After Event Notes on SQLSaturday #8 in Orlando

, 2008-10-25

By any measure the event was a success. We had a solid 275 attendees this year, up about 50 from last year. We actually registered 465, and then in the last week we worked on reminding people to cancel if plans had changed, resulting in 94 cancelations. It's the nature of free events that not all that register will attend, but we were pleased to see that our working estimate of 70% worked out well. Some highlights today, tomorrow I'll post my notes about things we could have done better:

  • Our volunteers were just incredible. There's a lot of work to be in a short amount of time before attendees arrive, and we had a 10' UHaul truck packed full of soda, water, chairs, books, etc, etc, etc. We were scheduled to start at 6:30, when I arrived at 6:15 two volunteers were already there and by 6:30 we had 10 people working on the unload. Then it was on to managing check in, helping sponsors set up, lunch, and all the rest of the tasks. All put in a good effort and did more than was asked. Fabio Honigman of ONETUG was one of our 'all day' volunteers for the second year in a row, Will Strohl from the local DotNetNuke group also worked all day and just made things happen, and my friend Jack Corbett was the third who was just everywhere when it was needed. David Caylor kept popping in between sessions to make sure all was well and making more coffee. We had 30 volunteers set up this year, trying to limit everyone to a 2 hour task, but it makes it so much easier if you also have a couple dedicated people to maintain continunity, and it helps if they don't mind getting sweaty! I haven't listed all the names here, but they all did a great job and made a huge and often unseen contribution.
  • We had zero no-shows for speakers. It's always a worry, but everyone communicated back well about arrival times and was where they needed to be. Another 30+ people who volunteered there time on behalf of the event.
  • We gave away 140 books and miscellaneous items donated by sponsors, every speaker and volunteer got a very nice white polo shirt with SQLSaturday #8 logo embroiderered, and 200 attendees received a good quality white t-shirt with major sponsors on the back (and the logo embroidered on the front). At the end of day we announced winners of sponsor raffle items including 3 Xboxes, an iPOD dock, and iPhone Touch, free training, $50 gas cards, more miscellaneous gift cards and probably a few other things.
  • We had nine sponsors on site (including Rachel from Red Gate in the UK) and another five sponsors that donated funds but weren't able to send someone. All the sponsors seemed pleased with the attendance and the interaction, a key point because we want their help again next year.
  • Lunch went as well as we could have ever hoped. We ordered box lunches from Jason's Deli, and attendees had a choice of turkey, roast beef, and vegetarian. Due to the set up by the volunteers the average wait time to get food and something to drink was less than three minutes while feeding 275 people over the course of maybe 25 minutes as they exited sessions and made their way to lunch. We copied the lesson from the Jacksonville event earlier in the year and had everyone eat picnic style outside, a nice way to relax part way into the day.
  • We used about 350 bottles of water and about the same of soda, 20 dozen donuts, and $50 worth of apples, oranges, and banana, plus 8-10 gallons of coffee
  • The only mild complaint I heard (and frequently) was that there were too many good sessions and they couldn't see them all - a good problem to have

Now we've just a few post event things to do; thank you notes to everyone that contributed, work on getting sessions uploaded, and get our notes consolidated from the lessons learned this year. It was a fun event, I'd say more fun than last year for me because I was a lot more comfortable with the process. As fun as it was, I'm glad it's done; it takes a lot of time to make it happen in the months prior to the event, and it will be nice to be back to just having one job for a while. I'll be attending SQLSaturday #10 in Tampa in January as a speaker and sponsor (and as a volunteer as needed), and then in April/May the same for the 2nd annual Jacksonville event.

Birmingham is starting work on one, and I just saw a note from Greg Larsen in Olympia that he's already into early planning for an event in Tacoma next year. Not quite critical mass, but I think as more people get the chance to attend one and see the process, the idea will catch on and more cities will try.






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