I’ve been to a few SQL Saturdays, and while most have run smoothly, I have a few comments on a couple issues I’ve seen multiple times that might help others.
In every event that I’ve attended, SQL Saturday or Tech Ed, the majority of people don’t really know the venue. They don’t know where things are, and they struggle to find them. Even maps in a booklet can be hard to comprehend when your frame of reference isn’t set.
Don’t spend a lot here, but print out a schedule for each room and post it by the door. Print out basic room names and arrows on regular printer paper and post them at every intersection. They’ll help a lot. If you change buildings, put a list on each door of what rooms are inside the building (and what tracks).
Get more rooms if you can. Not larger rooms, but more of them. It’s hard to figure out what to offer, and invariably some speakers will cancel. What I’d recommend is that you duplicate some of your sessions that you think are popular, on the schedule. Give people a couple chances to see something interesting.
Make sure that you have a few spare presentations. You can ask speakers if they can bring an extra, just in case, and I’d recommend the organizer not get on the schedule. Have something ready that you can jump in with, but you’ll be busy. Don’t schedule a presentation if you don’t need to.
Usually there’s a bunch of swag to give away at the end of the day. This has been handled in a few ways, but my suggestion is keep it simple. Just pull names or raffle tickets out of a box. I’ve seen various fancy attempts to automate this or make it fun, the reality is that the quicker you can give out 30 prizes, the better. It’s been a long day, let people get out of there.
I’d make sure you have 3 volunteers here. One calling numbers, one handing out prizes, and one pulling up new prizes to keep things flowing.
As much as I think that having an informal, social get together after the event is great, it’s not a party. It’s not an excuse to get drunk, it’s not a cut loose after the week event, even though it is on a Saturday.
It’s a networking event.
So schedule is somewhere that you can get some decent space, and where it’s not loud. It doesn’t have to be private, IMHO, but it shouldn’t have a band or loud music. Let it be a place where people can sit down in chat, in small or large groups.
Heck, a set of picnic tables in a park would be great if you can find a waiter to bring drinks by :)