Precons: What we learn by listening

When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain. (Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 2, Scene 1)

This quotation, from Shakespeare’s Richard II, sums up a lot of my thinking about Business Intelligence generally. It’s always about people. As a consultant, presenter, speaker or panellist, I’m there to listen as well as talk. I have posted my Data Visualisation and Business Intelligence pdf notes here. If you cannot access it, please let me know at jen.stirrup [at] copperblueconsulting dot com.
I used the slides as the basis of my Precon in Poland at the Poland SQLDay event. The precon is mainly demo, and trying to solve delegates’ business problems on the day. I like to try and find suggest a few common business problems, and demonstrate different ways I’ve solved them. 
As a Data Visualisation practitioner, I believe in visualisation – but I also believe in listening, too. I do not like to PowerPoint people to death.  I like to do end-to-end – so I start from the ground up. In other words, I set out with the business problem, and then walk through to the end result. Sometimes these business problems are issues which delegates didn’t know that they had, until they’ve thought about it whilst attending the precon! I like to try and do useful things that people can apply to their own environments when they get home. I always have my own ideas about things that I’d like to show people, but I welcome attendees to bring their own thoughts and issues about their current and future business problems. After all, Business Intelligence is about people.
Since I do a lot of the demo work pitched at the audience needs, I don’t have that many slides. I can produce more if I need to do so, but I always try and get a balance between demo and slides. 
In this way, although I’m talking a lot during the day to the delegates, I am also listening to the delegates as well.  I believe that this is vital to the success of the day. If I can help with a specific business problem that the other delegates are interested in, then this is a good day for me since I’ve made a difference somewhere.
People often ask me: how can you get up on stage, and speak in front of so many people?  I don’t hold with the ‘I talk, you applaud’ school of presentation at all. Here is my answer:

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. Winston Churchill

Sometimes I get questions that I don’t know the answer. In SQL Server, I now think that it covers such a wide arena of users, that it is no longer possible to know everything about it unless you actually work for Microsoft (and I don’t).  
Fundamentally, however, I have to agree with Hemingway: to listen, you’ve got to want to hear the message. I always respect my delegates. Even if they’re not the ones talking, they live, breathe and sleep SQL Server and related technologies all day, every day. They deserve our respect and in order to serve them best, it is up to me to listen. So my slide deck isn’t fulsome; but I hope that the attendees got something out of the day, and it was my pleasure to work with them. 

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. Ernest Hemingway. 


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