Speaking at SQLGrillen

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SQLShack recently published a blog post I wrote on contributing to “the” community, the SQL community in my case. In that article I concentrated heavily on blogging as the medium, not speaking. I always saw bloging and helping people on online forums as the way I’d contribute to the community. Nothing else seemed plausible or achievable, I’m not a public speaker. My dad dreaded it, even as the President of the British Plastering Federation, he hated having to speak in front of crowds, even on topics he knew inside out! I thought I’d be the same. Less than a fortnight ago I stood up in front of a room full of people at a SQL conference in Germany to talk with my co-speaker Paul Broadwith (@Pauby), about PowerShell standards. These people were in the right room and there voluntarily, I checked!

I’ll dive much deeper into the details in my follow up “Contribue, contribute, contribute” posts on SQLShack. I just want to summarise my experiences at SQLGrillen and my first time speaking at a conference.

The Newcomer track

Firstly, I want to specifically call out the newcomer track at SQLGrillen, put together by William Durkin (@sql_williamd), the conference organiser. This was THE single most important aspect of my decision to submit to speak at a conference. SQLGrillen promised help to encourage new speakers, from writing abstracts, direction with subject and content choices and feedback on practice runs provided by a designated mentor, which in our case was the amazing Rob Sewell (@sqldbawithbeard)!

When I submitted to SQLGrillen, I did so with Paul Broadwith, the organiser of Scotland’s PowerShell & DevOps user group whom I’d came to know through my SQLGLA conference in Glasgow (That’s a whole other post there!). Paul and I hadn’t presented together before, though we’d both done short talks for our own user groups in the past. From the point we were accepted to speak to getting handed a beer at the start of our session it was both much harder to co-present a session and actually much easier. We had to work around each other’s schedules to practice and build the presentation which was difficult. We then had to learn who would say what sections, which changed every time we practiced but as it grew more natural, it flowed better, like a conversation. It became easier to follow what we wanted to say and pick up where we each missed out details.

Rob was fantastic in giving us starter points on this aspect from his extensive experience co-presenting. I truly believe that the whole experience would have been much more stressful and likely have ended in a LOVE it or HATE it scenario if we just jumped in at any random conference (assuming we’d even be selected). So huge Thank you to Rob and William!

Lingen, Germany

After months of meeting up for a weekly practice and hundreds of tweaks to the slide deck, we landed in Schipol airport with bags full of cables (Thanks Grant! @GFritchey), we picked up our hire car “yacht” and carefully made our way to Lingen (Because we didn’t fork out another 170EUR for the extended insurance!! – Thanks Budget!).

We both had tickets to Denny Cherry‘s (@mrdenny) pre-con the day before SQLGrillen so we had a full day of Azure infrastructure to distract us from the impending doom fun? Come Friday, we were called up to the front by Ben Weissman (@Bweissman) and William during the keynote and adorned with our figurative L plates – our orange BBQ aprons!

Unlike learner drivers, the other speakers, some of which I knew, were so welcoming which really helped reduce the stress, at least one or two percentage points anyway. I planned on attending at least 3 sessions before we were up at 14:30, of which I made it to just one! With the nerves distracting me and a practice run turning into a disaster due to Microsoft completely changing a reference page’s URL it was lunch before we knew it!

I wasn’t missing Chris Taylor (@SQLGeordie) session on Containers for a third time (I managed to miss it at both my own SQL Glasgow user group AND the Edinburgh SQL User group.) so we took a seat and I tried to relax. It was actually a welcome side step into a topic I have been dying to play about with and Chris, a newcomer himself, explained it really well, pointing out shortcomings that are so often glossed over.

The hour passed so fast, that I didn’t have any time to panic and jump out a window during the break. We got set up and tested our equipment. All was ready. We had practiced so much that I really felt like everything I wanted to say was at the front of my mind just as I needed it. We had a few good questions from the crowd which was great, at least some people were interested enough to engage. Paul and I both agree there were bits that could have gone better. We were too fast for the first half, which can’t have been fun for our international attendees as Scots talk really fast already. We’ll need to wait on the session feedback to know how many people we lost there, though some of the other speakers in our session came up to us afterwards with some fantastic feedback which was really encouraging. #SQLFamily I don’t believe I’ll ever think a presentation went perfectly, or maybe that is the point that it’s no longer worth doing.

We’ve already submitted to a few SQL Saturday events and a conference in Europe but no word on those decisions yet. We will be presenting our PowerShell Standards Agency talk to the Cardiff MSFT Stack user group on the 25th July so if you are in the area please come see us.

Sir Grilliam hospitality

I really want to drive this point home – William Durkin’s hospitality during our visit to Lingen was amazing! He welcomed me and Paul to his pre-con speaker dinner on the Wednesday night as we’d arrived early wednesday afternoon. We had a great time (and an early bed) at the speaker dinner on Thursday night too. The event itself was so relaxed and inclusive, finishing up with the BBQ in the evening for speakers and attendees alike.

I really have my work cut out for SQLGLA if I want to come close to the hospitality he provided. We even joined some of the speakers on a guided tour of Munster (not to be confused with Münster which we nearly wasted an hour driving to!) on the Saturday. William has been a huge inspiration and “ever badgering presence” for me starting speaking, organising events and having the confidence to get a new job and keep moving forward. I owe him at least a few bottles of Gin by now.


PS. Mark your calendars!  2019 is coming 2019-06-20 & 2019-06-21

P.P.S There are also a million other people I haven’t explicitly mentioned but I just don’t have the hours to name them all. Thanks to speakers, sponsors and attendees at SQLGrillen and Incremental Group and my SQLGlasgow co-organisers for their support!

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