Begining Thoughts on a PASS Speaker Certification

Consider this one a thinking out loud post more than most. We’ve had an explosion of speakers in the SQL Server world over the past three years, and more arriving every day. That’s an unbelievably good thing for our community and our profession for a lot of reasons. Almost all do a passable or better job at sharing something they know with those that want to learn, and in fact I tell beginners that passion and knowledge are far more important than presentation skills. As a group we’ll forgive nervousness if you share good stuff!

But it’s not always enough to wing it. If you’re going to do a pre-con at SQLRally or the PASS Summit where people will be paying good money to see you present, you need to have better than average presentation skills…not just technical skills. Or if you want to do an event keynote. Or move to being a paid trainer.

My friend Don Gabor is a member of the National Speakers Association, a group set up for speakers that make their living speaking (which excludes most of us!). But having something like that seems like a good idea, all the way from teaching the basics to mentoring to challenging all of us to take another step and not rest on our laurels.

So, that brings me to the idea of PASS sponsoring some speaker workshops, ongoing training, professional evaluations, and maybe some certifications/skill levels. I’ve taught a beginners course for speakers a few times in the past few years as we’ve tried to grow new speakers, and I think PASS sponsored curriculum for that would be great. It would also be nice if we trained professional evaluators (coaches?) to watch speakers at various events and give them specific feedback, far more detailed than they get from attendees.

Part of it paying dues to learn and earn the skills. Part of it making sure the newbies have a clear path to get in the game. Part of it is encouraging the best kind of competition – trying to be better than you are. Can we build something useful that would do this? Is there enough interest to drive this long term? Would it be perceived as a real benefit to PASS members? Would the Speaker logo look good on your resume?

I’d like to hear what you think. If there is enough interest then we can work on which ideas make sense and how to do them.

9 thoughts on “Begining Thoughts on a PASS Speaker Certification

  1. I think this is an excellent idea! As a matter of fact, this is better than trying to provide other certifications through PASS, another idea that has been bandied about a lot. To a degree, just getting to speak at the Summit is a certification of a sort. But the key point is, what makes a good presenter. For example, just plucking four names off the top of my head, Brent Ozar, Buck Woody, Andy Leonard & Allen White. Every one of these guys is excellent when presenting and everyone one of them has a completely different style, delivery, methodology… I could sign off on a Speaker Certification for all of them, but let’s face it, Allen doesn’t present like Buck. Brent doesn’t present like Andy. How do you measure that Buck did a good job? His “Offended List” count? Probably not?

    So, the trick is to identify a mechanism that says these people present technical information well, accurately and in an informative manner. But then, do you toss in entertaining? I love listening to Andy & Allen, but they’re just not as flat out entertaining as Brent or Buck. On the other hand, I generally get more meat listening to Allen than I do listening to Brent (but that might just be me).

    Regardless, I’m digging this one.


  2. What are the criteria to become part of the National Speakers Association? Maybe we could borrow from their handbook. I am guessing they have already overcome these hurdles and have a way of evaluating speakers.


  3. I agree, I think this is a phenomenal idea, and the part about having reviewers who give in-depth technical detail relating to the skills of the presenter would be huge (probably also very frustrating at times, but helpful).


  4. Grant, one way to proceed might be to push even the top notch speakers through the process, make sure they’ve learned all the stuff that we (the collective we) think speakers should know and be good at, get them evaluated. Having the first batch evaluate each other as we build it is probably useful. Great conversation to have Allen watch Brent and comment, and vice versa.


  5. > Josef, will work on finding out more about NSA

    Good luck, I hear they’re secretive. 😉

    I also think this is an excellent idea. Another good organization to look at is Toastmasters:

    They have different levels of achievement that require a certain number and types of speeches. The also distinguish between leadership and communication roles, but members will cover both aspects by following the program. It’s a very supportive organization that I think would be an excellent model for PASS to emulate, or maybe even partner with.


  6. Andy, I really like the idea and think in some ways you could already do this. Many people are Putting on PD tracks at SQL Saturday. What if we said each SQL Saturday needed to have a Dedicated Speaker training where people could go to learn specific items. It could be the night before SQL Saturday if so desired. We did this for PhotoCamp and it was very helpful as many Photographers are not speakers. We did it a little more open in that all the speakers broke into groups and did 5-10 minutes of a presentation then we(the organizers and other speakers) rated and gave them feedback so they knew what to work on. PASS could be informed of who attends the Class at SQL Saturday so that they know when they get an abstract there’s at least some extension of this.

    I also have to wonder if we could collect Rating scores better(like partnering with could someone get a certificate/assurance if they spoke X amount of times and averaged over X on the scores. This would be a little harder to get perfect rules for but it’s also a start to show more in depth about the speaker.
    just some of my thoughts. 🙂


  7. I like the idea of exploring Toastmasters, maybe slimming it down some. Pat, I totally agree we need an eval plan, I’ve chatted with speakerrate some, not sure yet if that will work long term or if we just bake our own, but definitely a piece we need. Not just for this, for speaker selection at events as well.


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