Rock Star presenter interview: Edwin Sarmiento

356labs: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what are you doing?

Edwin: I’m Edwin M Sarmiento, a Microsoft SQL Server MVP and a Microsoft Certified Master, Managing Director of 15C. My company specializes in designing and implementing solutions for SQL Server high availability and disaster recovery.  We also provide learning solutions and content development for educating SQL Server and IT professionals about SQL Server high availability and disaster recovery.

356labs: What is your experience as a speaker?

Edwin: I have been speaking publicly ever since I can remember – from as early as being a group mentor in my elementary class to as large as about 800+ people at a Microsoft conference. My topic is primarily on SQL Server but I also speak on professional development like leadership, communication and presentations.

356labs: How do you prepare for your presentations?

Edwin: Preparation is very important for me. I’ve actually written a blog post about how I prepare for my presentations. I just need to continue on with the series.

I start out with a blank sheet of paper – very analog. I write down ideas about my presentation and what I want to accomplish. I use the abstract of the presentation as a guide. That is already part of the preparation process. I want to make sure that the attendees will get what was promised in the abstract.

I, then, proceed to write about who my potential attendees are – what they do, what their challenges are, their way of thinking, etc. Think of this as profiling my audience. The reason I do this is because I want to understand who they are so that I can properly create the presentation that is right for them.

Next, I define the problem that my presentation will solve using the words that my potential attendees will understand. Every presentation has to fulfill a need or a want. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense to even have a presentation. The problem statement will be the foundation of my storyline.

When I start working on my storyline, I think of stories that my potential attendees will easily understand. For example, when I speak about the topic of monitoring databases, I tell a story about us visiting a medical clinic to know if our overall health is OK. The storyline will become the structure of the whole presentation, taking the attendees on a journey from experiencing a challenge to overcoming it. At the end of the presentation, attendees should feel good about listening to my presentation, be confident to face their challenge and succeed.

356labs: Why is presentation design important in your opinion?

Edwin: I used to think that presentation is just a combination of text on a slide. A lot of people who have attended my presentations tell me that I’m a great presenter. But then I felt like I’m missing something. Presentations should not just be about sharing ideas. It should be about connecting with the listener so that the ideas will resonate and create an impact. And, that’s why I started learning about how to tell better stories, how to create engaging slides and how to communicate properly.

For me, presentation design starts even before I put text on slides. The experience is like buying a house for the first time. The real estate agent works with you in the process. But before he even shows you a house, he asks a lot of questions – what your lifestyle is, what your future plans are, how many cars do you intend to buy, etc. He’s already profiling you to make sure that he can find the right house for you. So, he does his homework even before he shows you a house – looks at the different houses for sale, researches the builder, drives around the communities to see if there are amenities that you would like.

As the real estate agent shows you the house, he starts telling you about your current situation. As you walk thru the door, he tells you how it feels like to walk thru the door of your very first house. He starts telling you about the large living room where you can enjoy your time with the family watching NetFlix while enjoying popcorn. You are unaware that you are already embracing the idea that the house is already yours even if you haven’t paid for it yet.

The real estate agent just sold you the idea of owning the house, you just made the decision to pay for it.

That is the power of presentation design. It causes the listener to not just embrace the idea but to actually take action.

356labs: Your advice on how to become a rock star speaker?

Edwin: Never stop learning. Learn from the best communicators. Take classes. Read books. Watch TED Talk videos. Over prepare yet oversimplify. Be vulnerable. Don’t exclude emotions in presentations. Tell stories. Make the audience laugh, cry, angry, sad, excited – anything, except being boring, that can make them feel something. Stop creating boring slides rather visual and engaging ones. Get out there and present/speak in public.