Developing a new niche for presenting

This year I wanted to set a goal for coming up with a new range of topics to present on.

As much as I think a large portion of the SQL community need to learn more about Joins (and to start looking at them differently in terms of the functionality they’re providing) and Sargability (in general!), two talks that I did at last year’s Data Platform Summit in Bengaluru, I was feeling like they were topics I’d done quite a lot over the years. And they’d been recorded a few times, which made me feel like I maybe wasn’t providing as much value to attendees as I would’ve liked.

Coming up with ideas was looking like it was going to be hard. I had definitely hit a brick wall (thanks for hosting, Wayne!).

You see, I wanted to come up with something different.

These days I have introduced Cognitive Services and AI into the topics I teach about, but teaching courses feels different (to me, at least) than presenting at conferences. Nothing is jumping out at me yet in that area. I spent a bit of time looking, but nothing felt right.

And then I found myself remembering SQLBits.

At SQLBits, I was in a weird mood. My (UK-based) grandmother had died about a day before, while I was en route to see her. I was emotionally exhausted and also had grief to deal with, but figured I would go to the event anyway. I saw friends from the SQL community, played around with a few magic tricks, and decided to do a very different type of presentation – one without a computer. Not just slide-free, but technology-free (apart from the microphone I was wearing). It wasn’t brave of me – the word is probably ‘stupid’. You can watch it here if you want, but essentially I used large pieces of paper and a thick pen. I got people up from the audience, put them in groups, moved them around, and distracted the people in the room from the bounds of a typical presentation. I think I mostly pulled it off.

At SQL Saturday in Melbourne I gave a talk about index internals, with the goal of explaining how indexes work and why your index choices can affect the ways that your queries run, the space that they take, and more. And again, I did it without a computer. I wrote on flip charts, and got people up from the audience to hold them. My original plan was to stick them on the wall, but the audience participation worked nicely, and I’m sure I pulled it off.

I presented in these styles because I found myself wanting to do something different with the topics that I was already doing. I wasn’t developing a new niche of topic, just a new style. I had given up trying to think of a new topic, but still wanted to do something different. I’d done slideless talks, and whiteboard sessions using OneNote, but this was new.

And this is going to be my niche. It’s not a new topic niche, just a new presentation niche. I’ll spend a bit of time exploring it, I think – coming up with different ways to explain the stuff you potentially already know.

So over the next year (or more), I might not come up with topics that are entirely new, but I want to present them in ways you might not have seen before. I want to come up with entirely new topic areas every couple of years still, but in the meantime, I can take audiences in different directions. It might not work for everyone, but if it works out for most, then that’s good enough for me.

I didn’t break through my that brick wall that I’d hit. It’s still there, and it’s still made of brick, but I’m looking at it from a different angle now. Sometimes the best way through a wall is simply to take a step back, and walk around it a different way.

@rob_farley