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THAT was 20 minutes???

February 16, 2011

They say you always remember your first time. What was your first SAS presentation like?  Or, what will it be like?

  Hey gang. This is the first in a series of blogs about being a NESUG presenter. Why do we do it? How do we do it? Who does it? So if you’ve never presented before but would like to know more about it, be sure to check in often over the next few weeks. Feel free to comment on posts and ask questions. If you have presented, check in often and share your own stories.

I gotta believe there’s some great stories from experienced presenters about their first presentation.  Here’s mine.

When I think about it I really had a lot going against me that week in April of 2003.  I was leaving my wife who was stuck by herself with our 3-year old daughter, 1-year old son, and our sick beagle (I won’t go into details).  It was my first time to Seattle (great view of the snow-capped mountains from the plane).  I didn’t get much support from work (especially financially), I was going by myself, I didn’t know anybody else that was going to be there, and it was my first SUGI.  I hadn’t even been to a regional conference or a local meeting.  Yes that’s right, my first presentation was at my first SUGI.

In preparation for my presentation, I did everything by the book.  I had heard stories of how you could be “blacklisted” just by not following the guidelines (I’ve since discovered that that was a bit exaggerated).  I checked every margin, font and font size, I read the entire paper and presentation guidelines.  I rehearsed over and over again.  I was early to register, early to get my plane tickets, early to get my hotel room, even early to get my shuttle van reservation from the airport.  I got to the convention center to check out the room, called my section chair to check in, went to bed early, woke up early, showed up early for my talk, introduced myself to everyone with a badge who would listen to me.  I was ready.

Then I stepped on stage and the nerves kicked in.

After a couple minutes of forgetting what was on my slides, what I had rehearsed, where and who I was, I began to settle in, but the challenges continued.  As I looked at the the screens that everyone else was seeing, I realized that the colors didn’t show up the same way they did on my computer screen.  Text was too small.  The screen wasn’t wide enough to fit my slides.  I remember my microphone falling off my shirt once.  And then, about halfway through my slides, that voice from the front row – “two more minutes”.

Two more minutes?!?!  Is she kidding?  I just got started!  Is her watch working properly?  When exactly did she start timing?  Ok Mike, don’t panic.  I know you’ve practiced this for months, but it’s time to improvise.  Find a way to wrap it up.

When time was up, I was disappointed.  In hindsight, I guess it was disappointment that I wasn’t perfect.  But I soon learned that nobody expected me to be.  People asked questions.  Several people came up to me afterward and said how good the presentation was.  Somehow, nobody seemed to care that my microphone fell off for a second, or that I didn’t always remember what was on my next slide, or that I said “um” a couple of times.

We tend to hold ourselves to high standards, but the fact is that for the most part, people don’t attend presentations to see good speakers.  They’re there for the content.  Those of us that present – we’re not professional speakers, we’re SAS programmers, and we’re presenting simply to brag to our fellow non-professional speaking SAS programmers about what we’re doing or what we’ve discovered.  Nothing more.  Just telling friends and peers what you’re doing.  That’s all.  Preparation is important.  You want to communicate your message well.  But at the end of the day, you’re just talking about what you know best.

Fellow presenters, let’s hear your stories!

Thinking about this experience gives me some good ideas for follow-up posts.  I’ll save those for later in the week or next week.  Be sure to tune in.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. George Mendoza permalink
    February 17, 2011 2:55 pm

    Thank you for that excellent write up Mike. I enjoyed reading about your experiences and I was reminded of my own first time presenter experience at NESUG 2010.

    For me, it was a great sense of pride and accomplishment when my paper was accepted for NESUG 2010. I had a deep admiration for people who presented papers at conferences and finally I was one of them. My employer (CIGNA) was very encouraging as well. It was a perfect start to what turned out to be a fantastic experience.

    The conference was held in Baltimore at the Renaissance hotel. It was one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at. The harbor view was breathtaking. I also got to sample the famous Maryland crab cakes and they were totally amazing. As you can see, it was not just the conference, but the trip as a whole that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    The presentation went well. I had some of my colleagues (Jessica, Manny and Brian) there as well which was great encouragement. Like you, I too felt elated when the audience began to ask questions. The questions were an indication that my material was useful and people felt that they might be able to use it in their jobs. The section chairs (Rob and Harsha) sent me feedback about my presentation after the conference. They had very positive things to say which was nice to see.

    There was a big surprise in store for me 2 months after the conference. You wouldn’t believe it but I won an iPad just by taking the SAS customer survey at the conference. I got a call from our SAS account rep (Jennifer Harney) informing me that I had won the iPad.

    As you can see, there are many advantages and opportunities that go with being a presenter at a SAS conference. So go ahead, submit your abstracts this year and I wish you all the very best for your future presentations at SAS conferences!

    • February 17, 2011 4:10 pm

      Great story George! It is a very rewarding experience that you’ll always remember. Congratulations on your feedback, your experience, and your Ipad!

  2. Earl Westerlund permalink
    February 17, 2011 3:50 pm

    My first talk was at SUGI 11 in Atlanta. I was accepted to present on a software package that we had written at our company. All I remember was (a) there were a LOT more people in the room than I had ever spoken in front of, (b) I couldn’t see most of them because the room was VERY dark, and (c) I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life, with the possible exception of my wedding day.

    What’s more, I had printed my talk on 17″ x 11″ computer paper. This was 1986, before word processors were prevalent. My lines of text were 15 inches long – so long that I frequently lost my place. I resorted to staring at the paper and following the line I was reading with my finger.

    I must have done OK, because when I got home I found out that I had won Best Contributed Paper for that section. If I had known that, I would have enjoyed the experience more!

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