Speaker Training Day at Microsoft

August 31, 2010

On Thursday (26.8.2010) last week I had the privilege to be invited to spend the day at Microsoft HQ in Reading, for SQL Bits Speaker Training. The day was run by Guy Smith-Ferrier, an MVP, conference regular, and trainer.

We were told to prepare (in advance), a 5-minute presentation on any subject. Mine was on how an aeroplane’s engines work. The day consisted of Guy giving sessions on subjects like demos, how to prepare your laptop and so on, and his presentations contained lots of very useful tips and thought-provoking ideas (and discussion). Interleaved with this were two breakout sessions, where we divided into 4 groups of 5, each led by a conference luminary: Simon Sabin, Mike Taulty, Dave McMahon and Andrew Fryer.

In these groups each participant (not the leaders) gave their 5 minute presentation then faced 5 minutes of feedback and constructive criticism from the group. This was very useful, somewhat nerve-wracking for some people, but clearly beneficial! We then did the same thing nearer the end of the day, in different groups, and there was a clear improvement over what we’d managed in the morning.

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Guy tells us how to handle Questions!

Some of the key learning points I took away from the day are:-

- Don’t say “thanks for coming” (credit to Dave McMahon for this one). Say only at the end “Thank you for supporting the community” or some such. You are the one they should be thanking, especially at an event like SQL Bits Community Day. Not all people agreed with this one and there was an interesting discussion, but I decided I agreed with Dave.

- Strategies for dealing with nerves

- How to diplomatically get past obstructive questioners

- Techniques for good demos

- Tips for preparing your laptop

- How to structure your agenda, how to summarise

- How to do an elevator talk (i.e. a 1 to 2 minute initial summary of the session’s goal and outline)

- How to react to negative feedback

There was loads to take away, but I would like to add a personal thank you to all the group leaders and organisers, Chris Testa-O’Neill who was instrumental in the planning but sadly couldn’t make it to the actually event, Simon and all the group leaders but principally to Guy for laying on some really excellent sessions and giving me plenty to think about in how to improve my public speaking.

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