Rock Star Presenter Interview: Cathrine Wilhelmsen

356labs: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what are you doing?
Cathrine: Hi! I’m Cathrine, a Norwegian girly geek. My background is in graphic design and programming, but I currently work as a data warehouse architect and business intelligence developer on the Microsoft platform. I recently received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award in the Data Platform category for being an active member of the Norwegian Microsoft SQL Server community: I’m a volunteer, speaker, blogger, board member of SQL Server User Group Norway and main organizer of SQLSaturday Oslo.

356labs: What is your experience as a speaker?
Cathrine: I started speaking at SQL Server events in 2014, and have since been a speaker all over Europe and even in the US – traveling and speaking quickly became a hobby! However, it all started back in high school when I studied graphic design. We had to present all of our projects for classmates to prepare for our final exam, a one-hour presentation for external examiners. I was shy, terrified and hated speaking in front of others when I started. Three years later, it felt like the most natural thing in the world! Since then I have enjoyed speaking and presenting, even if it is still terrifying at times 🙂

356labs: How do you prepare for your presentations?
Cathrine: I usually go through four phases:

The first phase is to write the title and abstract for my presentation. I spend a lot of time defining who my audience is, what they already know coming to my session, what their pain points are, how my presentation will help them solve those pain points, and what the main goals for the session is. When I know those things, I write the abstract as detailed as possible, and try to summarize everything in the title. The abstract works both as a checklist and a cheat sheet for when I start working on my presentation, and helps me stay on topic.

The second phase is to create a story and a flow in my presentation. I usually start working in PowerPoint right away, but I stick to creating sections and titles. This allows me to organize and move things around until it feels like a natural progression from start to end of the presentation. It also makes it easy to compare it to the abstract and check that I have included everything I promised the attendees I would present.

The third phase is finishing the presentation and adding all the content. This can be quite tricky and time-consuming in technical presentations, because it is difficult to find the balance between enough technical content and simplifying it into understandable sentences and visualizations. I’m a perfectionist and I can easily spend an hour tweaking one slide, so I had to teach myself to work in iterations to finish my presentations in time. Start by adding all the content to cover everything, then simplify text and add visualizations, then tweak and improve if there is enough time left.

The fourth phase is rehearsing the presentation. By this point my presentation is already divided in sections, so I time and rehearse each section and make adjustments to the slides if something doesn’t feel right when I say it out loud. I write down the time I have for each section and the time I need to finish each section to finish my presentation on time. I keep this list on a piece of paper next to my laptop while rehearsing and presenting, and it really helps me stay on track. If I’ve talked too fast, I can go into a bit more details in demos or ask the audience for questions. If I’m behind, I can skip parts of demos that aren’t as important or tell the audience I will stay after the session to answer questions.

356labs: Why is presentation design important in your opinion?
Cathrine: Presentation design is not just about making things pretty. It is about making content understandable and communicating effectively. It is about creating a logical flow and a story that grabs the attention of the audience, keeps them engaged, and helps them remember the content when they leave.

356labs: Your advice on how to become a rock star speaker?
Cathrine: Speak about something you’re passionate about, prepare, prepare, prepare, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, have backup strategies in case your demos fail or you lose your internet connection or your computer dies, learn from your mistakes, try to constantly improve, talk from your heart instead of reading from your slides, engage with the audience and have fun! 🙂

Wow! What else can we say! If you want to learn more about Cathrine, ping her on Twitter or visit her blog.

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