I recently had the privilege of presenting at VMworld 2016 with one of my customers M&T Bank. This was my first presentation at such a large event. For those who don’t know, VMworld has been an annual event since 2004 and now attracts more than 24,000 attendees. My wife likes to call it “the ultimate geek fest.”
Although our presentation was not part of the general session for all to see, we hosted a break-out session and had about 200 attendees sign up. About 100 actually attended. I am not writing this blog to brag, but to share with you the whole presentation process and experience.
The process started last fall. After returning from VMworld 2015, I sat down with Tom and Dan and had a discussion about presenting at VMworld. We brainstormed on a few ideas. At the time, they were considering use cases for VMware Virtual SAN™. It was then that they started building their “Out of Band Management Cluster” running on Virtual SAN.
Over the next few months, Tom and Dan worked on purchasing hardware, following HCLs, getting software and building out their Virtual SAN environment in their test lab and then production—all while taking notes they would use later for the presentation. In February, I began to outline the presentation. This outline would be used for the 2016 “Call for Papers” submittal in March. (More information here)
I ended up submitting two papers with my customer and assisted Frank on another paper. This was the first time I’d submitted papers, and I received pretty good results. Two of three papers were accepted and the third was merged with another. I had the Out of Band Management Cluster presentation with Tom and Dan. Tom was also on a Virtual SAN panel, which Frank submitted, and Dan was presenting on VMware vRealize® Operations Manager™ with Hicham. Things were about to get very busy.
Tip for Call for Papers
I followed the suggestions listed in the guidelines as well as brainstorming several catchy titles to be used. There are tens of thousands of submissions, and only a small percentage are accepted. A strong title can grab the reviewers’ attention. In other cases, it is those who are well known in the industry; I knew that was not me. I also believe that having customers presenting their solutions is key. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this in the future.
Once the papers were accepted, the real work began. We used the outline to build out our presentation, dividing up content. My time on stage would be limited. It was a customer story, not mine. However, my work to get three presentations together would not be limited. I wanted to be involved every step of the way for Tom and Dan. They needed to be comfortable with the process and what they were presenting.
The presenter services provided by VMworld staff were very good. The online portal gives you PowerPoint templates, a schedule for deliverables, and statistics—for example, who is registering for your session. For our presentation, we met once a week to review content and, beginning in July, rehearse. Well, at least Dan and I rehearsed. Tom likes to use outlines and talk to those points. Hicham held a WebEx session on a weekly basis as well. While Frank had to build out the topics and questions for the Virtual SAN panel; there is not a lot of rehearsal for panels. Certainly something to keep in mind for the future.
Once August hit, so did the pressure. To me, presenting at VMworld or any tech conference is the Super Bowl for us techies. I wanted to make sure we had everything covered. In retrospect, did I put unneeded pressure on myself? Yes, I did. I will certainly be diligent in the future but will focus on the end result to help reduce the stress. VMworld staff held a presenter all hands meeting a couple of weeks before that gave me insight into what to expect and helped calm my nerves.
Once at VMworld, the nervousness receded as I focused on tasks at hand. VMworld is also the event were TAM Services really shine; I wrote a blog on this topic in June 2015. TAMs are very busy, starting with their Saturday arrival. After checking in at Registration, I headed down to Speaker Services to check in there as well. Available to speakers, this room offers drinks, snacks, and the opportunity to make last-minute changes to your presentation. You also get to pick up your pin! Only a small percentage of attendees wear these badges.
On the day of the presentation, my nerves started creeping back in. Of course, we had a 3:00 PM presentation. I wanted to get it over with in the morning. Ugh. I took some time and headed outside, into the 105-degree desert heat, to rehearse a few more times. This helped. While my portion of the presentation was small, I would have no time to recover if I messed anything up. Additionally, I had to set the scene perfectly, with a little bit of acting. Had I messed it up, there would be no recovery.
About an hour before the presentation, I met up with Tom and Dan. If they were nervous, they hid it well. I talk to a lot of people who present. Most, if not all, admit to being nervous before presenting. If they don’t, I figure they are lying. This belief helps me in some weird way. As we chatted and got closer to the start time, I felt better and ready to go. I was excited to do it. Maybe adrenaline kicking in? We went to the room and got “mic’d up.” Of course, my mic had never been used—“First time,” the A/V guy said. “Should be fine.”
Everything went as planned, if not better. The interaction from the crowd was great—something you certainly don’t get when rehearsing. Dan and Tom where the highlight of the presentation, and rightfully so. As I said, it was their story, and I was happy to help them bring it to VMworld.
After we were done, we all felt great. However, there was not a lot of time to enjoy it. Tom had to get to his panel session. Of course, he was great in that session too. The following day, Dan presented in a huge session with Hicham, for which more than 400 had registered. The room was pretty full, and both Hicham and Dan knocked it out of the park.
The experience was certainly something I will remember and cherish. Throughout the process, I told myself I wouldn’t commit to doing it again, since it was so much work. I still have mixed emotions, a month later, as to whether I’d commit the time again. I guess it depends on what is going on in February 2017.
If you’ve ever thought about presenting at VMworld, I would highly recommend giving it a shot. I hope this article gave you some insight into what to expect and that you truly enjoy your VMworld presentation experience, if you are fortunate enough to be selected.
Joe DePasquale is a Team Lead / Staff Technical Account Manager and a 2016 vExpert based in Buffalo, New York. Joe has worked with several large Enterprise customers over his past 5 years at VMware. Previously Joe held an IT Leadership position at a large financial institution.