Tuesday, October 14, 2003

My superior presentation

I feel a bit better this morning, because I've had five hours of sleep instead of the normal four. I also discovered a great 80s station in the Palm Springs area. Who would ever have thought that I could hear The The blaring over FM radio again? I cruised around for a few minutes with one of the saleschimps, then headed back to the La Quinta (translation: "the the Quinta") to freshen up for my big presentation.

One thing you might not know about these conferences is that the presenters are just normal people who've taken the initiative to learn a bit about a topic and can discuss it in public. A lot of the time we'll be putting the slides and samples together until the last minute, and we all worry that the sessions are going to go well. In my case, I worry a whole lot because, let's face it, I'm crap at presentations. As the tedious saying goes, I have strong oral skills but I don't speak well.

I spent a few minutes alone in the speakers' lounge to collect my thoughts and test my samples a final time. Last time out, my presentation went reasonably well because I rehearsed it in front of my office and walked through the bugs. This time, I didn't really have a chance to do so and I kept finding places where I repeated information a couple of times. My program itself was cool. It lets the user choose any county in the United States, downloads detailed GIS info from the Census Department site, unzips it, and DTSs the data into SQL Server. The second half lets the user choose any county from the catalog, plots it onto a bitmap in memory, then returns it via ASP.NET.

In the speaker lounge, I gave it a dry run. I chose Cook County, Illinois, and downloaded it. It's a huge file, and for some reason it jammed up in the sample. Bad data or something, explosion, program crash, the works. I tried a couple of other counties and they worked fine, so I figured I'd just keep my fingers crossed. 2 PM approached and I was ready to go.

I got up on stage and was pleased to see that about 40 people had trickled in. My talk started out okay. I explained the basis behind my program, started to walk through the concepts, and ten minutes was already gone. Then things started to go bad. As I got into my slides, I realized that I had so many printed notes that they were rendered in six point type. Unreadable. I had a fancy setup that allowed me to have my slides on one machine, my code on another. I kept forgetting to switch between them, so I'd be walking through code as the slide was on the screen. People started leaving - not sneaking out, but waiting until I was looking right at them. I wasn't panicking, but I knew it wasn't going well.

But then I got to my demo. This would be really cool - it's worked for months, right? I asked the remaining crowdlet to call out a county name. Anywhere in the country! Well? Anyone? Finally! A voice called out "Cook County, Illinois." Well, shit. Unfortunately, Centre County, Pennsylvania would be substituting for Cook County in today's presentation. I ran the demo, downloaded Centre County using the asynchronous download pattern, and blam! The program crashed. Not the normal exception-in-the-debugger crash, but a "do you want to report your lousy program to Microsoft?" crash. First time it's EVER done this. I was able to calm the code down by the end, but my fragile confidence was shattered, perhaps forever.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing my troubles away, then hit the late-nite party scene. I hung out at Robert Green's palatial casita for a while, talking about the Visual Basic user community and other party topics, then filtered across the pathway to Matt Nunn's room again.

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