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SQLAndy

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.

Speaking at Community Events - Time to Raise the Bar?

If you're organizing a first time community event like SQLSaturday finding speakers is one of about a hundred tasks, so typically anyone that volunteers to speak makes it on the agenda. At most you'll have to pick to decide which of a couple sessions submitted by a speaker you want to accept. First time out I agree with that because getting it done is the ultimate goal - you learn some lessons and then decide whether you dare to try again.

I actually like the idea of featuring a lot of local/first time speakers and we've tried to support that with SQLSaturday. The downside of first timers is that the lack of experience often does hurt them (and you to a degree), but where else would they get the experience? As long as attendees have a couple other options if they don't like their first pick the world continues without too much pain. If you're running a one or two track event then it's definitely riskier to have unknowns, but sometimes you have no option (and I still like featuring local speakers).

If you look at why people want to speak at events it runs the range; striving for MVP, building the resume, consultant trying to market themselves, or just giving back. Maybe even a combination of those. Nothing wrong with any of them. Speakers donate their time in return for at most a decent polo, attendees get good value, and they don't have to be pure of thought to give a presentation. Soapboxish perhaps, but speakers and other volunteers do a lot of good at these events.

An interesting side affect of our success with SQLSaturday in Florida has been a bit of a decrease in SQL content at the Code Camps. I'm not sure that's a good thing. Developers are a big part of SQL, and I imagine most of you would agree that any time we can help developers grow their SQL skills we all win. If you look back at the sessions at the Code Camps though, I'm not sure they are as developer focused/friendly as they might be. Pick any topic and you'll get a few attendees, but given a minimal footprint it seems like it makes sense to try for a tighter focus.

So, with that really long intro done, all of that has been in my thoughts as I got ready to build a SQL track for the upcoming fourth annual Orlando Code Camp on March 28, 2009. Is it possible to do a better job of targeting developers, or do speakers just do what speakers like to do? Here's what I sent out to every SQL speaker that had participated in one of our Florida events:

"I’m emailing you because you registered as a speaker for a SQLSaturday at some  point. The Orlando Code Camp is coming up on March 28th at Seminole Community College in Lake Mary (north of Orlando) and I’ll be leading the SQL track for the event (consisting of 6 sessions).

Our goal for the event is to provide SQL Server focused content that would be useful to the average developer that is using SQL Server as their primary database. For example, we might target new TSQL features, basic maintenance, simple performance tuning tips, database design, etc. Remember that our audience is developers. Most are not DBA’s and won’t be interested in anything beyond the basics of the DBA world.

There are a lot of that speak about SQL topics, so competition for the six slots may (I hope) be fierce! The intent is to seat plenty of developers in your session, so write it to make it attractive to them and I’ll pick the best variety. Please submit a max of 2 sessions. Also, I encourage you to consider bringing in a less experienced speaker to present with you even if it’s only to work the slides and do simple demos – help build the next generation of speakers. I’d like to get speakers selected as soon as possible, so we’re going to aim for closing the SQL track call for speakers by Feb 13th.

More details about the event are available at http://www.orlandocodecamp.com/. Please call or email me if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing from you."

I've had some good feedback and one negative, probably about average. We'll see what happens over the next couple weeks while the speakers consider what (and if) to submit. But I thought I'd ask you - do you like the idea of making the standards just a little higher, a little more focused, while still looking for ways to support newbies? Or should it be Survivor-ish, and the best/most experienced always get to speak (and pick their topics too)?

Comments

Posted by John Magnabosco on 2 February 2009

With IndyTechFest we go with the by invitation only approach to our speakers which has worked well for our event. Having said that, implementing a hybrid where you invite 80% of your speakers and open a call for the remaining 20% might result in the optimal mix between the most promising newbies and the cream of the crop.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 2 February 2009

Being one of the newbies (not counting my own user group, I've spoken at exactly two professional get-togethers, PASS & the recent New England Data Camp), I have to say I'm in favor giving as much opportunity for new people as you reasonably can. I realize it's a risk, but how else are we going to grow the next set of speakers?

Also, maybe it's because I'm new, I don't have any issue with some constraints and focus on the topic either.

Posted by Jack Corbett on 2 February 2009

While I think it is good to allow newer speakers, I also think that starting at User Groups would help these speakers "polish" their delivery before speaking at a larger event.  I think expectations of speakers are higher at an event like a SQLSaturday or Code Camp vs. at a user group and having lesser speakers can "tarnish" an event.

I think this is one area where an organization like PASS can help. This could be an area where I think the SIG's can be used to develop content area speaker lists where people can make themselves available to speak at User Groups and then grow to larger events.  

Posted by Brad M. McGehee on 3 February 2009

Andy's Quote:

I actually like the idea of featuring a lot of local/first time speakers and we've tried to support that with SQLSaturday. The downside of first timers is that the lack of experience often does hurt them (and you to a degree), but where else would they get the experience? As long as attendees have a couple other options if they don't like their first pick the world continues without too much pain. If you're running a one or two track event then it's definitely riskier to have unknowns, but sometimes you have no option (and I still like featuring local speakers).

Brad's Comment:

I agree with Andy. SQL Saturdays, and similar free, local events, are a great way for new speakers to get experience. And as long as two or more tracks are offered, then attendees can decide what option is best for them. Even if a speaker is not perfect, those who attend beginner's sessions should support the speaker in his or her efforts, as it takes a lot of time, and courage, to speak in front of an audience.

Posted by Steve Jones on 9 February 2009

Great ideas, and I'd also add that you might want to list first time speakers, and even give them first choice of topics. It might cut down on some of the attendence to their sessions, which can be a good thing for new speakers.

Posted by Mike Walsh on 13 February 2009

I actually like Steve's ideas. At events with multiple sessions at the same time it could help in the decision process. It also helps the speakers feel a bit more comfortable perhaps.

I give a lot of talks at work to folks on technical topics and hope to speak at a local user group soon. That being said, I am submitting an abstract for PASS on the professional development track. I personally think I have a great PD topic but I would want folks to know that I am a first time speaker so they can be helped in their decision making process.

I think this would actually increase the pressure to do a great job while also giving a sort of warning. If you want to be asked to speak again or at other events, you'll want to make a great first impression.

Posted by Rick Todd on 13 February 2009

This is interesting timing, as I've now done 2 presentations at the Richmond SQL Server Users Group, and have greatly enjoyed it. I approach is that you have to work your way up through the farm leagues, showing some experience on your resume, and maybe speaking in front of people that could be a "reference" when you're pitching your presentation to a higher level.

It seems that the SQL Saturday decision makers, PASS, or whomever would be much more willing to allow a speaker if they've given presentations, or particularly the same presentation to other groups.

Posted by Andy Warren on 13 February 2009

MWalsh, best of luck on the PASS submission, I like seeing new speakers at the Summit. I'd suggest trying to build a visible track record, both to support your experience/topic and to make it "easier" for PASS to say yes (and note, Im not on that committee).

Posted by Andy Warren on 13 February 2009

Rick, its no easy matter to pick sessions, but for SQLSaturday Orlando I always look to have at least some speakers that are new to speaking at that level, but I prefer that it not truly be their first time doing a public technical presentation.

Posted by Mike Walsh on 13 February 2009

Andy -

Thanks, that is what I am trying to do.

It's a win/win either way really. I'll be hitting the Summit either way. I'll either be nervous waiting to talk and get to try it out and offer my thoughts on the particular topic. Or I'll get to not be nervous and enjoy attending a lot of sessions and spying on the questions to Microsoft folks.

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