Rehearsing

I’ve been speaking at FoxPro conferences since 1993, but until the last few years, I didn’t often get the opportunity to practice my sessions in front of a live audience. Since reviving the Philadelphia VFP User Group about four years ago, I’ve learned how helpful it can be to give the session to a real audience before taking it to a conference.

In the past, I’ve generally done user group rehearsals after my materials were complete, just to polish my presentation and get rid of all the fumfering as I move from one idea to the next. This year, because of the way the calendar worked out, I’ve rehearsed both sessions with several weeks before my notes and examples have to be submitted. While getting them both finished in time was a huge struggle, I’m going to end up with improved materials on the conference CD because of it.

Last week, I rehearsed “Top Ten (or more) Reasons to Use the Toolbox” for my user group in Philadelphia. It was a good session and I got some great ideas from the group on how to improve it and on how to cut it down to fit the conference time slot.

However, our remaining schedule in Philly before Southwest was full, so I had to take my second session, “Getting Your Head Around Business Objects” on the road. PAFox, the Washington, DC, area user group, was kind enough to schedule a special meeting for me (to coincide with a planned trip to the area).

This session is a bit of a departure for me. I tend to give “tips and tricks” types of sessions, filled with lots of little items. “Getting Your Head Around Business Objects” is aimed at getting across one big idea (though I certainly hope to include lots of tips along the way). With a “tips and tricks” session, timing doesn’t matter as much; if you don’t get to the end of your material, well, you’ve still provided lots of value. But with a “big idea” session, generally, you need to get to the end to really make your point.

I was a little surprised to find that the session ran quite long. At Southwest Fox, I’ll have 75 minutes. Last night, it took close to two hours, so I need to do some judicious cutting. One audience member gave me a great idea for adding a couple of graphics to a slide that will save me 5-10 minutes of hand-waving. Now that I know the session runs long, I’ll also go back and take a good hard look at what examples I show and which ones I can skip.

The user group members also pointed out to me what they saw as the key insight into the big idea of this session: that the business objects form an “engine” for the application. While I had used the term, now I’ll look at building more of what I say around that idea.

I don’t think I’ll get another chance to practice these sessions in front of an audience before the conference, but there’s no question in my mind that they’ll both be much better because I’ve done so.

You still have the opportunity to help make Southwest Fox better by attending a rehearsal and offering your feedback. Check out the Upcoming Events page of the VFP Wiki for a list. Almost every user group session listed between now and Southwest Fox offers at least one speaker rehearsing.

Rehearsal Review – Eric Selje

Today we have a guest blog post from Eric Selje, president of the Madison FoxPro User Group (MadFox). Below you will read one review of a recent Southwest Fox 2009 rehearsal day held in Chicago on a beautiful sunny Saturday in August. A group of 15 people showed up to listen to three of our speakers practice their sessions. Eric is registered to attend this year’s conference and posted the following message on the MadFox’s Yahoo Group, and is letting us use it here with his permission:

Hey MadFoxers,

Here’s a recap of what went down in Chi-Town today at the ChicagFUDG Pre-SW Fox Speaker Party.

The day started with an F14 flyover. Now some might argue that that was part of the “Air & Boat Show” that may be happening on the lakeshore, but I think these Chicago people just really know how to do meetings! There also were doughnuts. A good start!

Cathy Pountney took the pre-lunch spot with a 2 part sessions on the Report Writer. Now you might think the report writer is too simple of a topic to speak on for 2 and a half hours, or you might think that the report writer got WAY too complicated after VFP9. Logically you cannot hold both of these thoughts, but either way you would be wrong. Cathy crammed a bookful of very useful information into her presentation, showing how the VFP9 report writer is both extremely powerful and, especially after SP2, pretty easy to extend. I learned a *ton* from this session.

After lunch, or during for us slow eaters, Rick Schummer spoke about ways to access remote data with Visual FoxPro. As it usually is with great speakers, Rick conveyed a boatload of information in such an easy manner that I only now realize it as I review my notes. He discussed the decision making process for why to use remote data and then choosing a server, the three primary ways for VFP to get at the data (and the surprising test results for the speed of those methods), the considerations for rewriting existing applications, and the tools he uses to simplify the whole process.

Finally new speaker Jody Meyer discussed her creation, the “Smart Grid.” This is not a technology to distribute electricity from wind farms in Minnesota to Las Vegas efficiently, but rather a subclass of the grid which adds a plethora of new features. For example, can you imagine dropping a grid on a form that allows the client to reorder the columns, rename the headings, or export the grid’s data and formatting to Excel or Word? How about subtotals for the columns? It’s all possible with Jody’s Smart Grid. She’s clearly put a TON of time and effort into creating this object, and it shows. And the most beautiful part is, it’s all data driven. It reminded me of Stonefield Database Toolkit, except for grids. Intrigued?

You may have noticed that I didn’t include too much detail about these presentations. That’s because there’s still time for you to register for SWFox and see these for yourself, and I cannot encourage you enough to do so. What I saw just today will easily save me the registration costs, by saving me time and not having to purchase 3rd party software. Airfare is a real bargain right now, and you can sleep on the floor of my room 😉

It was great to see old friends like Tom Hayward, Bill Drew, and Randy Bosma again. And of course the speakers were already in prime form and ready to go. Thank you Rick, Cathy, and Jody, and everyone at ChicagoFudg for a great day.

Eric

Thanks for sharing your review with the Southwest Fox blog Eric. We are glad you enjoyed the sessions last Saturday.

Southwest Fox is good for user groups … and vice versa

One of our goals for Southwest Fox is to be a good citizen of the VFP community. Obviously, just offering a conference is a big way to do that. But we’re also committed to having Southwest Fox support VFP user groups (VFUGs). So last year’s conference binder included a list of VFUGs with contact information.

Since Rick, Doug and I took over management of the conference, we’ve also offered VFUGs a bonus for encouraging their members to attend. The group registers with us in advance, and after the conference, we send the group $25 for each of their members who signs up. VFUGs tend to operate on a shoestring. So we think this is a much better approach than the traditional one of giving user group members a discount, especially since this helps the group from the first person to register. Traditional user group discounts usually require a minimum number of registrants.

However, the biggest way we support VFUGs is a little indirect. We encourage our speakers to preview their conference sessions at user group meetings. Why would we do that when it means people can get conference content without attending?

The most important reason is that we know that sessions get better with rehearsal. Even for experienced speakers, practicing in front of an audience improves the session. So when a speaker presents at a user group meeting, we know that the people who come to Southwest Fox will get an even better session. (It’s not an accident that last year’s highest rated session, Cathy Pountney’s session on customizing vertical market applications, had been previewed at no fewer than three VFUGs.)

The second reason we encourage speakers to do previews is, of course, that it promotes the conference. Every time Southwest Fox is mentioned in a user group meeting or website or email, we increase the change of people coming to the conference.

Whether you’re coming to Southwest Fox or not (and we sure hope you are), in the next few months, you may get the opportunity to see one or more Southwest Fox sessions at your local user group. Here in Philadelphia, we’ve booked Southwest Fox previews for July (Menachem Bazian), August (me), and September (Toni Feltman). Christof Wollenhaupt will be previewing his sessions at a couple of VFUGs (Atlanta and Chicago) on his way to Phoenix. And Detroit’s FUG has so many speakers within an easy drive that they’re considering a special full-day event.

If you’ve never attended your local VFUG, this summer is a good time to give it a try. If you used to go and stopped, ditto. If you’re a user group leader looking for speakers, consider the SWFox speaker list a resource.

And, of course, if you attend one of those previews and decide you like you what you saw, give Southwest Fox a try.