Public Speaking Tip 14 : What do I present? (the pursuit of cool)

Deciding what to speak about is one of the most difficult things to do. I still struggle with it now, but this last year has been a turning point for me. I’ve already said you should present about something you are interested in, but what?

It is very easy to fall into the trap of “the pursuit of cool”. You quite fancy doing a presentation on subject X, but think it’s not new or cool enough. The pursuit of cool also makes you question how your choice will be perceived by others, because you are trying to impress specific people or groups of people. If you feel yourself falling into the trap of the pursuit of cool, just remember the following:

  • The vast majority of the time DBAs and developers are doing rather mundane work. As a result, they are looking for ways to be more time efficient while doing those mundane tasks. I remember a few years back sitting in a room at OpenWorld with about 600 other people. What subject had we all gone to listen to? It wasn’t RAC or Exadata. It wasn’t even Data Guard. It was Data Pump! That’s right. Import and export pulled a crowd of that size!
  • A lot of people out there still use Oracle 11g like it’s Oracle 7 or 8i. It never ceases to surprise me how you can mention a feature that was introduced in Oracle 8i and people ask if it is a new feature in 11g. As long as the material is new and relevant to the audience, it doesn’t matter what version it is from.
  • For many people, it will be their first time at a conference and the first time they have seen a presentation on that subject. I spoke to Debra Lilley a couple of years ago and she said 40% of the attendees at the UKOUG conference each year are first-timers. So that’s nearly half the audience who will find your material new.
  • Each year a bunch of people retire or move up the management food chain and a bunch of new DBAs and developers join the ranks. Fresh meat for the grinder. :) They’ve got to go through the process of learning all that stuff you take for granted. It sometimes feels like “groundhog day”, but that’s how our industry works.
  • Just because someone has got 20 years of experience, it doesn’t mean they have experience of feature X. If someone asked me to do some work on Oracle Spatial, I would probably rock up to a few “Oracle Spatial for Dummies” sessions to get me going. :)
  • Depending on the type of event, there may be non-technical folks in the audience who are just looking for an overview of the subject. This is very true of marketing events, like OpenWorld.
  • Just because a subject has been done in previous years, doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Sometimes a fresh perspective is helpful. I’ve resisted doing talks on Analytic Functions for years because they’ve been around since Oracle 8i and I’ve seen some great talks on them by others, including Alex Nuiten. This year I thought to hell with it and started doing a session on them and it has worked out really well. It’s the same subject, but my take on it is a little different…

The delays to the release of Oracle 12c actually did me a favour this year. If it had been released earlier, I would probably have spent the year battling it out with others to fill the slots for “What’s new in Oracle 12c for X?” type sessions. Because I couldn’t do that, I took inspiration from the presentations I had been doing at work and took a step back. Nearly all of my presentations this year have had a “retro” feel for me, but they have been received really well. Why? Because the information was either new to the audience in question, framed it in a manner they had never seen before, or it reminded them of things they had known, but forgotten. :)

If in doubt, remember this mantra,

Presenting is not about you, it’s about the audience! Don’t get caught up in the pursuit of cool!

Cheers

Tim…

Update: I’d just like people to remember this is my personal take on things. It is not some political statement about conferences. :)