn blind that this was the first and last time I’d be doing this, I would like another shot at it. Now that I’m back at HQ, I’ve even been thinking about other topics I could possibly present on in the future.
It is, of course, much easier to say this when I have nothing in my schedule that might resemble public speaking.
TL;DR – yes, it is as terrifying as you imagine it to be, but it is an invaluable experience and, in an odd way, a lot of fun.
Some people (including me) are having problems downloading content from the Collaborate IOUG web site. If you have access, you can find my presentation and white paper under session 775 – DBA 3.0 (or How to Become a Real-World Exadata DBA).
If you don’t have access to the IOUG content, the materials are available from our web site:
- My presentation (PDF)
- My white paper on Smart Scans and Parallelism (PDF)
- A “support checklist” for Exadata environments (PDF)
- A collection of Exadata-specific performance monitoring scripts (ZIP)
Mark (for Prez?)