Demo God Recovery Kit

I was scheduled to give a virtual presentation to the MagicPASS user group. The week before I received a beta update for Windows 10. My computer became very unstable. It would not boot half of the time and it corrupted my virtual machines twice. I spent many hours fighting these problems, all the way up until an hour before the presentation.

I had my demo god recovery kit handy. With it, I was able to give the presentation without my virtual machines and with a random laptop which I did not have access to until 10 minutes before the presentation.

It went well regardless.

kendal-van-dyke-tweet

The problem

My biggest fear and the fear that all technical speakers have is that our demonstrations will not go as planned. I try to be prepared but there are many ways that a presentation can go wrong.

  • A query can return different results than expected.
  • The optimizer might generate a different plan than expected.
  • An unexpected exception can occur.
  • Virtual machines may not boot.
  • Your laptop might break.
  • Convention center WiFi might be unreliable.
  • Cloud providers or external resources might not be available.
  • etc. etc. etc.

There are solutions to all of these. The question is, how much would I be willing to pay or willing to do for high availability and disaster recovery? Should I buy a second laptop, in case the first one is dropped? If I do that, should I carry them in two different backpacks since dropping one backpack might break them both? For that matter, should I have someone else carry the laptop for me instead?

Just like any business protecting their databases, a balance must be struck between cost and protection. Never put a $10 watch in a $500 safe. With this in mind, I came up with an inexpensive and simple way of recovering from the wrath of the demo gods.

The solution

Step 1 – pre-staged

First and foremost, appreciate that most of the potential problems only affect the live nature of the demo, not to content itself. Professionals show up for content. A demo is an effective way to present that content but it is not the end-all-be-all of delivery mechanisms. For that reason, the first step in creating my demo gods recovery kit is to make a copy of my demo in a static form.

recovery-kit-1

There are many static forms your demo can take but I choose to use PowerPoint. I already need PowerPoint for my main presentation, using it for my recovery kit does not add a dependency. You can see above that I did not even put a lot of effort into the formatting of these slides. You certainly can but I am already using a less than perfect mechanism to present the content so I do not feel it requires a lot of polish. You will already be apologizing to the crowd for the lack of live content, no one is going to judge your plan B too harshly.

I recommend making a separate PowerPoint file per demo. This helps for when you have a single issue with one demo and you need to pivot on the fly but you do not need to load up any of the other demo’s content. It is also convenient to put this file in the same folder with your demo materials. You will already have this folder open and ready when you notice that you need it, reducing the recovery time and making the recovery look smoother.

Step 2 – redundancy

Now that you have a set of static files, you need redundancy. Buying a second laptop is expensive but you can bring several copies of your PowerPoint files to you session for almost no cost at all.

  • A copy on your laptop.
  • A copy on a flash drive on your key ring.
  • A copy on OneDrive.
  • A copy on Google Drive.
  • A copy on Dropbox.
  • A copy posted on your website.
  • A copy emailed to a fellow speaker who is attending the same conference.

Each and every one of these copies is free and easy to retrieve quickly. Just make sure you cover both the online options and the offline options in case of internet connectivity problems.

Step 3 – crowd source

At every convention I have ever spoken at there has been an important resource, other speakers. In addition, there are usually laptops on the laps of 50% or more of the attendees, with PowerPoint installed on almost all of them.

Maybe I am cheap but I cannot justify buying a second laptop, a second SSD external drive for my virtual machines, or duplicates of much of anything. If my laptop kicks the bucket I would just ask the crowd if anyone would mind letting me barrow their laptop and authorize me to insert my flash drive into it. I guarantee you will have a laptop with PowerPoint installed sitting on the lectern in short order, especially if a fellow speaker is in the crowd.

Wrap up

You do not have to go high-tech or pay a lot of money to make sure your presentations go well. A PowerPoint presentation which documents every step of your demo is enough to save you. The #sqlfamily is a strong and generous group. Do not feel bad about asking for help. With access to your presentation materials, the resources necessary to present will be surrounding you.

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