In my October 16 commentary (Is Green Technology Possible?), I mentioned that I was presenting at a SQL Server roadshow earlier this month. I had been asked to present a keynote, as well as two technical sessions, about SQL Server 2008. The technical sessions were no trouble at all, and it was great to have my first chance to dig into some of the new features in SQL Server 2008. However, I found the thought of doing a keynote presentation to be a little bit daunting. When I think of keynotes, from the many conferences I’ve attended, I think of flashy PowerPoint presentations with lots of color, sound, and animations, and of each presenter’s “assistants” who run the demos (and probably helped develop them, too). 

I am a SQL Server expert, not a PowerPoint expert. I can build slides with bullets and graphics, and even change colors and fonts.  Most of my fancy graphics are imported from elsewhere, and they're frequently borrowed from other presentations. I have never developed a PowerPoint with embedded sound or videos, and I’ve only used animated graphics (think flying bullets) when I’ve inherited them from someone else and couldn’t figure out how to turn them off.

However, my kids are growing up on PowerPoint. All the kids at the local junior high school have to take a class that teaches them how to use computer applications (or take a test to show they already know how to use them), and many of their teachers will require a PowerPoint presentation to be part of a research project. My kids love to put all kinds of fancy things in their presentations.

So I realized I could spend my time figuring out how to do fancy stuff in PowerPoint or I could focus on learning cool new things about SQL Server 2008.  I wonder if people learn more from the flashy content or if they’re just entertained. I certainly believe that some degree of entertainment has a place when training, but will you really learn more with sound and video embedded in the slides?

When I first started traveling and teaching, I had to carry around boxes of transparencies, which were displayed in the classroom using an overhead projector. For a week-long course, the box would weigh more than some airlines allow for luggage these days. We had no sound or video and no computer in the classroom for demonstrating the concepts we were discussing. (I know, I’m sounding really old here, but at least I didn’t have to walk barefoot through the snow to school.)

When presentation software became available, we would carry our presentations on diskette, which was a real breakthrough. However, for the first year or so we just included the same thing in the software presentation as we had on the transparencies. It was just a lot less weight to carry. Soon, however, people starting taking advantage of the technology, and PowerPoint artists came into being.

So what’s really important? What do you like to see on PowerPoint slides when you're learning about new technology?  Do you like viewing high-level bullet points and letting the presenter fill in all the details? What do you think about slides that are packed with detailed text that you have to read like a document? Do color, sound, and fancy graphics help you learn better? What about those flying bullets?

I will admit that I have used animated slides a few times when I think the animation will help people understand the concepts. I actually paid a PowerPoint expert to develop a couple of animated slides for me, one of which showed the way SQL Server tasks flow through the scheduler from the CPU to a wait-list to the runnable-task list, ready to be executed when the CPU is available.

As a presenter, I don’t want the PowerPoint to contain all the details, otherwise why would people need to hear me speak? But as a student I want enough information to get something out of going back and looking at the slides after a presentation. Or, if I can’t make it to a presentation, it would be nice if the PowerPoint had enough information to let me know if this topic is something I want to learn more about and why I might want to know about it.

After all my concern, I got no complaints about my keynote not having lots of fancy add-ins. So for the time being, I’m planning on sticking to SQL Server technology rather than worrying about the fancy PowerPoint stuff. SQL Server 2008 has enough fancy stuff of its own.