I drove up on Friday with my friend Kendal Van Dyke. Long drive from Orlando, just over 8 hours. Arrived just in time to find the hotel and then meet up with some of the other speakers for dinner. Joe Celko was there, same suit as always! Robert Cain, Louis Davidson, Geoff Hiten, Kevin Boles, Noah Subrin, and Paul Waters were there plus about 10 more, and it was a good place (Bahama Breeze) to chat and relax. Left there about 9 pm to visit some with the guys from SQLSentry before calling it a day.
We arrived about 7:30 Saturday morning at the Microsoft office, the one minor glitch being that our GPS managed to take to a back entrance to the office park and the gate was locked. We hit the 'call' button and they sent someone down to unlock the gate. The office park was gorgeous, nice rolling hills, nice landscaping, quite different from Florida! MS has offices on the 3rd floor, they had a separate table set up for speaker check-in and since we were early, no line. Breakfast was Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee, and since I'm known for making the hard calls when it comes to event evals, I had to let Stuart know that the doughnuts were merely warm and not really hot of the oven. Things are pretty good when I have to resort to complaining about about the doughnut temp!
Stuart was mildly busy, had the appearance of a man with most things under control, and that's not a trivial thing. Check in seemed well organized, attendees got the standard event bag with a nice plastic coffee mug with the SQLSaturday logo. There was a speaker room set up, so we stopped in there to visit and just wait a bit, I had the first session of the day at 9 am. There were 6 rooms, of those three were one big room that could be divided and was set up to seat all expected attendees - about 200. As we went over for the mini keynote I could see that we didn't have 200, finally count was I think in the 155-165 range, about a 25% drop. That was interesting and not unexpected, we typically see a 25-35% no show for these events on Sat, but we were hoping that having invested $10 (the lunch fee) we'd have more true cancellations rather than no shows, an important distinction since cancellations allow pulling people in from the wait list (Stu had to set a hard cap at 200, and had at one point 40 people waiting, as people canceled a job (sql guys you know) would automatically invite someone from the wait list).
Back to the opening, Stuart took about 5 minutes to publish some schedule changes, set expectations for lunch, thank the volunteers and others for all their help, and then got everyone headed off to the first session. I'm not a fan of keynotes but this was quick and easy and provided value - nicely done!
They divided the big room into three and I started setting up. They had a volunteer in each room to distribute and then later collect the evals (to be published soon) and as a nice tough the volunteer also had a paddle with yellow/red signs. I didn't know this, so was momentarily taken aback when the volunteer caught my eye with the yellow side, thinking maybe he was the language monitor, but was just the 5 min warning. Nice to have and well implemented. Had a minor AV snag at the beginning and while the MS guys worked on it, I did some informal polling of my group. Almost everyone was using LinkedIn, about 75% were on Facebook, about 3 hands for Twitter and the same for Plaxo, and I think no non-speakers that had a blog. Most indicated they were interested in networking, most thought that they weren't good at it, and no one had a networking goal for the day.
Session went well and I was able to spend some good hallway time after answering questions and just talking about performance related items. Then back to the speaker room, caught up with old friend Brian Kelley and PASS board member Kevin Kline, finally caught up with Jen Underwood, and met Mike Mollenhour, and then just relaxed some, wasn't feeling the best.
Lunch was Jason's Deli and plenty of soda/water, so no one should have had any reason to complain about value for their $10. No line for lunch either, boxes were in a nice accessible location, just grab a box and head for the big meeting for the lunch time presentation by Joe Celko.
Overall it was extremely well done. Stuart did a great job organizing and leading, he also added a few tweaks of his own (color coding name badges to make it easy to identify volunteers was one) and you could tell he really tried hard to make it the best possible event - and I'd say he and his team of hard working volunteers succeeded. No complaints from me, attendees seems to be having a good time. Good job!
One side note, Brian Kelley and Paul Waters are thinking hard about doing a 1 track event in Columbia, SC soon - more news as I have it.