Monday 16 July 2012

SQL In The City - A first time speaker's experiences

I have (with a colleague) recently presented at SQL In The City (Red Gate’s industry conference) in London. This was the largest audience to which I have thus far presented, and I thought I’d write up my thoughts on how it came about, how we prepared, and how it went.

Disclaimer – I’ve not had the session feedback yet – so this post is from my perspective!
Firstly, I’ll outline a little of the background to my session.  I wrote an article for Red Gate’s community web site Simple Talk in February 2012. This reflected a system we had implemented at work, and was positively received.

Fast forward 4 months. I was intending to attend the SQL In The City conference on the Friday, and had booked the day off work. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Michael Francis and David Atkinson at Red Gate, inviting me to speak on Continuous Integration at this very conference.
So, I first of all took a moment to talk to my colleagues and other members of my local User Group. This was very helpful. I was cheered that the general thought was that I could do this, but given a word of caution by the user group leader, that I should think about how much time I was to be speaking for, and how much that time might be worth.
As an example, an audience of 150 * 1 hour * £20 per hour = £3,000 – was my talk worthy of that much time?
Well, after much deliberation I decided to do it – co-presenting with a colleague, Annette Allen. Annette had been involved in the implementation from the beginning, and this gave us the chance to cover both the developer experience and the system set-up and implementation side.
This meant that we had only 6 weeks to write the presentation, practice it, get it approved by Red Gate, and generally polish it. We the had a kind offer to do a ‘preview’ of the session at the next User Group session – which we wanted to do as it would give us some (largely) unbiased feedback. So that gave us 3 weeks to write the presentation, practice it, and get comfortable with the content. Oh, and we had to keep up the day job, too!
I’d like to thank my employer for their open and supportive attitude towards our doing this presentation, which really helped.
As you will have gathered, given that I am writing this, we made it. We had useful feedback from the User Group session, and from Red Gate’s product managers, which we incorporated into the presentation.
So, what of the event itself?  SQL In the City was a 2 day event in London (It’s on tour in the US this summer), and hosted about 600 people over those two days. I turned up the evening before, to find a great atmosphere as Red Gaters and Speakers helped get the place set up, then headed out for a great meal at a local restaurant.
Come the morning of the event, we had an early start – at the venue for 0730 (and Robin Williams was right about what the ‘O’ stands for). There were many great sessions – some solo, from speakers such as Steve Jones and Grant Fritchey; and others a double act, like Sebastian Meine and Dennis Lloyd (on Unit Testing), or Annette and myself. I was pleased to get a chance to enjoy some of these sessions in the run up to my session.  
When it actually came time to speak, I have to say I was initially nervous (and perhaps relied on my notes a little much), but everyone there was very supportive, and I soon relaxed into it. We ran close to time both days – so I apologise if we didn’t get a chance to answer your questions; both Annette and I were kept busy with questions all through subsequent breaks! (If you have more – do get in touch).
Quite aside from the presentations – at which I hope everyone learns something – the breaks gave a great opportunity for asking questions, learning from the Red Gate staff members, and getting to know your peers. It was great to see people I've known for a while, and I was really pleased to meet lots of people who I had hitherto only conversed with by email or knew from blogs, forums & tweets.
The days ended well, with Beer and Competitions, and all in all the event was very well attended and supported, and most enjoyable. If you went and haven’t sent in your feedback form yet – please do so ( I hope to see many of you at the event next year.

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