Thoughts on Speaking at PASS Data Community Summit 2021

If you’d asked me 5 years ago if I would ever speak at Summit, I’d have said “no way, not possible.” I didn’t even think I was able to produce the kind of material that’s expected at an event on such a large scale. Not to mention having that many eyes on me.

But times change. Experience, skills, and knowledge change. People change. And sometimes, people get talked into doing things things by their friends.

Background

I’ve organized a number of SQL Saturday events. I’ve spoken at several, as well as a few User Group meetings. I was really getting into a groove with it back in 2019-2020. At the afterparty for SQL Saturday Rochester 2020, I was at a table with Deborah Melkin (blog | twitter) & Andy Yun (blog | twitter), talking about how I was gaining confidence and feeling more comfortable presenting. I had made a few SQL Saturday appearances over the previous 6 months and each time, felt more at ease. Deborah had just won Speaker Idol at Summit 2019 and I mentioned that I was thinking about applying for it, but if I won, what would I do? Summit is The Big Stage. But either way, I’d think about submitting a session for Summit 2021.

Deborah & Andy stopped me and said something to the effect of “submit for a regular session and Speaker Idol for this year. Just Do it. You’ll be fine, you’ll figure it out.” 2 weeks later, the world went into lockdown. I didn’t submit a regular session for Summit. Cold feet, lack of ideas, COVID blues, whatever. But I did apply for and was accepted into Speaker Idol – which was unfortunately cancelled.

On to 2021!

So when the 2021 Summit Call for Speakers opened, I had to go for it. After all, it matched up with the “deadline” I had given myself in February 2020. I took the shot and here we are. This is something I never thought would happen (impostor syndrome is real) and now that Summmit has come and gone, I still can’t believe I was selected.

Ever-Changing Content

I’ve presented a version of Backup Basics with PowerShell and dbatools a few times in the past. For Summit I made a number of revisions. I had planned to do this anyway, but I didn’t plan on rebuilding the entire slide deck from scratch, and I had to cut out a few demos to make the time limit. Those extra demos are now bonus content posted on YouTube and in the GitHub repository.

I wanted to do everything in an Azure Data Studio Notebook. That’s how I’d presented this material previously and I love the ability to mix content, code, and output all in one document. On top of that, I wanted to do it from my MacBook Air. Not because it would be “better” that way (though it would take some burden off my Thinkpad). Rather, I thought it would showcase that dbatools can be used remotely, from a Notebook, from non-Windows (and non-Intel!) computers. Alas, ADS started giving me trouble and rather than attempt to get it fixed and burn more time than I already had, I reverted to plain PowerShell. I also had trouble with one of the critical functions not working on macOS (which I believe has since been resolved). So I switched over to my Thinkpad.

Is it Live, or is it Memorex?

Recording this session was a completely different experience from my previous live presentations. There was still a hard deadline for turning everything in but being recorded, I had multiple chances to get things right. Naturally, I did most of the recording and editing at the last minute for a whole bunch of reasons. Not the least of which is my tendency to put the “pro” in “procrastinate.”

As you watch the final recording, you might notice the cuts between segments. I built each demo as a separate script, so I recorded each individually. This let me take a break between them, stop & restart without losing too much time, record multiple takes in succession (so the things I needded to correct would be fresh in my mind), and record out of order.

Recording is Hard

I recognize that not everyone develops their recorded session(s) this way. It’s what worked for me, and I’m glad I did it this way. There’s no way I would have recorded everything in one clean take and hit my goal time. So I would have made multiple attempts, with the daunting task of editing everything into something that made sense. The net result would be even more time required to record everything.

It also afforded me the opportunity to selectively record segments based on time constraints. So I focused on recording the can’t-miss segments first, then filled out the remainder.

This all proved much more intense and time-consuming than I had anticipated, and I really should have started earlier than I did. Presenting with zero real-time feedback is incredibly difficult, even more than presenting virtually and having everyone’s cameras off.

Editing is Harder

I’ve heard it said that one should plan for a ratio of 60:1 to as much as 90:1 when it comes to editing video – 60 (or 90) minutes of production time for every minute of the final product. I didn’t have a lot of fancy post-production with animations, transitions, complex sound, etc. so I don’t think I came anywhere close to that. But I have a lot more GB of video recorded than ended up in the final video – mostly because of re-shoots.

Overall, I’m OK with how the final video turned out. It doesn’t look like what I had originally imagined, but I think that original vision would have worked _far_ better as an in-person presentation anyway. There are definitely things I’d like to revisit and fix up (including one _very_ obvious gaffe), but it’s in the can now. I’m not a video producer/editor, so I did the best I could with the limited skills I have there. iMovie helped with consistent color and audio, but I overlooked putting transitions between segments which I should have done in hindsight. And I really should have watched through the whole thing more carefully before uploading.

It’s Done!

Preparing for and presenting at PASS Data Community Summit 2021 was an excellent experience, and I’m hoping to get an opportunity to present at future Summits. I am grateful to my friends who pushed me to submit my abstract and helped me gain the confidence I needed to press through and finish the job. If I need to record for future events, I now know a lot more about the process and can plan accordingly. But I’d still rather do it in person. Nothing compares to having a room full of people, getting that immediate feedback as you move through the presentation and demos.

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