This past Saturday, October 2nd, we hosted Columbia, SC's first ever SQL Saturday. By the feedback we've received, both during the event and afterwards, I think I can safely say most people were satisfied by the event. Here's how I and my co-organizer, Bobby Dimmick (twitter), approached putting on and running the event. First, things first, what did we want to ensure it would be a quality event?
- Excellent facility capable of handling multiple tracks. Must have space for the large group. Must have excellent environmental control. This is a lesson learned from the 2010 Columbia Code Camp.
- Good selection of speakers. We wanted Microsoft employees since Charlotte is so close, Microsoft MVPs, local speakers (if possible), and speakers new to the game.
- Excellent national sponsors with a track record of contributing to the SQL Server community.
- Excellent local sponsors to give folks a better idea of the overall community here in and around the Midlands.
- Excellent food for the speaker dinner, for breakfast, and for lunch.
- A choice of hotels near the event providing a discounted and reasonable rate but without sacrificing quality (musts: clean, convienient, free Internet).
- A target goal of 200 registrations. Andy Warren (blog | twitter) one time told me to estimate that you'll lose about 30% between registrations to actual attendees, meaning we'd be expecting around 140 if we hit that target.
We went into this with some advantages. I'll label them...
- A core crew of top notch volunteers who had gained vaulable experience at the 2010 Columbia Code Camp (including Bobby, who was a co-organizer of that event).
- A good working relationship with several national sponsors through the user group and personal connections.
- A bunch of IT folks who like to eat good food. Yes, this is an asset.
- Preliminary commitments from Microsoft MVPs Andy Kelly (blog | twitter), Andy Leonard (blog | twitter), Jessica M. Moss (blog | twitter), and Geoff Hiten (blog | twitter).
- We had an awesome developer evangelist from Microsoft in Brian Hitney (blog) who has continually been just flat out amazing in helping the community.
So how did we do?
We had 29 different speakers. 4 were Microsofties. 11 were MVPs. The other 14 were a mix of established speakers with some new ones thrown in. For one speaker, this was his very first opportunity to speak at an event, and he did a great job based on the feedback he got. That was Bob Langley (LinkedIn). There were 8 tracks for a total of 48 sessions, plus the Red Gate demonstration at lunch. We had 210 registered with a wait list of 15. That translated to an estimated 150-165 attendees at the event. We had great national and local sponsors. We had great food (which this time around we provided free). We received positive comments on the hotel choices. Traffic flow was good. The vendors were satisfied. We gave out over 100 technical books. The attendees and speakers I spoke with were pleased with the event.
I'm going to bullet list these because they represent things we need to work on.
- The big room was too big. The auditorium sat 400. We used it for sessions. Even when there was a number of folks in the room, it still looked empty.
- There wasn't enough seating at lunch. Some folks sat on the floor. Carpeted, but still.
- There was some confusion over attending opening remarks.
- There was a little confusion over how you could win what.
- Some sessions were lightly attended.
- We could have had an additional sign or two because there were two events going on and we were getting traffic for nuclear medicine and we had some folks miss a turn coming to the correct building.
- We had issues with speaker shirts because we didn't know the process well.
- We had some rooms which were great for slide-heavy presentations, but not so great for code heavy ones. This was something Aaron Nelson (blog | twitter) pointed out as he got stuck in a "bowling alley" room which was long and would have been great for slides, but not for sharing PowerShell code (which is what Aaron was doing).
- We didn't have the level of presentation on the schedule. Alejandro Mesa mentioned this.
- Andy Warren pointed out that we needed more on-site speaker presence.
The Action Plan for Next Time:
Here's how we plan on attacking the next SQL Saturday in Columbia. We're looking at doing another in the spring time, probably middle of March, and this will be when we do it annually from that point forward.
- Eliminate the auditorium. We couldn't make good use of it. It also was about $500 of our budget. We'll use the room where we had breakfast and lunch set out for our big room. We'll adjust the seating. This knocks out the first two issues.
- Since we'll be doing the opening remarks in the same room where we'll have breakfast, we'll have the registration folks point everyone to the breakfast area and ask them to remain there until opening remarks are concluded.
- We'll cover the ways to win during the opening remarks.
- Since we're cutting the auditorium, we'll cut a track. This will drop us to 7 tracks per time slot. We also hope that since we had many first time SQL Saturday attendees, the next event will see a little larger crowd.
- Andy Warren helped identify where and what kind of additional signage would be helpful. We'll make sure to cover that next time.
- We know the process for shirts now, including the lead time for them. We have a great source (Bobby's neighbor, who pulled one over on him... a Clemson grad being forced to wear South Carolina garnet).
- When we start to put the speaker list together for next time, we'll ask the question about whether or not the presentation is code heavy. This will help us schedule.
- We had some other minor issues with printing. We need to find a solid source and use them next time. And we need to step back and have a non-organizer/volunteer look at some of what we want to print for an unbiased eye.
- We need to reach out to some of the recruiting companies locally. This will boost attendance and provide folks an opportunity to make contacts in case they are in need of a job. This will also put additional vendors on site.
- Confirm the week of for sponsors that are planning on being on-site. We had one sponsor who had planned on attending, but their folks were stretched thin and they just couldn't make it out. However, we didn't know that until after the event.
- Work to convince the local training companies \to be on site. One was a platinum sponsor, but they didn't send a presence. This might be the right opportunity for folks to locate training locally.
What others have said: