Things I Learned from Speaker Idol 2017 at the SQL PASS Summit

I was lucky enough to serve as a judge for the Speaker Idol competition at the SQL PASS Summit conference this year. One of the great thing about watching presentations and giving feedback on them is that you learn a lot about speaking by watching sessions and crafting your feedback.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated. I enjoyed every single presentation, and I learned a ton.

I wish I had the time to write about everyone, but to keep this reasonably short, here are some highlights of what I was wowed by from the finalists.

Simon Whitely: excitement is infectious

It’s tricky to be excited at the beginning of a presentation without seeming nervous, but Simon showed us how this is done. He’s terrific at pacing - he shows you don’t have to talk fast to convey excitement. He uses large, controlled hand gestures while he’s excited and introducing his topic.

This gives a sense of being centered and in control, and brings the audience into the excitement in the best way possible. I’m going to try to steal those hand gestures.

Jeremy Fry: the art of the practiced off-the-cuff joke

I can be funny, but it’s often by accident. (Read into that what you will.) I’m not sure I’ll ever get to a place where I plan jokes and they work for me… I just fall right over the punch line. Or forget it.

One of the cool things about judging Speaker Idol is that sometimes you see a presentation twice. Sometimes not - contestants who make the final can choose to do the same presentation, or pick a new one. Jeremy did his original presentation, and worked in changes based on feedback. This let me see him make the same joke twice, and it worked just as well the second time.

I’m not going to try to steal this one (not everything works for everyone), but I still giggle thinking about it.

Jonathan Stewart has the best words and the best clothes

I don’t mean to be shallow by commenting on clothes, but before this Summit I would have said that wearing a suit to compete in Speaker Idol wasn’t a great idea, because the PASS Summit is business casual (and some of us put the emphasis on casual).

But I hadn’t seen Jonathan talk. Jonathan not only can wear a suit really well – and just make it cool, not stuffy – he can do the same thing with language and phrases. I found myself writing down phrases he used because they were so evocative (“suffocating”, “the first twitter troll”).

I’m not going to start wearing suits, but I hope Jonathan keeps doing it. I am going to try to build my vocabulary.

Dennes Torres makes great conversation, all by himself

Dennes chose to do a different presentation for the finale of speaker idol, but he did it in a very cool way. In his first presentation, he taught a technical concept by telling a story about a trip to a bookstore. In his second presentation, he continued the story and taught a different concept. Each presentation stood alone, and could be enjoyed by itself, but there was a very cool thread between the two talks as well. Very fun!

In both presentations, Dennes relayed conversations between multiple characters in the story. He did this without too much exaggeration or play-acting – and he made it very natural! I really felt drawn into the interplay between the characters.

I’ve experimented with using characters in presentations before, but I’ve never built dialogue between the characters as part of the presentation. Dennes showed me how powerful that can be, and now that’s on my list of things to do.

We’d like to learn from you

By “we”, I mean “everyone in the SQL Server Community”. We’d like to learn from you!

Now is a great time to start thinking about entering into the Speaker Idol competition for 2018. Start planning out a presentation. Submit it to your user group, or some SQL Saturdays you’d like to attend. Dive on in!

If some of the cool things this year’s speakers did appeals to you, then try them out. But, most importantly, be yourself. One of the cool things about speaking is that you will find your own voice, and you’ll find what works really well for you. This is different for lots and lots of speakers, and you’ll find that you’re able to show us something new.

Keep your eye out for the call for speakers around Summer 2018. I promise to blog and tweet about where you can apply when sign-ups are open.

I can’t wait to see what you’ve got.

Read more about Speaker Idol!