One of the most interesting events I got to take part in during last week’s PASS Summit, was to be on the panel of judges for Speaker Idol. Denny Cherry (b|w) borrowed an idea from TechEd and sold to PASS—basically speakers who had never spoken before at PASS Summit would get the opportunity to give a five minute talk on a topic of their choosing, and the top three speakers plus one wildcard would advance to the final round on Friday, with the winner receiving a guaranteed slot to speak at the 2015 PASS Summit. Going into this as a judge, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we saw some really amazing stuff.
As IT consultants and professionals, public speaking is just a part of our full time jobs, but it’s something to work on as part of overall career development. As a speaker, you will have good days and bad days (sometimes on the same day—this happened to me last Wednesday at Summit), but you learn to roll with the punches, and recover when things are bad. The five minute lightning talk format of Speaker Idol magnifies this—any mistakes tend to be glaring.
Keep Your Legs Together
As a regular speaker and a judge, I think you immediately tend to hone in on the mistakes you find yourself making. In my case, almost every time I speak, within the first 30 or so seconds I find myself either moving just a little bit, or rocking back and forth. When I took a class in public speaking during my MBA program, it was hammered into me to keep my feet together, which gives your body a more stable platform and prevents rocking. Movement in general isn’t bad—but you want to make movements that emphasize your points or garner engagement with the audience, not small movements that are distracting.
Being raised in an Italian family, I’m totally guilty of over-gesticulating when I speak—your hands are powerful, and are a fantastic way of emphasizing a key point, but at the same time need to be controlled. Another thing to note is that what may feel like a very large hand movement to you, when you are on stage can look small and just distracting to a large audience. Big hand movements emphasize your point—small ones are just distracting.
Why the Winners Won
Our top two speakers (and it was really close) Pieter Vanhove and Rob Volk were both really amazing. Both of them took some pretty big risks by leaving the stage to engage the audience. This can be a very powerful move, or it can flop. They both nailed it. Additionally, they were both spot on in timing, which while important in a regular talk, is critical in a lightning talk. Pieter in particular had extremely beautiful slides—while using some of the conference template, he didn’t let his slides be constrained by it—adding in some very excellent images. Additionally, both talks managed to compress a lot of information into five minutes—I think most of the judge’s panel did not know the SSMS had the ability to do regular expression replacement. Pieter gave a great talk on the benefits of using SQL Server Central Management Server to manage a large environment (I think that’s a very underutilized feature).