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PASS Summit Speaker Idol 2017

I’m extremely honored to have been chosen once again to participate in Speaker Idol at PASS Summit 2017! I’m in deep trouble too, considering the contestants this year:

I’ve previously blogged about why Speaker Idol is such a great opportunity:

…and have shared my notes and feedback from the first time I’ve participated:

…and my good friend Shabnam wrote about her experience in 2016:

…and for those interested you can see the Speaker Idol 2015 presentations on YouTube:

The 2016 Speaker Idol videos are available on the PASS Summit recordings package for purchase or download from PASS. If you attended Summit that year you should be able to view them. Also check with your local SQL user group, if they are a PASS Chapter they probably have the videos available.

Denny Cherry has a video chat for contestants with a lot of great advice:

...and there's also this really helpful commentary by some previous judges:

If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t be alarmed! There’s a few key things I’d recommend focusing on that have helped me and others:

  • The 5 minute time frame is the killer feature of Speaker Idol. The more attention you pay to meeting this limit the better you’ll do
    • Aim your rehearsal to hit between 4:30 – 5:00, 4:45 is best. This leaves some buffer time for you to handle unforeseen circumstances or technical difficulties.
    • Don’t go below 4:30 when you actually present, you can add a summary or a simple item to fill the remaining time instead.

As a rehearsal aid, or even as your presentation method, consider the Ignite Talk format:

Ignite talks are 5 minutes (the length for Speaker Idol presentations) but the slides automatically advance every 15 seconds (20 slides total). It’s a great format to help with timing, and it keeps the presentation flowing. You can always tweak your timing (either duplicate a slide you need more time for, or simply adjust as needed as long as you end at 5 minutes). If nothing else it’s a good starting point if you’re adjusting a longer presentation or starting fresh with new material.

  • Zoomit!

If you really dig into the advice and videos you’ll think that using ZoomIt or similar tools is clichéd and taken for granted. It’s not. Slide visibility is a consistent complaint at PASS Summit and you DO NOT want to be the lone Speaker Idol contestant with small fonts. I prefer NOT using ZoomIt. I increase the PowerPoint font sizes, and install SSMS 2016 or higher which has built-in zooming and presentation modes. I also avoid using laser pointers, instead using some underlining, color highlights or basic animation to emphasize something on the slides. Shabnam’s blog has some advice on font sizes that you should follow.

  • Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!

Like the old saying “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”, practice makes perfect. If you read my blog notes from 2014, I did much better in my 2nd round because I took a few hours to run through my presentation entirely for timing (and just before the final round too!) If you’re worried that the presentation may become rote or stale from multiple deliveries, I’m confident that it won’t, because you’ll have an audience and you will react differently in their presence. The rehearsal is there to make you comfortable with the material and the timing. It also protects you against technical difficulties, because:

  • Handling and recovering gracefully from mishaps counts in your favor

I had microphone difficulties in 2015 but I moved forward through the presentation despite them, and the judges were complimentary about it. The winner for Speaker Idol 2016, Peter Kral, had a serious technical issue crop up in his first round. He modified his presentation in the Final round to avoid the problem, and he won!

Handling problems is an important skill to have in all facets of life. This is where rehearsal comes in; you should actually rehearse UNTIL you encounter a technical difficulty, so you learn how to deal with it.

Also, if you can present at a user group or SQL Saturday event that offers Lightning Talks, do so! SQL Saturday Oregon is scheduled the weekend prior to PASS Summit, and they offer a Lightning Talk slot for speakers. This is a great way to shake out any last bugs in front of an audience and to get feedback from them.

Finally, you should especially take time to rehearse at PASS Summit in the session room where Speaker Idol will be held. If you get to Seattle before Wednesday you should be able to check the room out, and possibly rehearse or at least walk around the stage to get the feel of it. This has been an invaluable help to me and I’ve done it every time I’ve participated. At the very least you should do a technical check of your laptop with the video and audio connections.  This is the last “unknown” factor in your presentation, and the easiest and last way you have to fix it before the big event. As long as security doesn’t throw you out, stay there and practice as long as you can!

  • Attend as many Speaker Idol sessions as you can

Even if it’s not your turn, you’ll get preliminary feedback from the judges and can tweak your presentation beforehand, because you should:

  • Incorporate all feedback you get from the judges

I can personally vouch for this as it got me to second place in 2014. You can also see its effect in David Maxwell’s presentation in 2015, which contributed to his ultimately winning that year. Which brings me to:

  • Wildcard candidates have the same chance as first-round winners!

The 2015 Speaker Idol winner was a wildcard, and I placed 2nd as a wildcard in 2014. There have also been dropouts each year Speaker Idol has been held (and some last-minute replacements for 2017), so your chances of advancing are much better than would first appear. Don’t accept lack of placement after the first rounds as a failure; you never know what might happen, and even if you don’t advance:

  • You spoke at PASS Summit. Congratulations!

This is the most important aspect of Speaker Idol, regardless of who wins. 400-500 people submitted to speak at PASS Summit in 2017, less than 200 were chosen, and probably only 100 if you exclude Microsoft speakers. At least 6 non-finalists have spoken or will be speaking at PASS Summit since presenting at Speaker Idol.

As I said previously, it’s a no-lose situation. Congratulations and good luck to all Speaker Idol 2017 contestants!