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How to deliver a fantastic meetup talk

Speaking at a dbt meetup? Here’s all the details you’ll need to know. If you’re speaking at another event, check out our additional tips at the end of the article.

Understanding dbt meetups

dbt meetups are an opportunity for the dbt community to learn from each other. We’re typically on the lookout for talks that last for ~15 minutes, and we reserve an additional 5-10 minutes for Q&A after your talk.

We’re not just looking for talks that feature dbt — if your topic feels relevant to analytics engineers, we’d love to chat.

In general, you can assume that around three quarters of the audience are dbt users. When shaping your talk, consider whether there’s something in there that might be new to an experienced dbt user, and, on the other end of the scale, something that feels relevant to a data practitioner that isn’t yet a dbt user.

If you feel that your talk idea requires in-depth knowledge of dbt, consider speaking on Office Hours instead. Similarly, if you’re interested in giving a more introductory talk about dbt, consider reaching out to a local data meetup to see if it’s the right fit.

For topic inspiration, you can find videos of past dbt meetup presentations here.

If you want to present at a dbt meetup, let us know here. If we haven’t met you before, we might book-in a call to say hi and help shape your topic! We’ll also book a meeting before the event for a dry-run of the presentation to give any additional feedback.

Recognize when you’re ready to give a talk

Below, we’ve listed four signs that you’re ready to give a talk (originally based on this article from our Head of Marketing, Janessa — read that too!). We’ve also included examples for each category — where possible these are dbt meetup talks, but some of them are also links to blog posts from members in our community.

You recently finished a high-impact project

These are a great option for first-time speakers as they mix together both big-picture thinking and tactics. For example:

  • "Improving data reliability" — Andrea Kopitz (video, slides)
  • "Predicting customer conversions using dbt + machine learning" — Kenny Ning (video, slides)
  • "Migrating 387 models from Redshift to Snowflake" — Sam Swift and Travis Dunlop (video, slides)

You hit an inflection point in your career

Have you recently changed something about your career that you think others can learn from? Started a new job, grown in your role? These topics might not mention dbt at all, but will be relevant to many people in the audience. For example:

  • “Getting hired as an analytics engineer: a candidate’s perspective” — Danielle Leong (video)
  • “One analyst's guide for going from good to great” — Jason Ganz (blog post)

Other ideas:

  • You moved from a team of many to a team of one (or vice-versa), and want to share what each can learn from the other
  • You started to manage others and learned some things along the way

You’re digging deep into a topic

If you’ve spent many hours going deep on a topic, it could be a good idea to share what you’ve learned. For example:

  • “The farm-to-table testing framework” — Andrea Fabry (blog post)
  • “How to create a career ladder” — Caitlin Moorman (blog post)

You have a strong opinion about something

Is there a “best practice” that you think is outdated? Want to convince others to see your point of view? In the data-space, we’ve seen this in topics like:

  • “Engineers shouldn’t write ETL” — Jeff Magnusson (blog post)
  • “You probably don’t need a data dictionary” — Michael Kaminsky & Alexander Jia (blog post)
  • “Write better SQL: In defense of group by 1” — Claire Carroll (blog post)

Checkpoint: Is someone else well-placed to give this talk?

Once you have a topic idea, stop for a moment and consider whether someone else on your team might also be a great fit for delivering this talk. Individuals from underrepresented groups are far less likely to self-nominate to give a talk — sometimes a shoulder tap is the nudge that’s needed.

Shaping your talk

Now, it’s time to write! Rather than starting with a slide deck, open up a blank document (or use our template), and start writing some notes. This helps you clarify your thinking, and is a great way to get feedback early, rather than investing the time into creating slides that might later be reworked.

Don’t get too hung up on a title at this stage — we’re happy to work with you on that later in the process.

The basic structure

Below, we’ve outlined a common structure used for meetup talks — if this is your first talk, this is a great way to get started (in fact, even experienced speakers often use a structure like this). Use this as a starting point, rather than an exact formula!

1. What is the business problem?

Relating to a business problem helps audience members understand why you undertook a project. For example:

  • The finance team didn’t trust our numbers
  • We were never sure what led to an increase in customer conversion
  • The data team couldn’t find a balance between ad hoc requests and roadmap work
  • Our tracking across mobile and web was completely inconsistent
2. How did this manifest?

Include evidence that this is a genuine problem — this helps create buy-in from the audience. Slack screenshots, quotes, charts, etc. are all good here!

3. What tactics were used to solve the problem?

Three feels like a good number here. Make sure to emphasize people and process solutions as well as technology solutions.

4. What was the impact on the business problem?

Since you set out a problem to be solved, it’s worth revisiting it. It’s okay if you found that your project didn’t go as planned — there’s a valuable lesson in there. Again, including evidence of improvement feels valuable.

5. What other things were learned, and/or what next steps are you taking?

Summarize high level lessons that others can take-away, and potentially talk about what you’d do differently, or what you plan on doing next.

Why does this structure work?

The above structure might seem formulaic, but we’ve seen it work a number of times. In our opinion, this structure works because:

  • Your presentation has the structure of a story — problem, journey, solution. Human beings love stories, and so the flow feels natural and easy for your audience to follow.
  • It increases the target audience. Sharing a few different tactics means that it’s more likely there will be something in your talk for different audience members. Compare that to narrowly scoping a talk on “Writing packages when a source table may or may not exist”— it’s not going to feel relevant to most people in the room.
  • It covers both theory and application. Too much theory and you’re giving a TedTalk, too much application and you’re just giving a product demo. The best Meetup talks help people understand how you thought through a problem and why you made certain decisions so they can apply your knowledge within their unique context.

Examples that follow this structure

Here's a few of our favorite talks mapped to the structure — trust us, it works!

Improving data reliability — Andrea Kopitz, Envoy

Video, slides.

1. What is the business problem?

Envoy’s financial data appeared inconsistent.

2. How did this manifest?

Respondents to the team’s data survey said they no longer trusted the data.

3. What tactics were used to solve the problem?
  1. Determine responsibility
  2. Build more specific dbt tests
  3. Track progress
4. What was the impact on the business problem?

In their next data survey, satisfaction rating increased, and no mention of financial data accuracy.

5. What other things were learned, and/or what next steps are you taking?

Lesson: Send out a data survey to your company to inform your roadmap.

Predicting customer conversions with dbt + machine learning — Kenny Ning,

Video, slides.

1. What is the business problem?

No one knew why conversion rates for customers would improve or worsen, making it difficult to know the value of different parts of the business.

2. How did this manifest?

Different parts of the business took responsibility when it improved, no one took responsibility when it worsened.

3. What tactics were used to solve the problem?
  1. Use a different approach to conversion rates — kaplan-meier conversion rates
  2. Sketch out an ideal ML solution and see if it theoretically solves the problem
  3. Build it! (ft. demonstration of solution)
4. What was the impact on the business problem?

In the end — not as valuable as originally hoped (and that’s ok!). Editor note: this article was a great follow up on the initial project.

5. What other things were learned, and/or what next steps are you taking?
  • Focus on end-to-end solutions
  • Materialize your clean dataset to improve collaboration
  • Sell to the business

Migrating 387 models from Redshift to Snowflake — Bowery Farming Data Team

Video, slides.

1. What is the business problem?

A new Bowery Farming site had increased the amount of data the team were dealing with, which put a strain on their data stack.

2. How did this manifest?

Charts show increased dbt run times, and increased Redshift costs.

3. What tactics were used to solve the problem?
  1. Push Redshift to its limit: Leverage Athena, Redshift configurations, separate clusters, python pre-processing
  2. Trial Snowflake for cost and performance
  3. Commit to a migration with strong project management
4. What was the impact on the business problem?

Yet to be determined (at the time, they had just finished the project). But the team showed evidence that the project has been successfully completed!

5. What other things were learned, and/or what next steps are you taking?

Other things learned:

  • Differences between Redshift and Snowflake SQL syntax
  • Teamwork and coordination are key to completing a migration

Turn it into a presentation

Now, it's time to take your idea and turn it into a presentation.

Structuring your slides

As well as the slides that directly support your content, consider including:

  • At the start:
    • An intro slide for yourself (and teammates)
    • An intro slide for your company — you might also include some impressive numbers about your business, after all, your audience is full of people who love numbers!
    • Potentially include your tech stack for context — there’s no need to spend too much time on this, most audience members will be familiar with the tools.
  • Before diving into the specific tactics used:
    • Use a slide to list the three tactics at a high level — this signposting helps set expectations for audience members.
  • At the end:
    • A closing slide to prompt questions, and list your contact details.
    • If your company is hiring, mention that too!

If available, use your corporate-branded slide deck. We also have dbt-branded slides if you want to use those.

Making your presentation shine

When turning your story into a presentation, also consider doing the following:

Use full sentences in your slide headings

When presenting (especially virtually), it’s hard to hold everyone’s focus. That’s ok! By including full sentences as your heading, people can “hook” back into the presentation. For example, rather than having a slide on "Slide headings", use a title like “Use full sentences in your slide headings” (woah — meta!)

Make your slides accessible

This is a great guide on making your slides accessible — read it!

Use evidence in your slides

Evidence is a key part of getting buy-in that the story you’re telling is valuable. Consider including:

  • Screenshots of slack conversations
  • Quotes, survey results, charts
  • If talking about a complex transformation, include small samples of data to demonstrate the concept. You may need to generate some fake data to simplify the problem (example)
  • If one of your tactics is heavily code-based, consider sharing that code in a separate piece so that interested folks can refer back to it later. (Discourse is great for this)

(Virtual events) Create moments for interactivity

For virtual events: is there a poll you can launch, or a question you can throw out to the chat? This can help create a sense of community at the event.

Pair it with a blog post

The hardest part of nailing a great talk is the content, so if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already done most of the work. Turning your content into a blog post is a great way to solidify your thinking, and get some extra exposure. If you’d like to be features on the dbt Blog, reach out to us (@Claire and @Janessa) on Slack.

We’ll also be adding more resources on how to write about your work soon!

Speaking at a non-dbt event

Above, we’ve given specific advice for speaking at a dbt meetup. If you’re a dbt community member who wants to speak at a non-dbt meetup or conference, there’s a few extra ways you can adjust your process.

Questions to ask the event organizer

What is the technical baseline for the audience?

Do they know about dbt? If not, are they familiar with SQL? You’ll likely have a range of people in the audience so there won’t be one exact answer, but gathering information about the median knowledge is useful. As a guideline, aim to teach something new to at least half of the audience.

What kind of talks have been the most successful?

Is the event oriented around technical talks or strategic talks? Is there an expectation of demo-ing code? Do they have past examples of talks that were well-received, or any tips?

What are the event logistics?

How long is your talk supposed to go for? Is there an opportunity to do Q&A?

If the event is virtual, what is the software setup like? How will questions be moderated?

If the event is in-person, will you be able to use your own computer, or will you use someone else’s? What sort of screen is there? How do you connect to it? And do you have the right dongle for your MacBook Pro?

Is there an opportunity for topic feedback?

Is the organizer interested in working with you to make your topic great? If not, can they point you to someone in their community who might be interested in helping out?

Are there any additional accessibility considerations you should be aware of?

Do any audience members use a communication device? Can you share your slides ahead of time to make them easier for audience members to access? Will the event be recorded for those who can’t attend in person?

Responding to a conference Call for Speakers

If you’re submitting a response for a Call for Speakers, and talking about dbt, we’re happy to work with you on this. Reach out to us (@Claire and @Janessa) in Slack to let us know!