SQL Saturday’s are awesome! Let’s get that clear up front. The organizers of SQL Saturday events are glorious individuals. Let’s get that clear too.
I want to be up front about those things because, well, I’m going to be critical.
First though, I want to establish my bona fides for what I’m about to say. I helped organize two SQL Saturday events and two other local events before those. I also help Red Gate Software run half-day seminars all over the country. So, I have some idea what goes into the organizational side of these things. I’ve presented at eleven SQL Saturday events in just the last year. I’m on the schedule for, I think, 6 more between now and August. So, I think I have some idea what it’s like to be a speaker at the events. And, I work for a vendor who puts money and swag up at the events in order to get some advertising. Which gives me some ideas behind what makes the vendors happy too. Further, I’m one of the community. I attend the sessions, talk to the sponsors, take part in the after events, the whole magilla. I don’t think any of this makes me an expert or makes my voice more important than anyone else, but it all comes together to show that I’m not utterly clueless in my opinions (which, I know the adage, opinions are like certain body parts, everyone has one, and they all stink).
Organizers, I’ve seen this issue a lot and it’s just getting worse. This issue is going to hurt you with, in no particular order; speakers, sponsors and the community. What are you doing? You’re trying to have it all.
You want sponsors, right? The sponsors frequently ask for one thing… please, please, please, let us do a presentation so we can show off how wicked awesome our products are to the most motivated people in the region (yeah, the people who are giving up a Saturday to learn technology for their jobs are the best people in the area where that SQL Saturday is taking place). So, you agree to letting the sponsors have a talk… ooh, but when to schedule it?
You want BIG NAME speakers, right? Although I’m absolutely convinced that big name speakers don’t really draw people to your event. Good sessions, usually defined by good session titles, draw people to your event (and good communication on your part through various venues and… well, that’s a different discussion I’ll leave for Karla). But, the belief is there, so people try to get Brent Kline and Kendal Ford and Jes Misner to come speak at their event. BUT, you also want to meet the needs of the local community so you can grow new speakers, so you’re going to take in a bunch of new people too… ah, but how do you schedule that?
And you’re committed to your community too, right? And one of the best ways to show your commitment to your community is to host a panel at lunch. The most common panel is Women in Technology, but I’ve also seen or heard about panels on educating young people, charities, user groups, and all sorts of things. Great stuff really and a big part of why the SQL Family is so wonderful. We really do try to help each other out. We really do care, and those panels give people a chance to communicate what they’ve done to others who may want to contribute in the same way. Ah… but when can we schedule this panel?
By now, I’ll bet many of you know what I’m about to say. But, before I say it, let me point out one more thing. SQL Saturday’s are all day affairs. And if anyone goes to the entire thing, they’re in the building from 8AM to 4PM (or so), so, we’re going to feed them something at mid-day. That really bites into our schedule too.
When can we put all this together? A WIT panel, sponsor talks, new speakers, experienced speakers and lunch…. Hey, hold on. Let’s put it all at lunch. That’s just a gaping hole in the schedule begging to be filled.
And there lies the problem. Putting all this together, all at the same time, hurts something. And, putting it all at lunch, pretty much hurts all of it. It’s hard to get your food and then find your way to a room to eat it in, or, conversely attend the session you want and get your food later, or, try to eat and then go into a session half way through. You can’t do it all. And then, when you think about the audience mix you just created, you’re hurting new speakers because people may skip their session to attend the sponsor session or the WIT panel. The WIT panel is going to suffer because you scheduled an experienced, known, speaker at lunch because you just ran out of room to put them anywhere else. And the sponsors… I’ll be blunt. We want eyeballs. And you just gave them alternatives, and we know they already have alternatives with our competitors doing a session at the same time, but did you have to clean out everyone for the WIT panel too?
In short, organizers, you need to start to pare it down. Don’t try to do it all. You want to support sponsors at lunch? Cool, do that. Schedule the WIT panel to 1/2 hour before the prize drawing (I’ve seen that done, it worked well). You want to have sessions at lunch? Fine. Don’t schedule the sponsors for then. Extend the day and have sponsor sessions before or after lunch. Want to get eyeballs to the local speaker or the big name speaker? Cool, but leave the sponsors out of it. Can’t work out how to fit ALL this in? Then don’t. Don’t even try. Give up on some of it. Pick and choose to make your event yours. But don’t try to cram so much stuff in that you basically make it difficult for the speakers and the community and the sponsors and the attendees.