PASS Summit 2003 - Opening Session Rave

OK, yesterday I ranted about Guy Brown's opening of the PASS conference.  And in case it wasn't clear, let me state what I hoped would be obvious:  That was not an attack on Guy.  I don't know Guy, but he seemed to be a good person.  He was in a tough position, had a lot of hard work to do.  I have no idea how much experience he has putting together conferences.  I make a habit of attending 4-6 major business events each year, oftentimes they are orchestrated by people who are the top in the field of event management, so I have a lot to compare my experiences as an audience member.  I applaud Guy for getting involved, and working hard to make the event and the organization valuable to all of us.  Thanks, Guy!

Now, let me point out a few things that Gordon Mangione did right.  I know Gordon had the advantage because he was the one we came to see, but as I said yesterday, I really believe that Guy's work would have come across better on a different day.  So, on with the point!

  • At Ease:  Gordon knows how to present.  He appeared to be at ease and even enjoying it.  This is something that comes with a lot of practice and experience.  But even someone relatively new to public speaking can come across okay if they have practiced and know what they want to say.
  • Start Strong:  Early in his presentation, Gordon announced that the Yukon and Reporting Services betas were available for us to pick up in the exhibit hall after his talk.  This got everyone off to a happy start, and also put us at ease that we were going to have a chance to play with the software later, so we could afford to just listen and watch right now.  Also remember that people tend to remember the beginning and ending of your talk a lot more than the middle, so start strong to get their attention and give a good impression.  If you start weak, you'll have a hard time pulling in the audience later, and if you do, they'll probably be asking themselves, “what took you so long to get to the good stuff?“
  • Humor:  Gordon used humor to break the tension.  Some of it directed at his own company's foibles, like the “If you login with SA...“ joke, and the list of the 100 (or so) things he was going to cover in 60 minutes, where each of them could be (and some were) hour or longer talks by themselves.  And the second best joke of the day was another poke at his own company when he said, “the developers say Reporting Service will be out by the end of the year.  I would say you should look for it around December 60th.”  Note that he did not try to be funny by telling jokes like he was a stand-up comedian, but rather wrapped humorous comments around and through his presentation.
  • Paint a Picture:  Give me some background on what you're talking about or demonstrating.  WHY do I as an audience member care?  Rather than just rattle off a list of features in Yukon, Gordon gave some background to make sure we were all on the same page.  For example, “Online Index Rebuilding“.  OK, sounds fancy, has the word online in it so it must be cool, right?  Gordon explained what problem existed right now that this would satisfy.  I'm not currently being affected by that problem, but I might be down the road, and now I know that there is a solution coming, so if I do run into it, I'll be prepared to sell my boss or client on the importance of the upgrade.  Help the audience understand why they care about what you're saying, or they'll tune you out.

Don't get me wrong.  Gordon's talk wasn't perfect.  He ran long and had to cut out part of the demo that was planned.  I don't know if that was his fault or if he thought he would have the full 1 1/2 hours instead of just 1 hour.  Either way, the ending was a bit abrupt and rushed.  I felt like I was getting rushed out the door without benefit of hearing his closing comments, which would have been a nice cap on the whole talk.

Public speaking takes work, but there are a few things you can do that are almost guaranteed to improve your performance.  Not the least of which is practice, practice, practice.

posted @ Tuesday, November 18, 2003 10:56 PM

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