I was delighted to see an unconventional abstract submission for the next SQLSaturday in Cleveland, OH recently. This entry came from Evelyn Maxwell, who submitted a session on PowerPoint skills for the event’s Professional Development track. You may wonder why I’d highlight this presentation from the thousands that have been submitted just this year alone. (After all, we have sessions covering non-SQL topics at our events.)

She represents what is special about the PASS community

Evelyn volunteered at SQLSaturday events as a non-speaker and attended many sessions before deciding to submit an abstract and commit to sharing her knowledge with others. That makes her special because, like so many others in our community, she is giving up her valuable free time on a weekend to connect, share, and learn with (and from) other like-minded community members.

She is a non-traditional PASS member

Evelyn is not your typical PASS volunteer and speaker. She is unemployed, she can’t drive, and she likely has a curfew under the laws of her city. You see, Evelyn Maxwell recently turned 13.

In her own words

After being made aware of Evelyn’s abstract I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to write a post that would highlight an example of what good news exists in our community. I also wanted to bridge the gap between my final days leading the PASS SQLSaturday portfolio and moving on to a new portfolio that will strive to enhance engagement with our members and deliver enriched community events. Evelyn’s story of volunteerism, passion for learning, and drive to share highlight the core of our mission and does so in a very unique way.

I reached out to Evelyn through her father, David Maxwell, to see if perhaps she would be willing to share advice with our PASS members who may be looking to become a community speaker or simply more involved in their local SQL Server communities.

TF: Hi Evelyn, thank you for taking time to speak with me and the PASS community at large. Can you tell us a bit about yourself as we begin?

EM: Well, I’m 13 years old, (I just had a birthday), I play percussion in the 7th grade concert band, I’m the second member in a trio of friends, and I help run a student-run club at my school. Other than that, I’m a pretty typical 7th grade girl.

TF: Your dad is very well known in the SQL Server community and just recently won the PASS Speaker Idol contest at the 2015 PASS Summit. What direction has he given you in speaking publicly?

EM: I’ve learned a lot about public speaking from my dad, mostly though watching him present at SQL Saturdays, and just watching him practice in the basement. Practice is, after all, very important in putting together a good presentation. I’ve also learned that when presenting, most people are going to be supportive and encouraging, which is nice, but also that not everyone is going to be positive, and that's something I’ll just have to accept.

TF: Can you speak to some of the things you've done at SQLSaturdays previously? In addition to speaking in 2016 at the Cleveland SQLSaturday, I've heard you've been a volunteer at events in the past.

EM: Generally at SQLSaturdays, I just like to go and attend sessions on a beginner level, and see if I can learn something. I try to take productive notes, and write down questions later to ask my dad. I also like to give feedback to the presenters. Last year I was a volunteer at SQLSaturday Columbus, and got to help register people, set up for lunch, and wipe down pretty much every flat surface there was. I even got to pull names for the raffle and throw T-shirts at people. Now how fun is that?

TF: Besides being a public speaker and PASS volunteer what are your other interests?

EM: I enjoy reading, percussion, and writing fan fiction. I also help my friend run Special FX club, which is a student-run club that helps teach kids about the art of movie makeup. We do a ton of different stuff, from mild bruises, to zombie skin. It’s a lot of fun. I also was in drama club last year. Unfortunately, there was no club this year, although I would have joined if given the chance.

TF: I know I tend to “nerd-out” about SQL around my house. Does your dad spend a lot of time talking about SQL?

EM: Dad doesn't really talk a lot about SQL at home. If my brother or I have a question, he’ll answer it, and sometimes he’ll give us a heavilysimplified explanation about something at work, but other than that, he saves the SQL talk for SQLSaturdays.

TF: Evelyn, what is your one piece of advice for any new speaker/community member looking to broaden their own experience?

EM: I would say that if you want to try speaking at an event, or do any kind of public speaking for that matter, don’t overthink things. You obviously want to know your topic, and be able to answer questions from the audience, but don't focus on your presentation so much it makes your head hurt. I had this problem when I was first writing my abstract. Instead of just thinking what would be in the presentation and why, I completely overthought it, and ended up having to start over. But once I let all of that go, I was able to come up with a successful abstract, which got my point across.

TF: Christmas is coming. Do you want to share some of your Christmas list with us? Maybe it will improve your chances with Santa Claus, you never know.

EM: To be perfectly honest, I don't have a Christmas list. I have a phone, and a snare drum, what more could I want? Plus, I think there's a lot more to the holidays than just receiving gifts.

My wish for you

Evelyn reminds us all that there is so much more this holiday season (regardless of the holidays your family celebrates) than material things. I want to take this opportunity to wish you, your families, and your communities a happy holiday season and end to 2015. We always have room for improvement though, so my hope is that you will experience greater success, contentment, fulfillment, and peace in the coming year.

Tim Ford
Director, PASS SQLSaturday