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Lessons Learned from SQLSaturday #2 - Tampa 2008

I posted earlier about the event being a great success with more than 200 attendees, in this post I want to focus on things that went not so well because we learn more from our mistakes. Please don't think Im criticizing Team Tampa - Im not - I suspect they would agree with most of the notes below.

  • The reception location didnt work out well because we didnt quite have a dedicated area and the noise level was too high (live band on Fri night). Can't emphasize enough to do a site recon at the same time/day of week to look for issues.
  • Also had some confusion about the location, but I think the notification were clear enough. Not sure how to fix other than to make sure they have a phone number to call with questions at the last minute.
  • No name tags for attendees at the reception. I struggle with putting names to faces until I know someone a bit, name tags help!
  • One really smart thing they did was find some room in the back of the venue to get all the volunteers together to stuff the event bags. I think combining work with some fun makes it easier to get a few volunteers and probably the speakers would assist if asked
  • Quality of the speaker shirts wasn't great. This is about the only tangible thing speakers get and if they won't wear it after the event it's not much value. The struggle of course is trying to manage costs. Is it better to have some shirt than no shirt? Good shirts in Orlando averaged about $15 with embroidery.
  • Think we need to automate the close to event reminders so it doesn't fall through the cracks. Probably a reminder the week of and the day before, both sent early because for many people it will be their work address
  • What to do about seating max capacity and beyond? Wes set up a wait list, but in practice you either tell them to attend or not, and hope for the best. The challenge is we probably 30% don't show and we don't have a cancellation mechanism (or know if they would use it). Shawn Weisfeld suggest calling it "standby" and I kind of like that, we can tell people to come to the event and if there is room, fine, but we can separate them from the ones that registered early (and therefore helped us convince sponsors the event was viable)
  • Hand written name badges work fine!
  • I think events benefit from a master check in list. We need to easily see how many people registered and walked in so we can confirm lunch count. Tampa tried to reverse engineer by counting raffle tickets not handed out, not as clean or as easy.
  • Using the hotel for logistics worked out reasonably well for lunch. Issue is pricing, Wes staged a coup getting lunch at $8/person!
  • Room layout wasn't great. We had three rooms on one side and three on another, with a little luck and help from the hotel they could have all been on one side. Instead we had another group (real estate) mixed in with us.
  • End of day raffles have to be small in size. Wes was burning through the list of evals giving away books, but he probably had a 100 to give. Just doesn't scale. Better to save the big prizes for day end, raffle some off at lunch (encourage people to stay on site) and at some of the sessions.
  • They opted to borrow projectors rather than rent (cost was way to high to rent), but the downside was that not all the projectors had long cables. The room I was in had the projector on a table in the aisle, I had to sit facing the screen with people on either side front & back, awkward way to present. Potentially we can work on just buying a few projectors and making this less painful.
  • Printed eval on one side, bingo card on the other - very nice consolidation!
  • Had nice ink stamps for sponsors to stamp the cards, also very nice
  • Hotel wouldnt let them put up signs directing people to the rooms.

I think most people would say that thing went well and that they had a good day. All the stuff above is for next time, try for incremental improvement.



I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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