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The PASS Session Selection Process, My Experience Part 1

Well, I have just finished up my part in the abstract selection process for the PASS Summit. This was my first year as a volunteer in this process so I don’t have any specific previous experience to draw on. I have some experiences that are similar. Some of you may know that I was actually a double major Mass Communications and Theatre in college. I have experience in putting together competitions and also as a judge at several events. So, while I might not have PASS experience I have had to judge others on their abstract writing and presentation skills. This process isn’t an easy one. It also is getting more difficult every year just due to the volume of submissions. To put into perspective, there were 7 regular session professional development slots with 4 alternates and 47 submitters. We had more seasoned speakers than slots for sure. I won’t know if the sessions I promoted will be selected or not. Unlike Steve, I didn’t get the impression my word was the final one. I understand why Steve isn’t happy about the selection process, I just assumed that my recommendations were just that, recommendations and someone else would have the final say. There are other factors I have no control over. If a speaker is chosen by other tracts there is no guarantee that the speaker will be available for the PD track.


Quite a number of the abstracts were well written with clear goals. A number of them though needed some revisions or additions. I went to the PASS website and looked at the abstract submittal guidelines and found them incomplete. If these had been submitted without some additional information or not by a known speaker and leader in the community I saw them as incomplete. Lets break it down.

The Title:
Being witty is fun, but if I don’t know what are actually talking about the people seeing it in the program guide won’t ether and may skip you over.

The Bio:
Even if you are well known, a Bio just helps set that in stone. It also keeps me from doing two things, digging around the internet to see what you have done or relying on my less than perfect memory about you. Without a Bio you are trusting me to gather the information and set you apart from the other 40+ people wanting a slot.

The Abstract:
You don’t have to write War and Peace. You do need to be descriptive and clear. If you can do that in the space of a Tweet great, you have 1000 words don’t be shy. Focus your topic. Don’t mix and match several things that may not even be related in the same presentation. If the first third applies to me but the other two thirds don’t I probably won’t go to the presentation at all. Again, funny is great but if you don’t cut to the chase I don’t know what your topic is really about.

Session Prerequisites:
Unless this is a 100 level session you will have to detail some prerequisites that your audience should have. Since of humor or personality flaws aren’t prerequisites. One year of analysis services is.

Session Goals:
Right now we have three slots on the form. Most folks didn’t take full advantage of listing the learning points.  The goals should be tangible and something you can repeat on your own after sitting through the session. Feeling better about yourself is something you get from therapy. Learning how to prioritize tasks is a goal. If there aren’t enough slots then use your abstract space for that as well.

This seems to be one of the more difficult areas. It can be subjective. I would use your prerequisites and goals guide you. If there are a few specific prerequisites that generally indicates something higher than novice. If it requires specific knowledge about a specific feature that may be advanced or higher. If your goals are very specific about a feature or technique that may also raise the session level.

Next post I’ll talk about the process and tools that we used to make these difficult decisions.

SQL Man of Mystery

Wes Brown is a PASS chapter leader and SQL Server MVP. He writes for SQL Server Central and maintains his blog at http://www.sqlserverio.com. Wes is Currently serving as a Senior Lead Consultant at Catapult Systems. Previous experiences include Product Manager for SQL Litespeed by Quest software and consultant to fortune 500 companies. He specializes in high availability, disaster recovery and very large database performance tuning. He is a frequent speaker at local user groups and SQLSaturdays.


Posted by Steve Jones on 8 July 2010

I think you get 1000 characters, not words. To me this makes sense for some sessions, but is short for others. I do agree that you should have clear goals, but maybe we also need takeaways that attendees can understand. You ought to be clear about what you are teaching.

I looking forward to seeing your other posts on how you rated things.

Posted by Wesley Brown on 8 July 2010

I think you are right on the 1000 thing. If you are doing a 500 level talk is 1000 characters enough? I don't think so.

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