SQL Saturday, in and of itself, is a fantastic event. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to learn new skills, meet amazing people, and possibly win fantastic prizes ( individual results may vary ) all for virtually free? But to take your SQL Saturday experience to the next level: volunteer.
I had the opportunity to be a volunteer for SQL Saturday #60 in Cleveland, Ohio, and I can barely wait to sign up again next year. Personally, it was a life changing event, as I came away from the experience with a renewed sense that there are passionate professionals who are also great people, and that we are part of a community that wants to help each other succeed.
The job of a volunteer at SQL Saturday is to basically be a good intern: do the jobs that need to be done, whether it is setting up tables, hanging signs, greeting guests, laying out lunch, or any of the myriad of other tasks that need to just "happen" around and behind the scenes.
There are definitely perks to being a volunteer:
- The chance to work with the organizers; this is a group of people who are motivated to succeed, and whether it is a networking opportunity, or a new friendship grows from it, spending time with them is time well spent.
- The chance to work with the speakers. As a volunteer, you'll often be tasked with distributing and collecting the evals. This gives you time to talk with the speaker, to feel like you are contributing. Also, you'll have time to talk with the speakers during their downtime, either before or after the event.
- The chance to hang out with the vendors before it gets busy. As a volunteer, you will be their early and probably stay late. This will give you time to network with the vendors.
- There is a sense of ownership that comes from helping with an event; you didn't just attend SQL Saturday, you helped make it succeed. This cannot be understated, as the sense of satisfaction and ownership I walked away with motivated me to want to do more in the community and in my career.
So now that I've sold you on volunteering, let me give you my advice on how to make your volunteering experience all it can be:
- Bring a "volunteer survival kit" with the following items: painters tape, pair of scissors, pens, stapler, thumb drive, power strip, duct tape, highlighters, white board markers, and notepads. These are all things that you may need during the day, and this way you will not be relying on the facility or someone else to bring them!
- Bring plenty of business cards, either for your company or for yourself, depending on your situation. You will be meeting lots of people that you will want to exchange cards with.
- If you have a blog, update it prior to going with something interesting so that if people are checking you out after the conference you have a recent post.
- If you are not on Twitter, get an account and start following the organizers and speakers that you meet.
- If you are not on LinkedIn, get an account so that people you can network with the people you have met.
- Bring a camera to catch those great "behind the scenes" shots!
- Do not be shy; introduce yourself to the organizers and the speakers. Ask them what you can do to help, and during downtime approach them and make conversation.
- Make yourself available to the attendees; if someone looks lost, or seems to be feeling a little out of place, reach out to them. A friendly hello and some small talk may help them feel included and make their experience better.
- Make sure to eat breakfast and lunch to keep your energy up.
- Plan on being at the event a couple of hours before it starts, and staying for a while after it ends.
- Tell others of the great time you had, get them to volunteer, rinse, repeat.
If you are interested in volunteering, you can indicate it on the Register page of the SQL event that you want to volunteer at through SQL Saturday's site. Hope to see you in the trenches!