More Beginner / Fundamentals Content

Not surprisingly, there are folks who want beginner / fundamentals presentations and blog posts. 

I put up the poll based on a brief conversation on Twitter about some folks wanting more advanced content and complaining when beginner content was offered. I’ve heard the same comments when I ran a beginner track at two SQL Saturdays years ago. I also know that some organizers have asked speakers to speak on advanced topics and discourage submitting basic ones. However, based on this informal poll as well as the current results on one running at SQL Server Central, we’d best serve the community to make sure there’s plenty of the lower level content available. 

I realize that there’s a low number of votes currently for both polls, but what they do show is there is a need for this type of content.  The reason I put the poll up was to get more support for what I’ve seen empirically: the beginner track sessions are almost always near full. Others have commented on similar observations. Therefore, if you’re a blogger, consider posting more basic content. Organizers, don’t chase away fundamentals presentations, especially from established and accomplished speakers. 


MSSQLTips: Author and Rookie of the Year Voting

MSSQLTips has opened voting for the 2017 author and rookie of the year. 

Vote at MSSQLTips

I’m included as a candidate for author of the year so if my articles have helped you the most, please cast your vote for me. If not, choose the author whose articles have. 

Security Architecture: Knowing the Adversary

When I present or teach on a security topic, I take the time to cover the mindset of the adversary. There are a lot of maxims out there to “know thine enemy,” but here’s a good recent one that explains why:

“Unless you can think the way that an evil person thinks, then you’re defenseless against them, because they’ll go places you can’t imagine and then they win.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson

Dr. Peterson said this as he was talking on the Jocko Podcast, specifically episode 98.

The context of the quote was Dr. Peterson and Jocko were discussing a particular foreign affairs official. That official, after a horrific incident, stated he couldn’t think like people who committed the evil act. Peterson’s disagreed. His view is someone in that position had to be able to think like an evil person. Otherwise, such a person couldn’t adequately do the job because they would continue to lose.

The same is true in security. We can laboriously implement best practices and benchmarks but unless we can think like someone who seeks to actively do harm to us, we aren’t going to see the gaps. We aren’t going to see where the weaknesses are. Those gaps and weaknesses will be exploited. We will lose every time we come up against a motivated foe. Therefore, it’s not enough to know what safeguards you should put into place. It’s also critical that you think about how someone might bypass those protections or how they might exploit them.

Geek Sync Recording: Taking Control of Your SQL Server Sprawl

Back in July, I gave a webcast for Idera’s Geek Sync. They’ve published the recording. You can find it here:

Take Control of Your Organization’s SQL Server Sprawl

It’s about an hour long and it focuses on automation, setting up sized templates for servers, pushing and enforcing OS settings using group policy, and enforcing SQL Server settings using policy-based management.

Learning to Give Presentations Well (Part 2)

Presentation Zen cover

Presentation Zen cover

In Part 1, I gave some advice from Toastmasters. We’ll return to the Toastmasters advice in Part 3. In Part 2 we’re going to look at recommendations from Garr Reynolds. You can find this advice and more in Presentation Zen, which I found to be a helpful and informative resource.

Less Is More

When I first started presenting, I tried to put every bit of information of my talk into my slides. This is a bad idea. Here are some reasons why:

  • It turns the slide into an eye chart, which is often hard to read from the back of the room.
  • Initially, the audience will read your slides. While they’re reading, they’re not listening.
  • Most of the content is better delivered in a document or checklist you can link to or give out hard copies of.
  • Slide after slide of text causes folks to tune out and pay attention to other things, like their smartphones.

Therefore, it’s better to put highlights in your slides. Write down key points. Ensure your font sizes are large. If you find yourself having to shrink down the font size constantly to get content on the slide, you’ve got too much. Also, if you have lots of nested bullet slides, you have too much. After all, you are the one giving the talk, not the slides.

Of course, when you’re presenting a webinar or giving a class, we tend to err on the side of putting more on the slides. Again, consider if the content is better served in a different format. I admittedly struggle with this one when I give webinars because I realize that sometimes audio problems do crop in for listeners and they may only get the visual during a key point.

Yes, there are some presenters who have the busiest slides but still give a great talk. Realize, though, they are the exception to the rule. There’s a reason folks like Brent Ozar, who continually scores well on attendee reviews, spend significant time reducing and simplifying their slides and other visuals.

Pictures Are Awesome

A good example of this is in the link to Presentation Zen in the first paragraph compared to the picture of the cover. The link may not draw your eye. The picture most likely did. When you can provide pictures, especially clear screenshots of what you’re talking about, that’s helpful. Color and variety keep interest up, as long as such selection isn’t garish to the viewer. If in doubt, ask a few folks you trust to give you honest feedback to look over your slides.

Demos Are Valuable Too

This goes along with pictures and is my add. However, demos are a double-edged sword. I’ve been in plenty of presentations where the presenter went to demo something and it was obvious he or she wasn’t comfortable giving the demo. They didn’t know where particular selections were in the GUI, they were typing in the demo and didn’t remember objects or keywords, or they hadn’t started with a “clean” demo environment. Or the presenter ran out of time because he or she didn’t realize how long a demo would take.

Practice your demos repeatedly before you give them. Also, build setup and cleanup scripts for your demos. Test those as you practice. Your demos should flow smoothly. If they don’t, you will lose the audience. Also, you should know how much time your demos will take the show the data.  That’s part of your overall presentation and you need to know that you have enough time to get everything done. You only can know this with solid practice.

The Star Is You

Basically, your slides and demos are there to enhance your talk. You should be the primary source for information. Likely there are several others who present on the same technology feature you’re concentrating on. You’re the difference between their talks and your own. Often, I will pick a talk based on the reputation of a speaker, even if I know the technology. For instance, is Andy Leonard presenting? Then I’m likely there. Aunt Kathi? Sorry, Andy, you’re bumped. You get the idea.

I know with both of those folks that even if I know the subject matter well, I’m still going to come away learning something new. Also, I’m going to enjoy the time I spend in their talks. They have different presentation styles. Andy wins you over with a lot of humor and wit. Kathi has a way of making you feel comfortable and the center of her attention even in a crowd of a hundred or more. Also, both convey their information solidly and help make difficult concepts understandable. Your visual aids should enhance you, not the other way around. That’s the way it works for these two and every successful presenter in our community.


Learning to Give Presentations Well (Part 1)

I’ve given technical presentations for years. I’ve also taught in churches and youth groups years before that. For me, speaking in public isn’t a big deal. However, I know that when someone is first starting out, it can be a challenging experience. Even though I felt comfortable speaking in public, I still wanted to become better at it. That was a reason I joined Toastmasters years ago. Here are some of the basic lessons / exercises we try to give to that first-time speaker. They are applicable to whatever you’re speaking about, so certainly if you want to give technical presentations, these can help you as you get started. Here’s the first piece of advice:

Pick Something You Want to Talk About

In Toastmasters, the first speech is an icebreaker speech where the new Toastmaster tells the group about himself or herself. It’s the first speech on purpose. Here’s why:

  • You should certainly be interested in yourself.
  • We, as a group, are interested in getting to know you better.
  • You don’t have to do any research. You know yourself better than we do.
  • You’ve got to start somewhere.

With technical presentations, this needs to change. You will be presenting on technology and not yourself. However, talking about something you’re interested in helps. It helps greatly. Your enthusiasm can help temper your fear. Yes, I said that word: fear. Even folks who feel comfortable speaking feel it from time to time. It’s normal. Just an emotion you have to deal with. Enthusiasm can help you deal with that fear of speaking. But most good technical talks that I’ve attended do include a personal angle. Why are you interested in the technology? How have you used it in your own career? Answering those questions help you relate the technology to your audience. By the way, they are interested in you, too. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be at your talk.

With a technical presentation you’ll need to do some research. You want to have a good grasp of your topic. You don’t need to be THE expert. You don’t even need to be an expert. However, the more you know, the more comfortable you’ll feel when you give the talk and the more information you can convey to your listeners. So make sure you know enough to be able to give your talk and answer basic questions with regards to what you’re showing. Don’t be afraid of saying, “I don’t know.” Getting questions you can’t answer will give you areas to explore. That helps you learn more about the topic. Then you can incorporate that new expertise into your topic.

Also, and most importantly, take the first step and prepare to give the presentation. You need to present to get better. You can know the topic of public speaking intellectually, but you have to put that knowledge into practice.

If You’re Stuck at Home for the PASS Summit

Conferences are a great place to network, to see new technologies or to see existing technologies being used in new ways, or just to get away the day-to-day work. You may love your job, but having a break to refresh and re-focus is certainly good, too. So what if you couldn’t make it out to this year’s Summit?


Definitely get on Twitter and watch the hashtags:

  • #PASSsummit
  • #SQLPass
  • #SQLFamily

There’s sure to be a lot of traffic tagged with those three hashtags along the lines of announcements, new tips and tricks, and thought-inducing points. Also, you’ll be able to interact with folks that are there in person. So while it’s not as good as a face-to-face encounter, it’s still fun and educational.


There’s a lot of options here with regards to recorded content so you can still get some personal training in at home:

Refresh and Re-focus:

Block off an hour or two or your calendar for training. Do a bit of research ahead of time to figure out what you’re going to watch.If possible, book a conference room at your work location and get away from your desk. Or grab your laptop, go to a place with good WiFi, and enjoy a presentation while you eat / relax.

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