Finding Your Voice as a Speaker (Dear SQL DBA Episode 15)

Learn what it’s like to find and develop your voice as a technical speaker in this week’s episode of Dear SQL DBA.

You can also listen to this episode in a podcast.

This episode is a little more personal than most. Today, I’m going to answer a question that I’ve gotten five or six times in the last couple of months from kind strangers on the internet:

Dear Kendra,

What are you up to these days?

Curious on the Internet

I’ve been rewriting my indexing precon

It takes a while to write a full day of training. I wrote a full day session on indexing near the beginning of 2016. It took me several months to write it. I presented it a couple of times and it went extremely well, and I got lots of great feedback.

I decided to write large portions of it to re-shape the narrative for the SQL PASS Summit.

I love teaching on indexes. I wanted to make this day of learning have as much of a flow and story to it as possible. And I wanted to really find my voice, and make this the best day of training that I’ve ever made.

For me, this had two parts: the story, and the illustration.

Narrative – the story in technical examples

I enjoy teaching by working through lots of example problems. And lots of technical people learn well by thinking through a problem, proposing different solutions, and then comparing different solutions.

But raw examples just aren’t that much fun. I felt that I could improve the flow of the day.

I decided to build the pre-con around an Odyssey-style adventure. In my new day of training, we set out to journey the world of rowstore indexes as a crew in a small boat, stopping in different locations along the way.

In each module, we encounter a different “monster” which can be misleading or confusing. These are things like hash joins, bitmap probes, aggregate operators in execution plans.

And any demo that I didn’t love got re-written. I wanted each example to really shine in my own eyes as well as make sense as part of the story.

Narrative – story in illustration

I’ve been learning to draw again as part of the process. I wanted to illustrate the journey and the monsters.

I drew a lot as a kid, and doodled in a lot of meetings as an adult. I mostly stopped drawing after starting a company, though. It made a lot more sense to hire a professional illustrator for art the company needed, and I didn’t find drawing relaxing anymore– particularly if it involved a computer.

But these days, I am interested in using illustration as part of my teaching. So I’ve been learning to draw the story as I go through it.

I’m still a bit slow at drawing. But I’m getting faster – I try to draw every day. And I’m getting better at mentally designing drawings that I can actually carry out, too— which is a big part of the process.

Finding your voice as a speaker takes time

When you first begin teaching, don’t worry about “your voice”. Worry about being coherent and breathing while you’re on stage teaching. That’s plenty to handle when you begin.

As you continue to speak, and you have the basics under your belt, start to experiment a bit.

When you’re planning presentations, think about who your audience is first.

  • What is their job role?
  • How many years of experience do they have?
  • What do they struggle with, and what do they need to learn?

Think about what style of story you want to tell them, and within it:

  • Do you want it to relate to your personal experiences, and if so, when and where will you share that? A story at the beginning? A recurring theme?
  • Are there key insights or “aha” moments that you want to reinforce? How do those fit into the narrative?
  • How do you want to close the story, and what tasks or tools should the audience take with them?

I just finished writing another session after completing the precon. It’s a new session on locking and blocking.

Mapping the narrative out before I began writing it helped the structure and flow from the start.

Dear SQL DBA will be taking a break for a couple of weeks

I’ve got a few adventures going on during the next couple of weeks. I really like doing the podcast every week and decided against pre-recording short episodes.

You can still send in your Dear SQL DBA questions in the meanwhile. I love the great questions I get — whether I answer by email or devote an episode to them, it’s always terrific to hear your questions.

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