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)?