When I got into consulting in late 2015 I was fortunate to have Brad Ball (@sqlballs on Twitter) as my first manager. At the time, our company required their consultants to do at least one presentation (webinar or in-person) per quarter to get the company’s name (and the consultant’s name) out there to help drive business. While I was thrilled to get into consulting, I was terrified to begin public speaking. I stuttered when I was younger (and sometimes as an adult) and that had led me to avoid any remote possibility of having to speak to a room full of people. While I now give a session about that part of my journey, the speaking requirement was terrifying to me at that point in time. Were it not for Brad’s kind and patient guidance as I put together that first session I likely would never have gone through with it and gone to find a different job. I am so glad I did not.
When that first presentation (on Always On Availability Groups in SQL Server) was completed and delivered via company webinar, it then came time to find in-person opportunities to deliver the session. The Louisville, KY user group was a natural first option as I live about an hour east in Lexington. At the time, if memory serves, the user group was run by Chris Yates (@yatessql on Twitter) and John Morehouse (@sqlrus on Twitter). If memory doesn’t serve and I’m wrong about that, it is because of the abject terror I was experiencing as presentation day crept closer! What I’m definitely not wrong about is what Chris and John have given back to the community and, ultimately, how helpful they were to me on presentation day and ever since.
If you are not familiar with Always On Availability Groups, it’s fair to say that demoing them from a laptop is quite complicated. There is a Windows cluster involved, some intricate networking, and a few VMs running SQL Server. In addition, there were some resources that needed to be spun up in a very particular order. I had practiced my demos over and over again and they were working flawlessly. I was still terrified but knew at least the demos would be sound even if I bungled my presentation. I pointed the car west to Louisville and started on my way.
During my presentation, I think I may have broken every rule of public speaking. My hands were shaking so, except for a bit of typing, I gripped the sides of the podium so tightly I’m surprised I didn’t tear them off. I’m pretty sure I looked down at my computer or back at the screen (or both) to see my slides. I don’t think I read them verbatim but my memory of that is blurry to say the least. I knew I could rely on the soundness of my demos but, with all my nerves, I hadn’t spun up the various VMs in the correct order, which broke one of the network links, which broke all my demos. I figured out what I did on the ride home – but that was far too late.
I tell this story to say this to new speakers – I messed up in almost every conceivable way. I broke a lot of “the rules” of public speaking and technical speaking. Were it not for kind people encouraging me and pointing out that people still learned about a topic they didn’t know much about, my speaking career may have ended there. But there are many of us who owe a debt of gratitude to people like Brad, Chris, and John (and so many others in our community). We’re here to help, we’re here to encourage, and we’re walking proof of how getting involved in the data platform community can change your career arc and your life. If you’re interested in speaking, an event like New Stars of Data (run by the incomparable Ben Weissman and William Durkin) is the perfect way to start speaking. If you’re nervous – it’s ok! So many of us are here to help. Happy holidays, readers, and take care of yourself.