Don’t You Know Who I Am?

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I’m happy to say that for most of you out there, the answer to this question is “no.” That’s as it should be. I’m not anyone all that special. I present technical sessions at various events from local user group meetings to SQL Saturday’s to international events like the PASS Summit and 24 Hours of PASS. Why? Not because the attendees know my name, that’s for sure. It’s because of a combination of at least two of these three things:

  1. The organizers might know my name or may know of my books or the fact that I’m working for a vendor that sponsors their event
  2. I’ve submitted sessions that seem to be of interest to the people who might be attending the event being organized
  3. I’ve got a track record of delivering decent, if not world-altering, presentations that people find useful.

Let’s say you’re organizing a SQL Saturday event. And, let’s say that you want to get as many attendees as you possibly can. Is your best bet to find a bunch of people with MVP or MCM after their name? Or, should you focus on getting an interesting set of content from speakers that you know can deliver?

From what I’ve seen, it’s that second option that is your best bet. I’ve stood in front of people and started talking about a topic that I have a written a book about only to find that the entire room was not aware that I had written that book. They weren’t there for me. They were there for knowledge that I might be able to communicate to them. They were there for the topic, not the speaker. I’ve seen local speakers give presentations that were simply amazing, despite the fact that they didn’t have a book or weren’t blogging constantly. It’s the content and delivery, not the person delivering it. You’re going to know your local speakers as well as, or better than, any of the MVPs. Rely on your knowledge of these people and the fact that you’ve seen them present before.

This is something that I think way too many people overlook. Especially when you’re managing a SQL Saturday event, you need to build an interesting set of topics, not lure a bunch of MVPs to your event. Guaranteed, you’ll get an MVP or three. Don’t focus on that or worry about it. Instead, focus on your agenda. Build a good set of presentations, the kind that are going to be the most useful to your audience.

Don’t believe me? Check out these links to the front page of the PASS Summit 2011, 2010, 2009. Note a couple of things. First, no headliners at all. No speakers are called out in any way except the people delivering the key notes. Second, there are Flickr & Twitter streams in which anyone can be one the front page for a time. In short, the focus is on content and attendees.

Remember this when you’re setting up your event.

Oh, and don’t bother linking to this post. Everyone has my permission to copy and paste this and claim it as their own. You just have to include this disclaimer for everyone else to copy and paste this post as well.


  • Brandon Leach

    As an organizer, the question for me becomes, how do we reach out and find local speakers?

    For SQLSaturday 156 Providence, RI I’d love to see more locals submitting sessions. After all SQLSaturday is about the local community.

  • Anne Hills

    When I attended PASS Summit in 2009, I went to sessions of interest and didn’t know who anybody was. I happened to attend a session given by Itzik Ben Gan which was standing room only. I figured it was either a hot topic or he was a hot speaker, or perhaps both. Turned out that it was the best session of the Summit for me, I ran to the books booth and picked up two of his volumes, and this year when he taught a class near me I jumped on the chance to take it based solely on the fact that he was teaching it. Happily for me, he’s a marvelous teacher and it was the best sql training I’ve had to date, by far. I never noticed or cared that he was an MVP (I just looked him up and he is), but I would expect he’s the kind of speaker/sql info provider who would get an MVP bestowed upon him.

    So, I think you’re right about good speakers being of primary importance regardless of titles. At the same time, having a SQL Saturday and no speakers that are MVPs may be a terrific event with great content, but I’d think having some MVP’s *should* make that result more likely. If the local speakers are great, I’d hope/expect them to become known or eventually be given an MVP.

  • It’s Itzik. Of course it was great. I’ve taken his one week session on T-SQL three times. Learn more every time (I learn slowly).

    But, it still makes my point. Topic & speaker are the keys.

    BTW, Itzik is an MVP too.

  • The balance is hard and I feel for the organizers who get stuck in that situation – a colleague and I submitted to a SQLSat and didn’t get picked – and then I saw the schedule and felt like “DUH – of course we didn’t get picked – look at all of the MVP’s and regular speakers who submitted!”

    As an organizer (I have not been one) I think it would be have to be hard to turn away MVP’s and established speakers when they submit in favor of local speakers with no experience….but we all have to start somewhere.

  • Rob Volk

    Nice try Grant, we’re still gonna invite you to our SQL Saturdays! 🙂

    And you’d better have the SQLKilt too.

  • Brandon Leach

    Andy, I’m shooting for at least a third local/non mvp speakers. We organizers are encouraged by PASS to do so.

    Many MVPs will use the same presentations at multiple events. This makes sense since it would be very difficult for MVPs to create a new session for every event.

    Local speakers can often bring in sessions that directly relate to the general business in the area and new ideas. For Providence, RI we have a lot of BI related submissions, which is a big thing around here. Many folks work for financial or healthcare companies.

    Your right though it is a fine balance. Big names do draw people

  • Hey Brandon,

    I don’t think the names draw people. The majority of people in my sessions are not there because of my name. They’re there because of the topic. I know this because I’ve asked. Plus, last week, watching everyone scramble to write down the name of my book on execution plans told me just how deep the market penetration was (I think we can measure it in millimeters).

    It’s the very idea that big names are necessary that I’m trying to fight against.

  • Andy,

    And here’s where I’ll get in trouble with PASS. If you have a whole slew of MVPs presenting at a SQL Saturday and no, or few, local speakers… So be it. If the organizer thinks that the topics they’re presenting are useful to the organizer’s audience, great. Further, because it’s all a bunch of MVPs, there’s a good chance that their speaking abilities might be reasonably well established. More power to the organizer. I’m just against the lobbying and pushing to try to get X number of MVPs or the event is considered a failure.

  • Karla Landrum

    Grant, great post! Thanks for putting this out there.

    In my experience, typically only 2-5 “newbies”, non MVPs, submit to a SQLSaturday. Most schedules are large enough to allow the newcomers to be added, then add in MVPs in all the remaining blocks, which is an avg of anywhere between 25-50+ spots. Plenty of room for all.

    Now that said, I’m not suggesting that their first speaking engagement be a SQLSat, they need to start at the user group level. If an organizer sees a submission from someone they don’t recognize, reach out to them, find out what other times they’ve presented. If never, then suggest they come out to your user group and present prior to the SQLSaturday.

    Brandon, many of the user groups will have first timers present a 10-15 minute presentation at their ug mtgs. Encourage members even to show off their very query or tool, something they find really helps them out and have them talk about it. Start grooming them from that to an hour long prez.

    Andy, I’m sorry that happened to you. Don’t be discouraged, keep trying!


  • Brandon Leach


    I actually agree that it doesn’t make a difference to the actual quality of the event. But I do think that for some people a recognized name adds a level of comfort about attending.


    I’m always happy to give time to first timers at SNESSUG. It’s a great way to cut their chops so to speak.

    I just wish more locals would start submitting to SQLSaturdays

  • Karla Landrum

    Yeh not sure why some just completely shy away from the next step. It’s too bad. I’m “poke” and encourage a couple of times, but you can only do so much of that then realize, it’s just not their game.

  • Last night, we used the entire IndyPASS meeting as a platform to encourage local folks to get more involved in the community – either as a speaker or a volunteer. Rather well attended, saw folks taking a lot of notes. We picked that meeting date to do this as it falls a few weeks before the closing date for our SQLSat call for speakers.
    I guess we find out soon how well it worked.

  • Brandon Leach


    Let me know how that works. I’d be interested in trying something similar at SNESSUG. I think its a great idea!

  • At PASS MN this year we started encouraging local users to do a 15-30 minute quick tips type of session to hopefully get them the confidence to move up to full sessions for the group and/or SQL Saturdays.

  • Looking through this because I might want to relink to it and realized that I never directly addressed Brandon’s posts here. I did talk to Brandon through email and in person since he’s a friend, and quite local to me. He and John Miner run my local user group that I used to run (they’re doing a better job than I did, just so we’re clear).

    Sorry Brandon.

OK, fine, but what do you think?