Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Running Diary: The trade show presentation, Part 1

In 1999, when I did my first trade show presentation, the room I was given sat 150 people. Unfortunately for me, 138 of them were vacant. That wouldn't have been so bad had I not worked with 6 of the people present, including my boss, my boss' boss, and my boss' boss' boss. It was a nice show of support, but it turned pretty embarrassing when one of the 6 strangers who showed up left half way through.

I swear, though, I had those other 5 entranced. Heck, one of them even asked a question and that's 20% of my audience engaged enough to start a dialog. I'm sure that impressed the big bosses of mine in the room.

Not.

It's been awhile since that nightmarish debacle. This two part Running Diary tells the story recent presentation a colleague and I gave at a vendor trade show with my buddy Slawek (and who among you has a buddy named Slawek, I ask?). Here in Part 1, the genesis and creation of the presentation is covered and in Part 2 I'll go over how the actual event panned out.

The idea

Slawek and I came up with the idea for the presentation we would ultimately give at last year's vendor trade show. At lunch on the final day of the conference, he remarked to me that a specific technology we were making great use of was hardly touched upon at all. As I was contemplating this, the light bulb went off for both of us at the same time and we gave each other a knowing look.

What we stumbled into is the advice that just about anybody who is an expert on getting into conference presentation track will tell you: Look at what was presented the year before and find a niche that is missing. While that may not sound like an awe inspiring idea because of it's simplicity, you have to have (or obtain) the knowledge to make yourself a credible speaker on the topic you find is missing too. We lucked into that since we already were (admittedly, Slawek more than I).

The submission

The process for submitting a topic to these sorts of things is pretty standard. You typically have to submit an abstract that describes what you'd say, why the audience of this particular conference would be interested, and what makes you an expert on the subject. What helped us here was the fact that HP has a particularly strong relationship with this particular vendor, so we had an "in".

Breaking up the tasks

Once our topic was accepted, we had to design the slides. Given our very deep technical topic, we felt like we had to explain the context of our particular business problem and why this specific technology was a good fit. That led to a very natural split in the presentation. I would set the scene for IT in HP and lay out why we went down this road. Slawek would then go into the technology details.

This made it pretty easy for me, as I reused a lot of the material I wrote in my recent The Server Side article, specifically the part about HP IT's transformation. Slawek and I went back and forth on his part a few times, setting up the presentation so that he could go into lots of detail if the questions or time steered the discussion in that direction. Once we submitted the final to the vendor putting on the conference, we felt good about it but worried whether or not our topic was so niche that nobody would show up.

In Part 2, I'll reveal whether or not anybody did or if we had a room full of empty chairs.

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