The results are in: I'm an okay speaker.

Last weekend I spoke at SQLSaturday #60 in Cleveland, Ohio. I had a great time catching up with some existing friends and colleagues, and met a bunch of new people too. I presented two sessions: What's New in Denali, and T-SQL: Bad Habits to Kick.  Yesterday the organizers passed along the scanned-in speaker evaluations (this was the first SQLSaturday event where I found folks to be quite motivated to fill out the forms, since it was how they drew the door prizes).  And being the ADD person I am, I quickly transcribed the scores and started pulling averages. I thought my presentations went rather well, with one exception that I'll get to in a moment.

First, let me say that I'm always pretty apprehensive about feedback from presentations. There is always going to be a wide range of expectations at an event like a SQLSaturday – whether it be because someone has been to 10 of these events or it's their first time, or even that they may have seen a worse or better speaker right before my session. So I try to take everything with a grain of salt, not letting praise go to my head, and at the same time not letting criticism get me down too much.

That said, my big issue at this event was time management. I'd given the Denali presentation before, and this time the crowd was less than 15 (12 evals were submitted). Several folks had very good questions, so I ended up having to rush at the end to finish the content and leave the room with enough time for the next speaker to get set up. Then my Bad Habits session, in a smaller room, had well over 50 people (43 submitted evals). For this presentation I listed my "12 step program" – 12 bad habits that I'm hopeful to help other people break. I was expecting a lot more pushback, arguments and denial about whether SELECT * or sending @@IDENTITY via RETURN are bad habits. Ever try to tell a smoker they shouldn't smoke? That's what I was prepared for. But alas, the crowd was mostly silent, so I breezed through my decks in about 35 minutes… this forced me to scramble to fill the remainder of my time and make sure people got their money's worth.  As noted on a few of the evals, a lighter session at the end of the day was actually appreciated, but it was certainly not my intention. 

The ratings on the speaker evaluations are Very Poor, Poor, Average, Good and Excellent – I've given these scores of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively. Logical, I assume, but just thought I would clarify (I actually calculated it on a scale of 0 – 4, but my one "Poor" checkbox made me cry a little). Overall, I think people were quite kind, given the fact that I know both presentations could have been better. I don't put a whole lot of weight into the first question; unless my session has a very inaccurate title, the attendees should have some sense of whether it will be useful for them before they come – and if they just want to come because it's interesting to them even if it has nothing to do with their day job, it's still not really fair to count that against me. 

In any event, my scores were as follows – I've highlighted the high (green) and low (red) in each column:

How would you rate the… What's New in Denali
(43 evals)
T-SQL: Bad Habits to Kick
(12 evals)
Combined Average
(55 evals)
…usefulness of the session information in your day-to-day environment? 4.083 4.512 4.418
…Speaker's presentation skills? 4.583 4.488 4.509
…Speaker's knowledge of the subject? 4.750 4.767 4.764
…accuracy of the session title, description and experience level? 4.417 4.628 4.582
…amount of time allocated to cover the topic / session? 3.667 4.143 4.037
…quality of the presentation materials? 4.167 4.419 4.435

My take-away from this: I need to be better at adjusting the pace depending on how many interruptions I'm seeing (I will never be the guy who tells you to wait until later on to speak up). How I fix this is kind of up in the air, because next time I might have a much more vocal crowd ready to challenge each and every slide. I should have demos prepared for every single habit, and start skipping them if time starts to get tight. This may mean re-ordering my slide deck to put the most controversial habits first.

It's always a pleasure to offer up my opinions and experience to the community. If one person benefits in any way from a session, then I consider it a success. I know I have certainly learned from every presentation I've given, and last weekend was no exception. I am hoping the speaker evaluations continue to be representative of the whole crowd so I can accurately use this post as a measuring stick to see how I am learning to be a better presenter.

Thanks, as always, for your candid feedback.


Aaron Bertrand

I am a passionate technologist with industry experience dating back to Classic ASP and SQL Server 6.5. I am a long-time Microsoft MVP, write at Simple Talk, SQLPerformance, and MSSQLTips, and have had the honor of speaking at more conferences than I can remember. In non-tech life, I am a father of two, a huge hockey and football fan, and my pronouns are he/him. If I've helped you out, consider thanking me with a coffee. :-)

3 Responses

  1. Jack Corbett says:

    I tend to ignore the time one because that's the one I have the least control over, and it seems that most of the time the issue is not enough time.  If that's because of questions then I think that's a good thing.  
    I definitely agree that you need to take questions during the presentation and appreciate speakers who do that.  I think most people understand that questions can throw off the time.

  2. mjswart says:

    As one of the question askers in "What's new in Denali" I really did (do) appreciate the time you took to address the questions.
    Good job Aaron.

  3. Kimberly L. Tripp says:

    Congrat Aaron. Doing a post-mortem after your sessions is always a good thing and allows you to grow as a presenter. I tend to put too much content into my sessions BUT there are some tricks to that as well. Another presenter I've worked with keeps a list of slide numbers and if they're running late they'll hit Ctrl+G and then the number of the slide to which they need to advance. Another that hides the slides and then IF there's time will unhide them (just in front of the audience because that's easier to explain than skipping slides). I tend to do the latter and I usually give the hidden slides out with the presentation as well so that can be beneficial.
    However, it's always hard to get this stuff right. Your scores for knowledge look really good (that's one of my personal favorites – I want to make sure that I know what the heck I'm talking about AND that the attendees felt that way too!). [note: I think you meant for that first one to be green :)]
    As for amount of time… again, you'll get better. Try hiding slides and/or creating an "if time permits" section to your deck!
    Good scores overall though!