We held a day long SQL Saturday event at Louisville, KY on January 22nd, 2011. Below are most common experiences and lessons learnt from this event.
Event Overview: We had a registered attendee count of 220 people, nearly 170 showed aup which is more than what we expected. The event was held at Computer Science department of University of Louisville. We had 4 tracks - Advanced DBA, DBA, Developer and BI - six sessions one each track with a total of 15 speakers, some covering multiple sessions. There was also a 'Women in Technology' session during lunch break moderated by Kathie Kellenberger from Microsoft.
Pre Event Party: We had a pre event dinner for speakers and volunteers at an Irish Pub and Restaurant. Majority volunteers were involved in getting the facility ready for the event and were unable to participate. We were not able to fund the event fully also due to a modest budget, we only picked up the tab on appetizers. But the speakers seemed to enjoy the food/drinks and had a good time getting to know one another. Our initial plan was to place a volunteer at the event hotel to coordinate guests to the restaurant but due to small number of people we decided against it. This led to some difficulties for some of the speaker attendees. Lesson is to always have a volunteer at the event hotel to coordinate transportation.
Early morning : Volunteers had made road signs but had difficulties placing them due to concrete pavements and winter weather. Lessons in this regard include checking out appropriate spots for placing road signs ahead of time, and in general avoid scheduling events in winter, not just due to signs but also risks related to weather.
Check In: We experienced some problems with several people trying to get in same time. Future lesson is to have single file checkins with ropes forming a line and signs indicating where it begins.
Opening session: Most volunteers were very busy with arrangements and the opening session was not attended by any of us. Lesson in this regard is to have two sets of volunteers with the second set taking over on the event day so that the first set can attend important sessions and also formally introduce speakers and school staff to the attendees.
Sessions: Majority sessions were pain free and well attended. The only major hassles we had were that we had the same set of volunteers on two consecutive days - arranging the event and sitting in on sessions - that led to several volunteers being tired and not able to focus on sessions and in some cases assist speakers. Lesson in this regard is to have two sets of people on two different days - one doing arranging the event, and another fresh lot sitting in on sessions. We also had some shortage of speaker feedback forms and books as giveaways, both of which go down on list as things to look out for.
Lunch: We were able to organise lunch with little/no hassles. Our only lesson as far as lunch goes is to have a better understanding of how many free lunches we need to provide (we had to support free lunches for students who were a big part of our attendee crowd).
Evening : We had planned a certificate-giveaway session as closing session to be attended by a Microsoft student evangelist. He was supposed to come in with certificates and swag which was to be given away on the basis of raffle. He could not make it in so the session had to be cancelled leading to lot of disappointment for some attendees. Future lesson in this regard is to make backup plans for closing session and also to have a raffle only for items that are readily available.
In general the event was appreciated by several people including attendees and many vendors who promised to re sponsor us. By far this is the biggest takeaway given the shortage of sponsorship funds with increasing events. Some other lessons we would like to share -
1 Funds are getting to be short and budgeting with clarity and focus on learning is very important. We got some attendee feedback on some events providing cool give aways like xbox-es, good things to eat like fresh fruit, unlimited coffee and warm baked cookies. While all these things are fine the focus of the event(s) is on learning, and providing quality sessions - this needs to be communicated with greater clarity and emphasis.
2 Lack of Microsoft presence at the event was also pointed out by several attendees as feedback. Our local MS evangelists have been supportive but could not make it in for various reasons. We need to work with them further and also work with PASS on improving possibilites of having MS presence in more prominent ways.
3 Networking opportunities - our modest budget did not allow for a large scale networking party with speakers/attendees and all concerned. We will be exploring other creative ideas such as a post event party on the event premises - perhaps with a job fair or similar opportunity that will help headhunters and others sponsor some food and drinks and opportunities to socialize.
Other than these lessons the event was a huge success and very much appreciated.
Thanks for making it happen include :
- Volunteers Brian Carter, Deana Ritter, Dave Ingram, Christina Levins and Teri Mills for the many late hours and hard work.
- UoL Staff Dr Rammohan Ragade, Dr Elmaghraby, and several students who helped us with organizing the event.
- MVPs Michael Coles, Arie 'AJ' Jones, Allen White, Tim Chapman and speaker Kevin Cross, who pitched in to speak in the last minute because of other cancellations.
- Red Gate Software and Microsoft - without your generous sponsorship we could not have made it.
THANK YOU all and hope to have another fun filled learning event next year.