Accessibility, Conferences

Dear Conferences, Please Stop Making Inaccessible Presentation Templates

It’s hard to please everyone, especially when everyone means several dozen speakers and thousands of audience members at a tech conference. And especially when it comes to presentations to an international audience. So I get that it can be difficult to make a presentation template that stays on brand and promotes the best presentation of information. But I see a continuing trend that conferences optimize templates for marketing and forget that we are trying to communicate to audiences of varying skills and abilities, many of whom have paid to attend the conference to learn the information in our presentations. I’m not here just to argue aesthetics, although I definitely have opinions on that. I want people to realize that we are unintentionally excluding many of our audience members with our horribly inaccessible slide templates. Accessibility refers to the ability for everyone, regardless of disability or special needs, to access, use, and benefit from everything within their environment. Yes, in many cases use of the conference template is not required, but many speakers will still use it. So the designer of the slide template should be thoughtful about their design more than just staying on brand with colors and conference logos. Basically, we can do better. We should be designing with accessibility in mind.

I’m going to pick on a template that I’m currently working with because it is from a conference that is near and dear to my heart, and it serves as a good example of how we can (and should) improve. Concrete examples seem to have more impact than just providing guidelines. While this year’s PASS Summit template is not the worst conference presentation template I’ve seen, it leaves a lot to be desired in the areas of effectiveness and inclusiveness. I’m writing this publicly to help educate our SQL Family about making better presentations that actually work for our audience. While it is criticism, it is said with love and hope that we can improve for future conferences. The speakers and organizers of PASS Summit are good people who strive to deliver a great conference. I know we can do better.

So what’s wrong with the template?

Let’s start with the title slide.

PASSSummitTItleslide.jpg

The title text is 36pt Segoe UI Light, the subheading text is 24pt Segoe UI, and the speaker info text is 14 pt Segoe UI.

Those font sizes alone make it very hard to read from the back of even the smaller rooms at the conference.

In addition to being too small, the gray text for the speaker info doesn’t have enough contrast from the white background. We want to get a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 (but 7:1 would be better). The contrast ratio for these colors is 4.0.

While sans serif fonts are generally thought to be easier to read in presentations, it’s better to use fonts with a stroke width that is not too thin – not necessarily wider characters, but thicker lines that make up each letter. So Segoe UI Light would not be my first choice for a title font, but Segoe UI or Segoe UI Bold might be ok.

Also, the red used on the right half of the slide is VERY bright for an element that is purely decorative, to the point that it might be distracting for some people. And the reason we need to squish our title into two lines of too-small text is because that giant red shape takes up half the page. What is more important: a “pretty” red shape to make our slide look snazzy or being able to clearly read the title of the presentation?

Here is the speaker bio slide.

PASS Speaker BIO slide

This slide also suffers from the font being way too small.

  • Speaker name: 32pt (Segoe UI Light)
  • Title/Company: 20 pt (Segoe UI)
  • Social media handles: 11pt (Segoe UI)
  • Biography Point One: 14pt (Segoe UI)
  • Biography Point body text: 10.5pt (Segoe UI)

Again, there are issues with color contrast, which make the slide difficult to read – especially when shown on a projector that will probably wash out some of the color. The blue font on white background has a contrast ratio of 2.2. The red font on white background has a contrast ratio of 3.67. The dark font color on light gray background is actually ok from a color contrast perspective.

Here is a standard content slide.

PASS Speaker Content Slide

What I appreciate about this slide is that it is free from unnecessary decorative shapes/backgrounds and doesn’t use needless bullet points everywhere. And the PASS logo is small in the lower right hand corner, not taking up too much room or being super distracting. But again, font sizes are way too small and the color contrast from the background is not high enough.

The difference in heading styles is a bit distracting. While they should probably differ in size, they don’t need to also differ in capitalization and font and color and boldness. One or two properties would be fine to denote difference, and having so many differences is a bit distracting.

More important than that, if you have three layers of headings on your slide, you probably have too much text. It would have been better not to even suggest that we would need to do such a thing. Putting it in the template passively gives presenters permission or encouragement to do just that.

What’s wrong and why should you care?

Conferences need to consider that some attendees may have varying abilities to see, hear, and understand the presentations. But those attendees paid to attend the conference and shall we say… connect, share, and learn? How can they learn when they can’t read the slide? How can they connect when the speaker contact information is tiny and hard to distinguish from the background? When we use slide templates that don’t work for those attendees, we are basically saying that they don’t matter and aren’t our “real” audience. Do we really want to be just another conference that discriminates against these people and makes them feel unwelcome? No one is purposefully doing this, but our ignorance/thoughtlessness about accessibility still creates that experience for them, whether or not we meant to do so.

KeepOutSign.jpg
Don’t let your slides make attendees feel excluded when a few changes could help everyone enjoy and learn.

Attendees don’t have to have a diagnosed “official” disability to benefit from slides that present information clearly. How many of us just have aging eyes? We can all appreciate when we end up seated at the back of a large conference room and can actually read the slides. Non-native English speakers may appreciate being able to clearly and quickly read slide content as they have to take more time/effort to process information written in English. We all get distracted by our phone/laptop/tablet/watch/neighbor during conference sessions, and it’s nice to be able to refocus on the presentation by focusing on the visual content while we listen to the speaker. But we can’t do that when the speaker’s slides are distracting us from the good information or are just plain hard to read. Slide templates are just one part of the presentation, but they can help set a standard that provides a good, inclusive experience for all attendees.

And what’s going to be better marketing for a conference: slide templates that are hard to read but use the right colors and logos, or attendees that have a great experience and learn a ton and tell their friends and coworkers all about it?

How do we fix it?

There are several basic things we can do to fix our templates to make them more accessible and more engaging (and still on brand for the conference). Here is a (non-comprehensive) list that organizations that create conference slide templates could start with to create accessible templates.

  1. Use a high contrast color scheme. Ensure that all text has a contrast ratio against its background of at least 4.5:1.
  2. Use sans serif fonts that are 24 pt or larger for body text. If possible, don’t encourage anything less than 32pt font size.
  3. Don’t use text that is ALL CAPS as a regular part of the template.
  4. Avoid using color as the only indicator of importance or change.
  5. Minimize the amount of text on slides so it is only a few lines or less than 20 words.
  6. Discourage use of distracting transitions between slides.

Even better, don’t require/request use of a slide template. Just give speakers a few intro/exit slides with necessary information and let them do what is best to communicate their intended information. It would then be the speaker’s responsibility to create accessible content, but hopefully they care enough about their presentations to do that. PASS Summit requires the use of the title and speaker bio slides (and a few other conference-related slides), but it allows speakers to design their own slides for the rest of the content.

If you have tips or opinions about creating accessible presentation content for conferences, please leave them in the comments.

Conferences, SQL Saturday

Submit Your Pre-Cons To SQLSaturday Denver #774 by July 15

I’m happy to announce that we will be holding pre-cons at SQLSaturday Denver 2018. Our SQLSaturday will be held on September 15, and full-day pre-cons will be the day before on Friday, September 14.  It took us a bit longer to organize because we had to find separate space for the pre-cons. They will be held at the Parker Library (20105 Mainstreet, Parker, CO 80138) in Event Halls A & B from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Lunch will not be provided, but there are several restaurants within a couple miles of the venue. You can also use Grubhub, Postmates, or Uber Eats to have food delivered. Pre-con registration will be $125.

If you would like to be considered to deliver a pre-con at SQLSaturday Denver, please complete this form by July 15.

Stay tuned to the Denver SQL twitter account or the Denver SQLSaturday website for a link to register once we have announced our pre-con speakers. Feel free to email board@denversql.org if you have questions regarding pre-cons.

Azure, Conferences, Microsoft Technologies, Personal

Please join me for my PASS Summit Pre-Con with Melissa Coates

I’m excited to announce that I’m joining forces with Melissa Coates (aka SQL Chick) to do a full-day PASS Summit Pre-Conference Session this year!

We’ll be talking about Designing Modern Data and Analytics Solutions in Azure.

Many traditional data warehousing professionals as well as other data engineers are taking on analytics projects in Azure. There are more (and ever-changing) options available in Azure that extend our capabilities beyond what we had on premises. And there are several different ways to create an analytics solution in Azure, to the point that it can be difficult or overwhelming to have to make those technology decisions up front.  We want to help you get started in Azure, provide design patterns and reference architectures, and share our lessons learned from solutions we have implemented. We’ll talk through technologies such as Azure SQL DB, Azure SQL DW, Azure Data Lake, Azure Data Factory, Azure Databricks, HDInsight, Analysis Services, Azure Machine Learning, Power BI, Virtual Machines, and more.

Approximately 30% of the day will be hands-on labs, 50% presentation, and 20% open discussion and questions.

Attendees of our session will gain a broad understanding of the fundamentals for designing data solutions in Azure, techniques for navigating the wide variety of platform choices in Azure, and suggestions for developing sound architectural systems.

I hope you’ll join us on Monday, November 5th.

 

Conferences, Personal

Join Me on SpeakingMentors.com

I’m honored to join the great group of people at SpeakingMentors.com as a mentor. I think it’s a wonderful effort to help new speakers improve their skills and confidence. Speaking at conferences and user groups has brought me a lot of new knowledge, friends, job opportunities, and travel opportunities. I’m so grateful to the people who provided feedback and encouragement to me over the last 5+ years since I started speaking. If you’d like to know more about how Speaking Mentors came to fruition, you can read about it here.

It can be scary to put yourself out there, but it is well worth it. And you have a host of mentors from which you can choose to support you and cheer you on. If you’ve been thinking about trying your hand at presenting and would like some free one-on-one guidance, this is your chance. If you are feeling unsure about presenting, I have a couple of thoughts for you:

  1. There is room for you as a speaker. Don’t be too concerned about having an absolutely special/unique/creative topic or take on a subject. If you have knowledge that other people would find interesting or useful, that is a great place to start. Your point of view and way of explaining things is valuable. Sometimes a speaker covers a topic that has been done a million times but says something in just the right way that it finally clicks for someone. Or someone brand new to the topic attends your talk and gets excited to learn more.
  2. While you should practice your presentations before delivering them and make sure you have good knowledge on your topic, it’s perfectly ok to not know all the answers to all the questions anyone could possibly ask. Also, even great presenters have shaky sessions every once in a while. Give it a good effort, but don’t be worried about being absolutely perfect.

On a related note, the Denver SQL User Group is currently looking for speakers for our April through November meetings. We meet on the third Thursday of the month, and we have a 30-minute presentation and a 60-minute presentation in each meeting. A 30-minute presentation at a user group is a great way give speaking a try. If you learned something interesting about the Microsoft Data Platform or you solved a cool tech problem at work, volunteer to present about it. Contact me on twitter or send an email to Events (at) DenverSQL (dot) org to chat about speaking at a future meeting. We’re friendly and there’s free food.

 

Conferences, Data Visualization, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

Data Visualization Panel at PASS Summit

Next week is PASS Summit 2017, and I’m excited to be a part of it. One of the sessions in which I’m participating is a panel discussion on data visualizationMico Yuk will be our facilitator. I’m in great company as the other panelists are Ginger Grant, Paul Turley, and Chris Webb. This session will be on Wednesday (November 1) from 4:45pm – 6:00pm.

We’ll be taking questions on Slack in the #visualization of sqlcommunity.slack.com. So if you need advice or have been curious about some aspect of data viz, join us in room 2AB and send us your question via Slack.

If you are curious about my views on data viz, I wrote a sort of beginner’s guide for data viz in Power BI in the book Let Her Finish: Voices from the Data Platform (Volume 1).

I hope to see you at PASS Summit!

Books, Conferences, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

Let Her Finish: Voices from the Data Platform

This year I had the pleasure of contributing a chapter to a book along with some very special and talented people. That book has now been released and is available on Amazon!  Both a digital and print version are available. My chapter is about data viz in Power BI, combining platform agnostic concepts with practical applications in Power BI.

The other chapters are:

  • Azure Data Catalog by Melody Zacharias (b|t)
  • Biml for Beginners: Script and Automate SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) Development by Cathrine Wilhelmsen (b|t)
  • Care and Feeding of a SQL Server by Jen McCown (b|t)
  • Indexing for Beginners by Kathi Kellenberger (b|t)
  • Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan by Rie Irish (b|t)
  • Using Extended Events to figure out why an application is slow by Mindy Curnutt (b|t)

Special thanks to Rie and Melody for putting this together and for being awesome and inspiring.

We may all be women authors, but this book isn’t about WIT issues. We each got to write about an area of the data platform in which we have expertise.

If you’d like to support us, or are just curious what we have to say, you can pick up a copy on Amazon or purchase a copy at PASS Summit. If you are going to be at PASS Summit, you can also stop by the WIT Happy Hour/book release party on Oct 31 or the panel session on Nov 2.

For more information, check out the website (kindly provided by SentryOne, who sponsored the book).

It’s tough to write a book chapter about a technology that changes every month, but I think the content holds up fairly well a few months after writing it. A few things changed on me (e.g., the Office Store for custom visuals is now App Source, and drillthrough actions exist now), but my approach to data viz in Power BI is still relevant and in use today with several clients. I hope you’ll give it a read and let me know what you think.

 

Azure Data Factory, Biml, Conferences, SSIS

I’m Speaking at IT/Dev Connections 2017

I’m pleased to say that I am speaking at IT/Dev Connections 2017. This year the conference will be held in San Francisco October 23-26. I had a great experience speaking at IT/Dev Connections in 2015, so I am excited to return again this year.

This conference is special to me because of its focus on providing great content for developers and IT pros – the conference website describes it as the “anti-keynote” conference with no forced marketing content.

I also enjoy it because it is more than just SQL Server/Data Platform (they have tracks for Cloud & Data Center, Enterprise Collaboration, Development & Dev Ops, and Enterprise Mobility and Security), and it’s nice to get out of my comfort zone a bit.

I will deliver two sessions at the conference.

Azure Data Factory in A Nutshell

If you have been wanting to get into Azure Data Factory (ADF) development, join me for this demo-filled overview. In this session, we’ll go over the basic anatomy of an ADF solution. You’ll learn what ADF is and isn’t as we walk through a solution to pull data from an on-premises SQL Server database to a blob storage and then populate and Azure SQL Data Warehouse. You’ll learn tips for creating ADF solutions in Visual Studio, and I’ll show you how to make ADF development less tedious with a free Visual Studio Add-in called Biml Express. You’ll leave with a basic understanding of ADF and a list of tools and skills you’ll want to acquire as you begin your ADF development.

Improve Data Warehouse ETL Delivery with a Patterns-Based Approach

What if I told you that 90% of your data integration development in SQL Server could be automated? In 5 years, you will be “old fashioned” if you are hand coding SSIS packages. Developers with different skill levels and design preferences create databases and SSIS packages however they see fit to get the job done. Documentation is frequently omitted. Maintenance and small enhancements consume too much development time while manual errors and inconsistencies slip through the testing and release process. You can use tools and frameworks to rearrange the development process and alleviate these common problems. The implementation and automation of design patterns leads to improved efficiency and communication. Join me in this session to learn how to use Business Intelligence Markup Language (Biml) and Excel to facilitate metadata-driven SSIS development. I’ll use database schema information plus Excel inputs to implement a small data mart from staging through the dimensional model.

I hope you will join me in San Francisco in October!