Hello, dear reader! This post is somewhat different than most of the others on my blog – this time, no cool Power BI tips and tricks, no Synapse Analytics deep dives, no technical content at all! This one is dedicated to sharing my experiences about how I started public speaking, as part of the fantastic initiative from Data Grillen “heads”: Ben Weissman (t) and William Durkin (t). These folks are also behind some other cool community events, such as New Stars of Data, Dativerse, and Data Minutes.

You can find out more about the initiative here.

As someone who kicked off my public speaking career at New Stars of Data (inaugural edition), I feel somehow “obliged” to write this post (just kidding, of course, thanks AGAIN Ben & William for providing the platform to share the experience, which may inspire or encourage someone to take the leap into public speaking).

How it all started…

Somewhere in mid-May of 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing, my fellow countryman and one of the globally most respected SQL Server experts, Milos Radivojevic, sent me a link about the New Stars of Data conference and suggested to submit a session. I used to bother Milos whenever I needed some in-depth explanation related to SQL Server, but I wasn’t sure if I’m competent enough to present something to a group of people.

However, Milos encouraged me to submit a session, I did it, and at the end of May 2020, I received an email from the organizers (Ben and William, you know those guys from the beginning of this story) that my session was accepted! Wow, I felt both flattered and surprised at that moment, but it was just the beginning…

The whole idea of the conference was to give a chance to new speakers on Microsoft Data Platform topics, but with one important mitigating circumstance: every one of us will get a mentor – seasoned speakers, who will work with us on session preparation.

I was lucky enough to be paired with Wolfgang Strasser (t). Besides being a Data Platform MVP and true Microsoft Data Platform expert, Wolfgang was positive and supportive from the very beginning, which meant a lot to me as a newcomer. We held online meetings every Wednesday and Wolfgang gave me a bunch of priceless tips – not specifically related to my session only – but for speaking in general!

For example, how to use additional tools, such as ZoomIt. Then, a recommendation to prepare a short “To-Do” script before the presentation begins, or how to stick with timings without violating session flow.

Since I honestly believe that practice makes perfection, I’ve done multiple rehearsals (somewhere between 12-15). After “brainstorming” with my mentor and shaping the session, the day has come: on Friday, August 14th 2020, I presented for the first time!

Being nervous is not a shame!

I’ve started with little jitters. I could even feel the nervousness in my voice while speaking the first few introductory sentences. I was not afraid of doing something wrong in my presentation – I practiced so much, that I was truly confident. I was more concerned about the things I couldn’t predict, like: what if my Internet crashed?! Or, what if my hardware/software stopped working during the session?!

But, as the presentation flew, I felt more and more confident! In the end, I’ve quickly taken a look at the session chat and realized that people were enjoying it…And that was really satisfying!

And even more satisfying was the moment when I realized that some “VIP” Power BI-ers, such as Matthew Roche from Microsoft, or Adam Saxton (Guy in a Cube), people that I have the utmost respect for, twitted some nice things about my session…

A few days later, I got official feedback from the organizers, and it appeared that attendees (42 of them according to official resources) were really satisfied (or they were polite enough not to discourage a newcomer:))

My key takeaways

  • It was a great experience, definitely one of the best in my career so far
  • If you plan to speak for the first time, try to find a mentor – trust me, it would be extremely hard (I won’t say impossible, but definitely extremely hard) to prepare the session properly without the assistance of seasoned speakers. Believe me – they’ve been there, done that! So, their tips and suggestions are the greatest benefits you’ll have from the preparation process
  • Speaking for an hour (or a few minutes longer), while keeping your focus at max level, is physically exhaustive – after the session, I drank two liters of water!
  • Insist on feedback! That’s an invaluable resource to help you calibrate your session and see what is good and, more important, what is…less good:)
  • Plan time ahead for the audience questions – remember that your session is a 2-way communication between your audience and you. Try to keep answers short, and in case there are too many questions, or you don’t know the answer from the top of your head (yes, you are allowed to say: “I don’t know”), consider coming back later to your audience with the answers to their questions
  • Practice makes perfect! Keep repeating this…It doesn’t matter how good you know a specific topic, practicing will boost your confidence and make your presentation more convincing

To wrap up this experience, I will use a quote from Paul Randal’s articleWould you be happy playing a recording of your session to your grandmother? Sure, I definitely would…

And it was just the beginning…

After that, I presented more than 100 times! Yes, you read it well: 100! This number includes a whole range of events, starting from local user group meetings, to the biggest conferences on the planet, such as SQL Bits, PASS Data Summit, Data Platform Summit, Power BI Summit, etc. I was also delivering full-day workshops at some of these largest events.

I was presenting to 3 attendees, but also to 100+. And, each and every time, trying to do my best, because I know that someone decided to invest their most precious asset – TIME – to come and hear me speak…And I truly appreciate that more than you can imagine!

From mentee to mentor

As already mentioned, my speaking journey started at New Stars of Data, by being a mentee of Wolfgang Strasser, so I think it’s completely natural that I’d like for someone else’s journey to take a similar (and even more fruitful and enjoyable) path.

We definitely need more women in tech and that’s why I’m especially proud of taking the “Wolfgang’s role” and becoming a mentor of wonderful lady Blanca de Erausquin, who had her debut speaking last month at New Stars of Data – and she was amazing! And I’m sure she’ll be amazing in the future as well! Continue reading and I’ll explain why I think we need more new speakers…

Why you should start speaking?

If you’re not sure whether this “public speaking thingy” is right for you, let me share with you a few items to consider, or let’s call it: food for thought.

  • Learning – when preparing to present a session to a group of people, you must ensure that you know the topic as well as possible. This “forces” you to learn, read, watch, absorb…Because, chances are that you want to leave the best possible impression on your audience:). Additionally, getting the question from the audience that you can’t answer immediately, enables you to explore new things or to look at a certain thing from a different perspective. I’m quite sure I don’t need to elaborate on why the learning process during the session preparation is helpful for your personal growth
  • Networking – being engaged as a speaker opens many doors to meeting incredible individuals all over the planet
  • Opportunities – this one is a logical consequence of the previous two. Improving your skillset with constant learning, and meeting like-minded people around the world, opens a whole range of opportunities for personal and professional growth. As Matthew Roche greatly points out in his recent talk: great work gets noticed! And, I assume that we can agree that your great work can be more easily noticed if you are talking about your professional (and personal) achievements publicly

Why do we need new speakers?

Let’s slowly wrap up with my “2 cents” on why we need new speakers (even though I still consider myself a new speaker). Instead of writing a novel on this, I’ll try to give you an analogy:

You all know that I’m a big football fan, right?

So, we all enjoy watching Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as true masters of this beautiful game. But, at the same time, we are excited to see new faces emerging, like Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, and so on. And, we’re happy to see when those proven stars are challenged or accompanied by the coming ones – to be more precise – when they all share the stage.

That’s exactly why we need new speakers! Not to discard proven experts, but to supplement them and offer the audience another, or fresh perspective of the concept/feature/tool.

Just to be clear: public speaking is not for everyone. But, if you are lingering, hesitating, and not 100% sure if that’s for you – try! Please, at least try!

Thanks for reading!

Last Updated on November 7, 2022 by Nikola

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