Many have emailed me asking for Part III of my series on presentation skills.
Don’t worry, I will be posting it soon…wait for it.
Chapa, signing off
Some people are so uncomfortable with public speaking, just the thought of having to face an audience starts the body to perspire, the throat to dry, and vision begin to narrow. As The CTE, I am extremely comfortable in these environments, but it was not always the case. Those who know me would never believe this, but I had this fear of standing before an audience and delivering a message. Last week, I started this series, “Can You Present?“, where I focus on this seemingly very simple question. In part I, I observe three types of presenters or categories.
If you have not had a chance to read that blog, you may click here to do so, it will provide you context and background for this blog, where I will be focusing on the “Skilled but Skeptical” presenter category.
Let’s briefly recap the main topic, “Can You Present?”. I believe it means different things to different people, depending on where you find yourself in these categories.
Today, that question causes me to look at my calendar, see if I am available, then I ask about the topic, how many are estimated to attend, location and overall value to the company, etc. All the things one should do in order to be as fiscally responsible as possible when it involves potential travel and expenses.
However, when I first started my career many, many years ago as a Pre-Sales systems engineer the reflex inside me was a bit of fear, to be quite honest. I didn’t hear, “can you present?”, I heard, “do you have the ability to present?”, at least in my head, that is how the question was translated. You will remember in Part I of the series, I talk about my experience auditioning for the high school musical, Oklahoma!, and the lessons I learned, the key one of course, is being prepared.
I have observed several presentations where the presenter was ill prepared. Preparation and lack of confidence are extremely difficult to hide, the attendees can pick up on it like sharks smell blood in the water. In my experience what happens next, is the presenter ends up reading what is on the slide, using props such as notes or a podium to hide behind, lose control of the nerves and ultimately losing confidence, both theirs and the audience. The end result is a speed reading demonstration, opposed to a captivating presentation filled with detail and connection.
Even if you are prepared, but uncomfortable in front of an audience of 10, 20, 50 or even 100, there is a good chance you will end up in the Nervous Reader category. Well, I have good news, there is a way out, and I hope this series will help you find the tools to progress along this continuum from the Nervous Reader to become a Master Storyteller.
You are probably wondering how in the world I came up with these categories? Simple observation and personal experience. I was a Nervous Reader, and yes occasionally I can feel it rise up inside of me, but for the most part, I am able to control its surfacing. This new category came about, again, from my personal experience when I was once called a Skilled but Skeptical presenter early in my career.
Simple definition: You have domain expertise, but do not trust your own bank of knowledge or abilities.
What holds back the Skilled but Skeptical presenter is fear, but not fear of preparation or even standing in front of a large audience. Most presenters in this category are pretty much beyond that type of fear. It is fear of having this domain expertise called into question or doubted by the attendees. Even the slightest hint of being challenged can send the Skilled but Skeptical presenter in the tank. The resulting presentation begins to look very much like the Nervous Reader, if the presenter does not have this trait fully in check.
So…how does one reach this level of skepticism, who are obviously so skilled? From my experience and through several discussions with others who have fallen into this same category, it seems to come down to one thing, the word “expert”.
There is a joke I often refer to when the word, “expert” is used to describe me or anyone for that matter. It goes like this:
You know the word, “expert” is the combination of two words, right? Sure, Ex and Spert. An “Ex” is a has-been and “spert” is a drip under pressure.
Some personalities have no problem with the “expert” moniker, others, such as myself, feel (or felt) the pressures tied to its definition.
- a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.
It is a double-edged sword when you work to promote people to this level of “expert”. On the one hand you attempt to instill confidence by telling customers, partners and your own internal people what an “expert we have on our hands”, while on the other hand some of these proclaimed “experts” become as nervous a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
What if someone finds out, that I’m not really an “expert”?
What if I am asked a question I cannot answer?
What if someone finds out I have only been an “expert” for six months?
I have had this happen to me, not once but a few times. The first time it happened while I was working for OpenVision as a consultant. My actual title on my business card said, “business analyst”, but hey, I was a consultant. Having left Cheyenne Software, my goal was to join a company where I could learn a new technical skill, Unix Administration and scripting. I ended up at OpenVision with no Unix experience whatsoever, but that did not stop my then boss from hiring me. He said, and I quote, “I’ll get you into Unix Admin I and II courses right away and you’ll be an expert in no time.”
There was that word again!
Well, as a recovering Nervous Reader, I was going to study, prepare and practice everything I learned in these classes. I went out to the bookstore and bought Unix in a Nutshell, borrowed several Unix scripting books from my boss, even had a Sun workstation I took home so I could practice, practice, practice. Within a few short weeks, I had completed my course and received a piece of paper that essentially made me an “expert” in Unix Administration I and II – but I had no practical experience, just book, and lab experience.
My boss, eager to get billing dollars from his freshly pressed expert, sent me out on my first “gig”. It was to install our high availability software at one of our top customers in the Chicago area. Yes, he was sending ME to one of our TOP customers. I still remember meeting the sales rep who was going to introduce me to the customer.
Sales Rep: So you are a Unix expert, huh?
ME: Well, I don’t know about being an expert but I do know how to spell Unix! (laughing at my own joke)
Sales Rep (not laughing): Don’t screw this up, the last guy we had in here didn’t know shit about Unix and they ran him out.
Can I just say, I wish I would have packed a change of clothes?
Off I went to meet the customer. We talked about the implementation, I presented the options and steered clear of any unix-isms and only focused on our software. We decided which machines I would work with first, and off we go. I was on this project for about two weeks, installing our HA software on several server pairs when the customer invited me to lunch. Remember he is the guy who ran off the last guy, I accepted with great hesitation. During lunch the inevitable came up.
Customer: So, David, how long have you been working at OpenVision?
ME: Oh, about 6 months.
Customer: Where did you learn Unix?
ME: Why do you ask?
Customer: I was just curious, you know more about Unix than I do and I’ve been working with it for over 10 years.
ME: *gulp* – Well, to be very honest with you, 6 months.
I was so worried about being “found out” that I did not realize how much I had really learned and retained during lab and actually practicing what I had learned at home. This Dilbert cartoon sums up how I felt I would be perceived.
I was very skeptical of my level of skill, simply based on the length of time I had been working with this new skill. Lessons learned during the musical audition and my time at Cheyenne Software, really did prepare me for this next step in my presentation evolution. I just did not know it at the time.
Most Skilled but Skeptical presenters have no idea they are stuck in this ‘rut’ until someone points it out. I was fortunate enough to have someone call me out while I was presenting training to a large auto manufacturer in Detroit. It was a student, who pulled me aside during lunch break.
Student: You are probably one of the best instructors I have had in a long time, but I don’t think you even realize it.
ME: Well, I don’t know that I am that good, but thanks
Student: You need to stop being so skeptical of your skill set and present this material with confidence. That is the only thing missing, confidence in yourself.
ME: I’ve only been at this for less than 12 months, and there are so many in this class who have so many more years experience than me. I know what I have been taught, but I cannot go much beyond.
Student: Then say that, when it comes up. I think you know more than you give yourself credit. If you don’t have the answer, be honest, no one can fault you for being honest.
No one can fault you for being honest. This was the turning point for me, it was okay not to have all the answers, it was okay to be called an “expert” and still not have all the answers! It was okay to learn, even during a time when I was to be teaching.
The biggest barrier for the Skilled but Skeptical is the fear of being “found out”. Reality is, no one likes a “know it all”, people like it when people are honest, open and transparent. Just because a sales rep has billed you as the “expert”, doesn’t mean you have to have an answer for everything. Take a step back, relax and accept it. When you do, your world opens up, you drop your defenses, and your confidence begins to rise. The best part is your audience, like the sharks I mentioned earlier, will sense it and gain a new respect for you.
If you are still not comfortable being referred to as an “expert”, then try on a couple of these hats to see if the fit is better.
Bottom line, if you fall into the category of Skilled but Skeptical, there is good news. First of all, you obviously have a deep knowledge of the particular area you work within and people have recognized your skill set. If you are being referred to as “the expert”, it is because of this recognition, but be honest about where you reach your limits of knowledge, it doesn’t mean you are any less of an expert or qualified technician, it only means you have not yet attained that bit of information to add into your bank of knowledge. Responding with, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you” is absolutely an appropriate response. The fact that you can research to find the answer, demonstrates your expertise.
Getting over your perceived knowledge deficiencies, and accepting the fact there may be someone in the room with more knowledge than you is critical for you to continue to move away from this Skilled but Skeptical presenter category. Remember, this doesn’t happen over night, and moving on doesn’t mean, “leaving it behind”. I still carry this with me, but over the years of study, preparation and practice I am able to recognize when the Nervous Reader or the Skilled but Skeptical presenter begins to come out of me. Most times, I’m able control the tendencies, but there are occasions when it slips out.
In the next and final blog of this series, I will talk about the Master Storyteller and techniques you can use to help temper the Nervous Reader or Skilled but Skeptical outbreaks through mastering the art of storytelling. Should be a fun blog, I hope you will stay tuned.
-Chapa, signing off
As The CTE, I’m asked this question often, “can you present?” Why, yes I can. I can present tomorrow, next week, next month, even later on today if my calendar is free. It is what I do, I present, I deliver, I execute. Yes, if you are asked to present, you should be able to do so in a meaningful and compelling manner. However, for many, standing in front of an audience of 50, 100 or even 500 may very well be the scariest thing in their life. The question, “can you present?”, then takes on a whole new meaning.
Are you able to present?
Do you have the ability to present. Public speaking can be an exhilarating experience, or it can feel as though you just jumped out of a plane without a parachute. I personally am one of those who find it exhilarating, I am “in my element” as they say when I am presenting to an audience and even in front of the camera. I am writing this blog out of a series of discussions I have had with some of my peers who have expressed a desire to learn new presentation techniques.
In this 3 part series, I will share my personal insights, experience and tips to help you become a better presenter and public communicator.
There are really great presentations given by very poor presenters, yeilding horrible results. Then there are excellent presenters given poorly crafted presentations who make it very interesting. I have had the opportunity to observe hundreds of presenters over the nearly 30 years I have been in this industry and after some thought I have created three categories of presentation styles.
Let me explain.
The Nervous Reader is more comfortable when all of the information is on the slide or written on a piece of paper sitting right in front of their face. In fact, some find comfort in holding this piece of paper, as if this will provide some sense of control or a place to hide. Actually, what I have observed is most do this in order to occupy the hands since people who are very uncomfortable presenting or speaking in public really do not know what to do with the hands when presenting. From my personal experience, holding a piece of paper only acts as a noise maker when the hands begin to shake, causing a rattling, which triggers the voice to become more tense, dry and squeaky.
Yes, this actually happened to me when I first auditioned for the musical, Oklahoma!, in high school, I was asked to sing a song as part of the audition. Many of my theater friends urged me to audition and kept telling me that I had a good singing voice, things would be okay. I was nervous, but my group of friends assured me it would be just fine. The only person in the room, I was told, would be the director and pianist.
However, in reality, the room was filled with others who were also auditioning for the musical. It was my turn. I walked up with my music in hand, stood next to the piano and directly behind a black music stand, commonly found in most high schools. Instead of setting my music down on the stand and adjusting the height so I could see the words, I decided to hold my sheet of music. The pianist played about 8 bars and then gave me the “head nod” which was my indication that I should start to sing. As I began to sing, everything seemed to be fine…and then it happened. My hands began to shake, the paper was rattling, my reaction was to try to stop my hands from shaking so much as it was beginning to embarrass me during my audition but the more I tried to stop, the more my hands shook.
I could hear my friends whisper loudly to one another, “is he going to be okay?” I finished the song, along with the percussion section lead by my nervous hands and rattling sheet music. I felt like I just ran a marathon…but I just sang, “Poor Judd is Dead” – a three minute song.
That was about all I could take. NOW, did the director like it or did I totally mess this up because of my lack of performance experience? Fortunately for me, I got the part as Judd Fry, and I learned a very valuable lesson – if I was going to be in this musical, I needed to get over my fear of performing in front of an audience, I needed to be better prepared.
For the Nervous Reader, the best advice is to be prepared!!! I was not prepared for that audition, I knew the song, but I hadn’t practiced it as much as I should to become comfortable with my voice, its projection capabilities, my body position, and what to do with my hands. Just like being in a musical or a play, you need to know your lines, know your part and feel comfortable in your own skin performing, because that is what presenting really is after all, it is a performance. Instead of having all of the words on your slides or on a piece of paper in front of you, have command over your subject and topic. Practice, practice, practice.
When I worked for Cheyenne Software as a Pre-Sales Systems Engineer, the inside sales rep and I were doing a little trade show in Chicago and I had to give the presentation. This was my first presentation to a group, ever. Yes, I was in plays and musicals in high school and college and even was on the debate team in college, but this was my job and I needed to make sure I delivered this presentation with skill. I had prepared the night before, having gone through the slides about 12 different times, making sure I knew the slide notes, and how to answer any questions that may arise. I felt as prepared as I could be for this big day. As I was walking with my inside sales person, Kathline, she mentioned that Cheyenne sends its employees to presentation skills training. Since I was only onboard for less than a month, I hadn’t had an opportunity to attend, but was interested in any tips or help she could convey. What she said didn’t help, more than it scared me. The following is the conversation we had as we walked to our breakout room.
KATHLINE: In her Long Island, NY accent, “during the training, the instructor would randomly take our foils or presentation away and make us give the presentation from memory.”
ME: That is ridiculous, why would he do such a thing?
KATHLINE: Well, what if your overhead projector is not available or you cannot connect your laptop to the projector or the projector isn’t there, then what will you do?
ME: Kathline, but we paid for all of this gear to be there, available and working. That sure seems like a far stretch for the training, but I guess it would be valuable.
KATHLINE: Well, I suppose they just wanted to make sure you were prepared, no matter what, and you did not panic.
I think you can see where I am going with this story. As we arrived to our breakout room, we had no projector, no screen, no overhead projector – NOTHING. When I asked one of the show coordinators where the projector is that we were charged for in this room, the response was, “I’ll check on it and get back to you.” My presentation was in 15 minutes, he got back to me 45 minutes later, after I had completed my slide-less presentation. Luckily, I spent hours preparing. I knew each slide without having to see the slides. I was able to deliver the material in a meaningful and compelling manner because I was very comfortable with my material, I knew it, and I delivered with confidence.
Foils or transparencies, is what I used “back in the day”. Occasionally we had a projector, but usually it was an overhead projector.
If you are the type of person who simply loathes the thought of public speaking, but it is a requirement of your role or responsibility, I suggest you use this to your advantage. I call it, unloading the canons before the enemy has a chance to use them against you. In other words, come right out and say it,
“Hello, my name is David Chapa and I am here today to speak to you about public speaking. Now, let me just say right off the bat, this is probably the last place people would find me, standing here and presenting to you because I’m not a big fan of public speaking. However, because I believe this information I have to share is so valuable, I’m setting that fear and attitude aside so I can help you feel more confident when you have to present.”
When you just say right out in the open, “hey, I hate this as much as you, but this isn’t about me, it is about you.” You will have won over your audience.
Public speaking, is never about you – always about your audience. When you can accept this and have this be part of your DNA, you will begin to leave the “Nervous Reader” presentation style behind you and begin the journey toward the Master Storyteller.
In subsequent blogs in this series, I will cover the Skilled but Skeptical presentation style, what makes a Master Storyteller and how to deliver compelling presentations when all you have is a camera and a green screen.
-Chapa signing off
As many of you know, I spend a lot of time reading articles, blogs, research work, vendor collateral, etc. I mean, I spend a lot of time and any time I see a quantitative statement, such as “14% of the world’s population prefers the color purple”, without a source given I question its validity. Just because it is tweeted, and retweeted doesn’t magically make it a fact.
The other day I saw a tweet that said “90% of IT projects are cancelled or delivered late due to increasing IT complexities” – I clicked the link to read the blog/article/research but found nothing of the sort. I then searched the internet to find where this statement was produced and found spotty results. While this statement may be true or at least have a ring of truth, what make is true or false is the quantitative attached to it, 90%. If it is only 85%, or 80% – it nullifies the validity of this statement. And if it is simply a platitude that someone has added conjecture in order to make it a quantitative, it makes it false or at least not as true as the original intent.
I tweeted out yesterday that I had read this quantitative statement in two tweets today but could not verify the source, when someone replied saying “83% of statistics are made up on the spot”. Unfortunately, without a source this is how these statements of facts are treated. I try very hard to make sure I do my research when I blog, author an article, give a presentation, etc. to represent the information as accurately as possible with source references to support my statements and position. As a student I was taught the importance of citing your sources, as an industry analyst I learned the value of citing your sources. Your credibility depends it! Please, when you cite a quantitative statement, please back it up with your source. If you cannot back it up, but you feel it is true based on your experience, the please remove the quantitative and add, “from my experience” or “it would seem to me” or “if this is true” – perhaps then someone will respond in kind with the actual source for you but along the way you will not have potentially damaged your own “street cred”
By the way, 14% of the world’s population prefer the color purple, not the movie, but the color and blue is apparently the most popular favorite across the globe. You can read all about it HERE (per Jay) in the survey by Cheskin, MSI-ITM, and CMCD/Visual Symbols Library – three global marketing firms.
Chapa, signing off
I did have the linked for my source in here originally, “about it”, but it was difficult to see…now you can see it – I HOPE!
Companies live and die by its brand, if the buying community has a “bad taste in its mouth” for a certain brand, you can be assured down revenues will quickly follow. This is why so much time, effort and money is spent on creating a brand and why protecting the value of that brand is so vitally important. I have been part of several companies where millions of dollars have been spent on either re-creating a brand or creating a net new brand, the entire process is a labor of love and sometimes hate.
If brand is so important to companies, should it be important to individuals?
What is your brand? When someone hears your name, what is the first thing that should come to mind? If you do not have an answer, then do what most people do, search yourself on the internet. It is the best way to start revealing what your brand is all about. For example, I have been “David A. Chapa” my entire professional life, every business card, every name tag, every panel tent card, every email signature, everything has been branded, “David A. Chapa” and if you search that, you get pages of hits that point to me and the work I have done. So what is your brand? I believe you should have a brand, especially in this day and age of social media and connectedness. People want to know you, especially if you are in some type of customer facing role or executive role at your company. While your brand is about you, it is also about the company where you are employed. Having a strong personal brand can help bring credibility to the company employing you for your skills. More and more companies are realizing this and are in search of those who are externally facing to have a brand. Creating your own brand is just as important as your company creating its own brand – especially in the “tech” space. Here are some very good examples from the technology industry of those who have done an outstanding job creating a personal brand.
If you just search on the names of these individuals you get pages and pages of results, I’ve also included each twitter handle in this blog so you can easily follow if you so desire. Creating a brand, especially a personal brand, does not happen overnight, it takes a great deal of effort, consistent engagement and creativity.
I have outline three basic steps where to begin, this by no means is an exhaustive list and it by not means is THE way you must go about your personal branding process. This is from my experience, my failed attempts and my successes. I thought three steps would be a good way to begin and not overwhelm you with too much detail.
Step one, what will be the brand, your brand? First Name, First Middle Initial Last Name, ‘Nickname’ Last Name? You need to decide and then you need to be consistent. I have broken this rule with my own twitter handle, @davidchapa, but I have had it now for four years tied to my consistent brand, David A. Chapa – fortunately I didn’t have a problem – but breaking ranks like that can have repercussions, so beware.
Step two, whatever your industry, make sure you are fully engaged, whether you are an externally facing asset to your company or not, remain engaged. By that I mean, share with your community through blogs, twitter, linkedin, etc. Jump in to online dialogues with meaningful and compelling thoughts, ideas and comments. If you have an opportunity to present at a trade conference, take the opportunity and make sure you use your brand whenever and wherever possible.
20 years ago, while working for Cheyenne Software, a co-worker smartly suggested I always announce myself by first and last name whether calling Corporate, visiting customers or partners. He said, “it will help begin to form your brand.” From then on, I have always been David Chapa and David A. Chapa on business cards not Dave, not David, not Chapa but David Chapa. If after my brand was established people wanted to shorten it, that was completely in their hands.
Step three, always network. When I get a chance to speak to new hires I often ask the question, “who in this room is in sales?”, inevitably there will be hands that remain down. My response is always to say, “wrong, you are ALL in sales. Whether you are representing this company or yourself, you ARE in sales.” It is true – we are all in sales, in some form or fashion, but we don’t have to be overtly selling to the point where we are obnoxious. Networking takes some salesmanship, some people guard their network very closely, as a result you want to make sure when you do network you are delivering value – think about how you describe yourself and what it is you do. Take the time to write it down, create a 30 second, 120 second and 180 second version, then try it out. Record yourself saying it, listen to yourself, critique yourself, and when you are feeling especially confident ask your spouse or significant other to critique. Always look for ways to improve and more crisp to get your point across quickly. Sometimes networking can be like speed dating, so hit the highs, be honest when asked about the lows and build your network.
Whether you are an externally focused person in your company, that is to say, you are in sales, marketing, technical advisor, executive management, etc. or not, this matters. Rest assured if you are an externally facing resource and have a meeting with a big prospective customer, the chances are extremely high someone from that prospective customer will do a little background check using its favorite search engine to understand your experience, your background, your brand.
I personally started this journey of creating my own brand back in 1990, it was as simple as making sure my business cards were printed with my proper first name, middle initial and last name.
My suggestion to you is to be an influencer. Influencers, thinkers, do’ers are those others want to be around because they challenge conventional thought. Be an agent for change, share your experience, build your brand. Get yourself noticed by submitting thoughtful comments to blogs or articles, submit your own articles for publication, ask if you may contribute to a particular column or online magazine. Update your linkedin profile, which many have called the modern day rollodex, keep your brand fresh, keep your brand yours and elevate your own profile so you may have a greater affect for the company or organizations with whom you are affiliated.
Chapa, I mean, David A. Chapa, signing off
I have posted a few new blogs on EVault’s site. Take a look at them here.
Woke up this morning at 3:30 am to make my 6:00 am flight. I packed the night before, had my laptop, tablet and phone fully charged neatly organized in my briefcase. I arrive at the airport at 5:00 am, thanks to TSA Pre-check, I was headed to my gate by 5:05 am. I had done my part to ensure I had a successful trip and did not miss my plane.
Now, as I sit in the plane, on the tarmac waiting to takeoff for Chicago, where I will speak at CAMP/IT Conferences on the topics of “Data and Metrics: showing business value from your DR/BC initiatives” as well as a whiteboard session about “Business Continuity in the Cloud”, I hear an announcement over the airplane PA system that always makes me cringe. “Folks, this is your captain speaking. We just missed our window for takeoff, flight control has us holding until flow control is better managed into Chicago. Right now we are scheduled to takeoff in 28 minutes.”
I recently read a commentary published on the Computerworld website entitled “Tape versus disk: The backup war exposed” (Apr 29, 2013), which caused me to shake my head and mumble to myself, “here we go again”.
You see, at the beginning of this piece, the author makes a point that most CFOs view backup and disaster recovery programs as just insurance policies, so the least expensive one is what they select. For this reason I believe the writer wrote from the perspective of cost/performance comparison of disk and tape.
I think his supposition regarding CFOs may have been true in the 1980s but not now. Today’s CFOs are more technologically savvy and increasingly engaged with their CIO colleagues. CFOs, good ones, know the difference between price and value, price is what you pay whereas value is what you get.
For this reason and others I stopped mumbling to myself and put pen to paper, which led to this response because I’m as tired as the next person at hearing, reading or listening to blogs, articles and lectures that compare tape to disk. So to begin the last narrative you’ll ever need about this subject I’ve collated my nearly 30 years of industry experience and know-how to offer the reader a perspective that I’m confident you’ve not heard before – a comparison of tape and disk from the perspective of candles and light bulbs.
Have you ever watched a magician, performing sleight of hand tricks, up-close? I consider myself an observant sort but must admit to being tricked” by these “tricksters” to the point that my own watch was removed from my wrist whilst my attention was drawn elsewhere. It’s a simple case of misdirection, which, when I speak with customers, seems present in their resepctive planning and decisison making processes. Only for them it’s not an entertaining performance but rather their business and its network that could be misdirected.
Several years ago I wrote a blog that laid out a timeline of the “big movements” in IT, which refered to ‘the timeline of influence’. Among this timeline was, perhaps the most disruptive movement we’ve seen in IT – that of virtualization. I remember when it hit big in production environments, so many were moving from DEV/Test into production and claiming victory! And rightfully so, this was a long and onerous task but it seems they forgot one thing…backup.
On Tuesday, June 10, 2013 I was returning from a business meeting downtown Denver and headed south toward Colorado Springs for my next meeting. If you have ever traveled the corridor from Denver to Colorado Springs on I25, you know the magnificent views of Pike’s Peak, Rampart Range to the southwest and the deep, rich, green forest to the East. This particular day was no different, with the exception of a massive plume of smoke to the South East. The time was approximately 12:20pm and the plume of smoke was coming from the wildfire that had started in an area called Black Forest, El Paso County in Colorado Springs. I watched as the smoke filled the sky and once I arrived at my office, I checked to see what was cause of this smoke. This was alarming, but I was hopeful the fire fighters would be able to contain this fire quickly and save the neighborhoods. The bad news is this fire has raged due to the high winds, low humidity and dryness this area experiences every year at this time.
Fast forward to Friday morning, June 14th, this fire has consumed nearly 16,000 acres and is only 5% contained. It has completely destroyed almost 400 homes and has displaced over 40,000 people who have been evacuated from over 14,000 homes. The mandatory evacuation area is 55 square miles and the firefighters continue risk of life to put an end to this fire and attempt to save the remaining homes in the area. Job 1 for these teams is all about saving people’s lives – they have really worked tirelessly over the course of this week to focus on saving people, pets, livestock and structures. It has been reported this wildfire is the worst in Colorado’s history, and the fight is not over yet, the winds and the weather play a very big role in the fighting of this fire with wind gusts expected to hit up to 45mph today. This is a tragedy, this is heartbreaking, this hurts and this is very, very personal.
As business professionals we are tasked with ensuring there is a business continuance plan in place, we plan for disaster recovery based on a whole list of possible events, we make sure backup of the data is done for fast recovery in the event of loss or corruption. We often take a perspective focused on the services, the hardware/software, data availability, access to facilities. Rarely have I had discussion with DR/BC professionals who consider the “what ifs” around 50% of the company not showing up due to personal disaster. What happens if your entire IT leadership team is affected by a personal disaster and have been evacuated from their homes? What should be done? How should you plan? What is the responsibility of the business to its employees? These are questions that need to be asked and answered. Certainly the first priority for anyone should be the people, I have said this since I have been in DR/BC – people, people, people. Fortunately, many Colorado companies are very aware of risk that exists during this time of the year for wildfires, as a matter of fact the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says on average 2,500 fires occur in Colorado every year, most are small and are extinguished quickly but others can and do become catastrophic. As a result, some companies do have relief funds setup for it’s employees and families who are affected.
Now I don’t want to sound insensitive, because I am not – I live in Colorado, I have friends who have lost homes and have been evacuated – but I do want to look at this from a strategic perspective for the businesses, the bottom line is if the business fails as a result of its people experiencing a personal disaster, the people will be hit with a double whammy. Personal loss, job loss – the purpose of this blog is to help companies open its eyes to what could happen, and why it should be in the corporate plan.
As Data Protection, DR/BC professionals, it is our job to understand the scope around potential disasters, to understand the geographical tendencies for disaster and to devise contingency plans to continue business operations for the sake of all the employees and especially those who may have been personally affected by a surrounding disaster.
I have lived in the Midwest, West Coast, Mountain States and have consulted across the country and the world working with companies who are looking to employ new strategies for backup/DR/BC. Here are a couple of examples of real life discussions I have had with some customers during the planning stages for DR/BC.
Midwest Customer: Two facilities, 10 miles apart “as the crow flies”, wants to use the sites as recovery centers for each other since both are on separate power grids. Two primary red flags were raised, #1 distance – 10 miles apart in the midwest of the USA where tornadoes are common did not make for a very smart move and #2, the railroad tracks running right behind the second facility, where hazardous material was known to be transported (based on an inquiry to the railroad). Both of these concerns were dismissed by the customer and “non-issues”. Approximately 1 year later, train derailed carrying HAZMAT approximately 20 miles from the second facility. Emergency responders evacuated 50 mile radius, including the entire second facility, people from their homes, etc.
Louisiana: Internet company, unknowingly leased office space on the ‘highest point’ in New Orleans. During one of the hurricane’s, while other companies were watching backup tapes, disk systems and servers floating in the flooded out data centers, this company’s physical location survived without an issue because of what they called, “dumb luck”, however, many of its people were without homes, without places to stay which ultimately had a severe affect on the business and customer support. The company however, did plan for this, not only helping its employees and families, but in the event its employees had personal disasters and could not come in to work by distributing its call centers.
Colorado: Last year’s Waldo Canyon fire was the worst fire in the history of Colorado until the Black Forest fire (The “Hayman fire” in 2002 was the largest in Colorado’s history, burning over 138,000 acres and 133 homes). Several people I worked with at a different company lost their homes, possessions (including pictures, family heirlooms, etc.), pets, livestock, etc. Corporate relief was established and once again, helped those affected through the devastation and the company was able to move many of the functions to other locations to maintain as smooth a transition as possible for the business.
I do not know the number of businesses affected as a result of its people suffering through such devastation, but it doesn’t take a math major to consider what it would do to a small to medium sized business. Preparation is vitally important, making sure your people are safe is of course the highest priority for anyone, and your second priority is considering how you are able to maintain the continuity of your business operation so there is a business operation for your people to return to after going through the devastation. Again, I’m not insensitive, I am very close to this and these types of situations, I am looking at this from a long term planning perspective.
My heart goes out to all of those who have have been affected by this terrible tragedy, let us hope for calmer, cooler weather to assist the fire fighters in the work at hand.
Chapa, signing off
Ways to help:
Wrote this while on the plane this morning. If you are in Chicago, try to stop by Camp/IT Conferences and hear me speak on DR/BC and strategies for cloud recovery.
Chapa, signing off
But not when you are writing a blog.
Yes, I’ve gone radio silent for a bit but I am back. I have been traveling a quite alot to different cities with EVault, talking with customers and channel partners. Two weeks ago in Seattle we presented our Cloud Disaster Recovery solution to a packed room over lunch. You know the event has gone well when customers remained in the room talking with us for over an hour after it officially ended.
I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, one thing that never changes is the need to improve Backup and Disaster Recovery. Working in the office of CTO, it allows me the opportunity to make sure the customer and partner voice is heard very clearly and we continue to develop solutions to best meet the needs and expectations of these constituents.
Thanks for being patient…I have more to come later about object storage, Azure, our new improved web portal, etc. We have been very busy…
Chapa, signing off