I have been meaning to write this post for a while now and with a new round of defenses coming up, I decided to put it online ASAP. Based on my own experience, I will provide 7 tips that will hopefully help aspiring VCDX’s in their preparation and during their defense. Just remember: every defense is potentially unique and there is not a single best way to defend your VCDX design. Multiple approaches have been proven successful. The advice I am providing in this blogpost is based on MY experience. There are no guarantees 😉
7 VCDX Defense Tips
Tip 1: My first tip is a simple word of caution: do not overdo it with your slidedeck. My advice would be to keep it light, lean and mean with a simple structure. You can go crazy on complex navigational controls, menus, submenus, indexes, indexes for backup slides and so on. Whatever you choose, just make sure you are able to navigate within your slidedeck swiftly … while being under PRESSURE. It’s one thing to practice hopping from menu to submenu and back in the comfort of your home office but imagine getting grilled by the panel and you are franticly trying to find that one specific slide. Just keep it simple and straightforward would be my advice.
Tip 2: Go easy on the backup slides. Trust yourself. You have been working on your design for months now. You know it inside and out. In my opinion, you do not need to have a backup slide for every possible diagram or answer to every potential question. You have a whiteboard to your disposal. I just had 13 backup slides and I only used two or three of them during my defense. Just remember, if you have 60+ backup slides, its much harder to navigate to that one specific slide you are looking for.
Tip 3: Create a reference/map index on each slide to show where you are in terms of the blueprint. This was a great tip by Rene van den Bedem. All credits go to Rene for this one.
I placed this in the footer of my slidedeck. It contains all the elements from the blueprint. Rene’s philosophy was this: if a panelist has a question about, for example, the physical storage design while you are talking about the logical network for example, he is more likely to hold on to his question if he sees your index and knows you will be addressing it in a moment. This allows you to ‘stay in control’ of your presentation and you can stay in your rehearsed storyline. I totally agree with Rene on this one and it worked great during my defense.
Tip 4: Score points. This was also a real eye-opener provided by Rene. He explained me I needed to try and determine in which blueprint areas my design was weak. In my case, this was the physicial design. He told me to cover these weak areas as much as possible during my defense, trying to stay one step ahead of the panelists. For me, this meant I had to include physical design diagrams in my main slide deck. I know everyone says to focus on the conceptual and logical parts but this worked great for me. I was able to stay in control of my presentation and I could address questions the panelists were likely to have before they could ask them …. and scoring points while doing so.
Tip 5: Create a storyline. I have seen other statements by other successful candidates but in my experience, assume the panelists have read your design. The VCDX defense presentation is not just an executive summary of your entire design. You do not have to explain every bit and byte of your design. In my opinion you should create a storyline and explain which business challenges you are solving with your solution. Also provide additional context by explaining about the design process itself. Tell them what challenges you faced during the design phase and how you tackled them. Spend a good amount of time thinking about your storyline!
Tip 6: Go easy on the details. YOU are telling a story. There is no need to put in tables and tables of details with reference IDs linking decisions back to requirements and such. If there is too much stuff on the slide, you are more likely to loose your audience. Their attention will go to the slide on the screen while they should be focused om YOU. Use clean and crisp diagrams and build up your story around them.
Tip 7: Relax. Yeah, right ;-). Well I can honestly say I really enjoyed my defense experience. As a consultant at ITQ, I spend quite some time in front of customers, discussing designs or delivering workshops and such, so I might be more comfortable at it but after a couple of minutes I felt my anxiety fade away and it was really just like any other customer presentation. With just the slight difference I was now defending my design in front of three VCDX’s :-). Every panel is different but I know everyone who defended in Staines in May had a very enjoyable experience. The panelists were really friendly and helpful. Remember, every question is an opportunity to score points. If they keep asking questions around a specific theme, this is a weak area in terms of scored points. They are not grilling you to make you uncomfortable or drive you in a corner. They are helping you score points. PS. Make sure to also address these weak areas during the design scenario!
I hope these tips are helpful. If you have any questions about my VCDX experience, just let me know. Good luck!