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Friday Philosophy – New Conference, Same Sad Old Faces Up Front June 2, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Presenting.
Tags: , ,

I’ve been on the Oracle conference presenting circuit for well over a decade now and I must confess I enjoy it. Part of this is that I see lots of friends at nearly every conference – even in countries I have never been to before. This is because many of those friends are fellow presenters, who have been presenting for well over a decade now…

There he goes again, banging on and on and on…

This is not totally true of course, there are some relatively new presenters, even a couple I can think of that have been presenting for only a year or two (Pieter, Frank…). I’m proud to say that there are some less-experienced presenters I actually helped get going at this lark and even a couple who are better at this than I am.

But the truth of it is, if you were to go to 5 conferences in one year across Europe (or maybe even 5 across the USA, let me know) you will keep seeing the same bunch of mostly older faces up there, sometimes even doing the same talk (or talks) – That is maybe not such a bad thing as the real audience, the local Oracle community members, are mostly from that region, won’t have been to the other conferences and get to see current talks that have been trialled and tested and tweaked elsewhere.

However, if you go to the same conference 5 years in a row – you will STILL see the same bunch of mostly older faces up there (all getting slowly older, greyer, wrinklier – except for those who hit Mid-Life-Crisis and suddenly develop gym-bodies and oddly darker hair…. 🙂 ). Again, maybe not a bad thing as these are the people who like presenting, get selected again based on the fact the audience liked what they said, they did not lie too much and did not get too many things wrong. And most of us try to not do the same presentation 2 years in a row, so the material moves on {I do repeat presentations after a year or two’s break, usually updated and aimed at the newbie audience, but that’s just me}.

So is this “same old faces” a problem? Most of us conference organisers agree that it is as people drop off the presenting circuit or seem to run out of material. So you need a new influx. And you need younger presenters to keep the older ones on their toes (or just help them on and off the platform). And younger or just new people to give another perspective or add their considerable experience to the mix. One of the newer presenters I can think of is actually retirement age and a great addition to the circuit.

But the problem is, how do you encourage new presenters? You lot reading this who do not present are a damned hard bunch to motivate to give it a go! Now, I know that presenting is not for everyone and that some of you would rather stick your arm in a wasps’ nest than present, but some of you can bang on for ages in a social situation and actually know your stuff. So how do we get you to present?

The same ideas come up. One is to say you only need to present for 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes we will even organise a full session made up of such short session to let people give it a go. It does not seem to work to me, you get one or maybe two new people and then fill the other mini-sessions with experienced people – who then complain about how hard it is to do a decent talk in such short time!

Another is to specifically ask at SIGs and smaller meetings if anyone fancies trying out presenting, in the small and friendly arena that they have just experienced. You know, the one where after presenting the presenter cannot really hide in the crowd and everyone there knows if you did a good or bad job… We do get the occasional new presenter but not really. And I suspect most of them would have submitted papers eventually (and I’m ignoring the issue of new presenters getting papers selected, I’d need a whole post on that).

Another route it to co-present and this is the one I have used a small number of times. You get someone you know, who understands the material, to share a presentation with you. If they stumble or forget what they were saying, you can just nudge things along, and hopefully cope with any tricky questions that might worry the new person. It worked once (and you now see his sad, old face ALL the time), partially worked the second (though I’ve not seen her present for a while) and utterly failed the third.

The UKOUG is trying this at the next UKOUG Tech conference, but in a more formal way. They are getting some of us more experienced presenters to offer ourselves to co-present with new people. I’m not sure how well this will work if we experienced presenters are not finding the inexperienced presenters ourselves. Can you imagine someone who has never presented before wanting to step up to the podium with one of the Oracle Names, unless they also know them? If you said something wrong, would they correct you in front of everyone (no, probably not, we are generally nice people). Anyway, it’s something to try and I am happy to help. The UKOUG have started promoting this a little, but I don’t think everyone is going to find it appealing. In fact, my friend Dawn saw this and thought it sounded…:

Creepy! That made me laugh.

Nevertheless, if you are a potential new presenter or just inexperienced and you want to present on something I also know about, I’d be happy to consider co-presenting with you. Just let me know. And generally speaking, if co-presenting appeals to you but not with me {I would not blame you}, get in touch with the UKOUG.

About the only way I know of really getting new presenters is… to get people drunk and make them agree to it. Then remind them about it endlessly until they feel obliged to do it. It does work, but it ends up being a self-selecting set of new presenters, i.e. people I drink with, which rather annoyingly tends to be sad, old men. I’ve tried drinking with young, vivacious women but I usually get asked to leave the club, as I am coming over as creepy.

So, if you are someone who has considered presenting or would consider it – what would help you give it a go? Tell me, I’ll see if I can arrange it.


1. Dear DBA Frank (@fdernoncourt) - June 5, 2017

It’s good to read the thoughts of a seasoned speaker/conference-goer like you. It opens the eyes of a young speaker/conference-goer like me. Who are the Peter and Frank you mention in the 2nd paragraph please?

mwidlake - June 5, 2017

Hi Frank,
Thank you for those kind words. I think the Pieter and Frank I referred to know who they are, so I’ll leave it at that unless they wish to self-identify 🙂

2. bob dylan - June 14, 2017

I know colleagues who have submitted papers / talks for UKOUG (several different ones e.g. ireland and scotland) and been knocked back each time. Is there anything which can increase the chances of presenting – ‘hot’ topics for instance?
The rejection was obviously only based on the content (or general idea) put forward with little regard to the willingness or competency of the presenter(s), so my question really is

if you are a new willing presenter, how can you best be given the platform to present your idea(s). It seems if you are more ‘experienced’ then you able to talk about more bespoke / niche topics than those who aren’t part of the presenting circuit.

mwidlake - June 14, 2017

Hi Bob,

It is a little chicken/egg isn’t it? Of course, having talks on a hot topic helps, especially if you are lucky enough to be an early adopter of something Oracle is pushing but few people have real-world experience of. I’m not sure if the offered talk being broad or niche has that much impact, I’ve not thought on that.

The best way to get into presenting is probably to start small – offer talks to the SIGs (Special Interest Groups) of the UKOUG or smaller conferences. The annual UKOUG Tech conference has had a “problem” for many years in that it is one of the most popular to submit papers to (along with DOAG, the German conference). I’ve been involved in organising the content of the UKOUG tech conference for about 5 or 6 years and we could fill every presentation slot with a “known” speaker – member of the OakTable, Oracle ACE or Oracle product manager. Although we always reserve a few slots for new speakers, the number of such slots is small compared to the number of potential new speakers.

a few years back I would have suggested submitting to OUG Ireland or the UKOUG Scotland conference but I know that the number of submissions to them (at least the Irish one, as I have contacts there) have shot up in the last few years. Mind you, I suspect you have a better chance with the UKOUG conferences than Oracle Open World, unless you have a back door in like being in the beta program or actively working with an Oracle product team.

Some of the European conferences have a lower submission-to-slot ratio and they accept talks in English. But the best way in to speaking is, as I said, to offer talks to smaller events. As well as the UKOUG SIGs there are a couple of local user meetings in the UK, Yorkshire DataBase (YoDB), Club Oracle in London run by Redstack and there was Oracle Midlands but that has stopped for now. Some of the European user groups have smaller meetings too.

3. pieter de Visser - June 27, 2017

Tip to avoid “same old faces” … Go to some non-Oracle gigs. I’ve done RigaDevDays and will do PGDAY.RU. Refreshing! And instructive.

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