10 Tips for PowerShell Summit Presenters

PowerShell Summit 2020 is less than 60 days away! The list of presenters is final, and those presenters are putting finishing touches on their presentations. PowerShell Summit is a unique opportunity for presenters to show off their work to the community. For some, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it’s also a nerve-wracking experience for many.

I have been lucky enough to be a presenter at Summit 2019. Now, I am on the team helping run the event. I am one of the few individuals who can say they were an attendee, a presenter and event planner for the summit. I thought I would offer some tips and advice for first-time presenters who are not sure what their first Summit presentation experience may be like.

I’ve come up with a handful of tips that presenters can use to help prepare for PowerShell summit. The list reads like a top 10 list, but there’s no real order here. Rather, it is a list of useful things for presenters to consider as they prepare their work.

  1. Tell a story
  2. Don’t count on the conference WiFi
  3. Don’t kill the audience with slides
  4. Limit the amount of words on slides
  5. Present live demos
  6. Have a backup plan
  7. Plan to finish your session early
  8. Pre-stage everything!
  9. Finish your presentation BEFORE you arrive
  10. Practice, Practice, Practice
  11. Relax Let’s dive in on each one of these items and discuss them in depth.

Tell a Story

I am not advocating presenters share meaningless stories about their life or work. What I mean by “Tell a story” is to make your presentation a complete thought. Why are you presenting this data? What led you to this point? How can this data help people? What problem does it solve? Sometimes presenters know all those answers in their head but forget to share them with their audience.

Consider saying something similar to, “For years, We’ve been looking to automate these arcane processes at work, and I have been trying to find a product that would help me get there. With the release of this tool, my company has achieved unbelievable efficiency. I’d like to show you how you can too, and what we struggled with. Let’s dive into how we did it and what challenges we faced along the way.”

Don’t count on the conference WiFi

You have come up with this awesome idea to run a live demo that reaches out to the internet and grab some live data. You know this going to be a killer demo and the crowd will love it! When its time to present, the WiFi is saturated and you can’t get your data. Bummer…

How would you proceed if the hotel wireless went down for the afternoon? The point here is: don’t rely on the conference wireless!

Many presenters have had their sessions crash and burn because they weren’t able to run their demos as expected. If you need to connect to the internet for your demo, rent a hotspot for the day or the week. A good plan would include having the data you need on your laptop as a backup. Also, I would caution against running a demo from the AWS or Azure cloud if you can avoid it. Everything could work out as you plan, but past data says otherwise.

Last year, Azure cloud was offline when Joey Aiello was trying to show off some Cloud awesomeness. It happens! Hotel WiFi and cloud resources are the short paths to having a presentation not go as planned.

Don’t kill the audience with slides

The key to a great summit demo is fewer slides, not more. It takes a very skilled presenter who can pull off using many slides and not boring the audience. People come to summit to see cool demos, not slick slides. Keep your slides to a minimum and leave more time for your demos! The audience will thank you.

Limit the amount of words on slides

While we’re discussing about slides, let’s talk about good slide etiquette.

People hate watching slideshows. Why? Because most slide shows are boring and unimaginative. Slide presentations can be great tools; but they need to be succinct. Well done slides can be excellent visual aids to help you tell your story. The key point here is you tell the story, not the slides.

If you are considering using slides at summit, you need to view a video called How to avoid Death by PowerPoint before you design your slides. See it once and you will change the way you make slides for the rest of your life.

Present live demos

At summit, attendees want to see the code in action and what happens when you execute the code. However, a word of caution, live demos are one of the biggest things that go bad for presenters. So what’s a n00b presenter to do?

Present data/execute code in the moment and have a backup in case it doesn’t work out as planned. Another option is to record or pre-stage your work, so all you have to do is start a pre-canned process and you know what the output will be.

Have a backup plan

Things can go bump in the night! The demo gods sometimes come and slay presenters. Be prepared!

  • Do you have a backup plan?
  • What happens if X doesn’t work?

Think it through now and hopefully you wont need to go to your backup plan. But you will be glad if you you end up with Plan B or C and you know you can still nail the demo!

Plan to finish your session early

People are awful at estimating the time required to complete a task. This holds true for presenters also. We all have witnessed a presenter say, “I’m running low on time, let me skip these last 10 slides…” Don’t let that be you. Plan to finish sooner. That means you may need to cut out some irrelevant content.

Edit your content ruthlessly and only present the most important items. If you finish early, you can always show some extra stuff. Leave your audience on a high note.

Pre-stage everything

You’ve been preparing for this for over 6 months. You get on that stage; you look at the crowd, and you’re ready to go! You get started and then you forget small bits you intended to mention. You can’t think straight; things are not going as hoped. Getting back on track seems impossible.

This is all avoidable. You can pre-stage your work so you can go from A to B to C without thinking and without having to type complex commands or code. Minimize your opportunities to make mistakes.

  • Create a script.
  • Pre-stage all the commands in a PS1 file so you only have to select the next command.
  • Have your demos in number order so you can find them easily.
  • Create shortcuts.
  • Have a cheat sheet of notes you can refer to.

Avoid leaving things to chance when it’s go time. You will be nervous; understand this and have your things ready to go beforehand.

Finish your presentation BEFORE you arrive

Last year I presented on the third day of summit. I was working on code on the two days prior and the day of my presentation. I pulled it off, but I missed a lot of stuff at summit because I was busy fixing bugs. Don’t be like me. Finish before you arrive and then resist the urge to make last-minute changes.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This one is obvious. Presenting at Summit will be a highlight of your career. Practice your entire presentation in its entirety at least three times before you get to the summit event. The more you practice, the better your presentation will be.

Relax

A bonus tip to serve as a reminder. Try to relax and enjoy the moment. It always goes faster than you think. the first five minutes are hard and then it just gets easier. Take a deep breath and relax. The summit committee picked you because they like what you had to say. Now just execute. You got this!

Good luck to all presenters this year. We’re all excited to see the wonderful things you all have produced. If someone has questions what it was like to be a presenter, please feel to reach out to me. They can find me on Twitter (@MikeKanakos), Discord (@MikeKanakos) or at my website (www.networkadm.in).

About Mike Kanakos

Active Directory pro, PowerShell fanatic, sysadmin, contributing author to the PowerShell Conference Book, Co-organizer of @RTPSUG user group, tech blogger AND speaker at PowerShell Summit 2019!!!

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