Speaker Training Day at Microsoft

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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Recruitment from the other side of the fence

I have previously written recruitment advice for candidates, in my new job – which is lovely and full of variety – I have been tasked with doing telephone interviews for contract SQL developers. This is fairly straightforward – I have their CVs which I review beforehand and I have a list of 15 technical questions which I use some of (but never all) during the course of the conversation.

Reviewing CVs is very interesting. I have my own views about how a CV should look. I prefer them to be very simple: laid out with no tables, no lines, no multi-column sections. I like only the use of bold for emphasis, no colour, and above all – not too much detail!

One CV I was reviewing recently was 12 pages long! I nearly choked. No one is ever going to read that much, it is simply boring. CVs also have limited utility – they are factual documents and give you an idea of what a candidate’s skill and experience is, but very little more. Even some of the ‘personal statement’-type sections can be a little sterile.

Obviously it’s a subjective thing, but I really like CVs in which there is some kind of evidence of personality. I look for touches of humour, or something about a candidate’s personal (non-work) interests that shows a bit of colour.

In terms of the telephone interviews themselves, I’m not a great fan of the phone at all in general, again, not being able to see a person’s face and how they react to things, makes the process of limited utility. But you can get an idea of a person’s communication skills, a bit of personality and use the technical questions as a filter.

It has certainly made me realise I’m selling myself far too cheaply!