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SQLSaturday Orlando 2021 – September Update

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Just over 30 days until SQLSaturday Orlando and I’m using some vacation time today to catch up on event tasks. That’s deliberate on my part, I knew I was going to be taking a break and so it was ok to queue some stuff to do all at once. I’ve had a couple of recurring questions – good ones – and I thought I’d start with those.

Why do SQLSaturday now? The short answer is perfectly bad timing. We typically open up registration on June 1 and we’re comfortable enough with the event process to know that we can push the go/no-go decision to July 1st or just a bit later and still get it all together (not the least of which is giving speakers time to see the event, decide if they want to try to go, and submit a session or two). Right about the time of the decision the COVID situation was looking better and it seemed like by fall things would be better still. The second part was that same positive outlook was causing meeting space to be snapped up for October and beyond, so we had a fairly small window to commit to a date and space. I was willing to risk (and indeed, expected) lower attendance, but I didn’t see much risk of having to cancel the event due to local COVID policies (and still don’t). Would I have made the same decision 60 days before or 60 days later? Maybe not! You do the best you can.

What about the risk? Right now the infection rate in the county is trending down, if not quite down to the low point we saw earlier in the year. That combined with the availability of vaccines, wearing masks, and the benefit of having a bit of normalcy make organizing the event an acceptable risk to me. If you disagree, if you rate the risk differently based on your analysis or personal risk factors, I get that. We all see risk differently. I’m totally ok with people deciding that now isn’t the time to go.

Is the event going to happen? Yes! I can’t promise we won’t have a hurricane, but short of that we’re counting down to Oct 30th.

Now on to some thoughts about managing the event this year.

Volunteer energy is still hard to summon, including from me, so I’ve thought to make the most of a strange year by really reducing the work we put into it. To be fair having it at a hotel takes away a lot of work – no trip to Sam’s Club, no figuring out how soda to buy, no dropping off coffee containers at Dunkin, etc. But it also seemed like a year where we should do the registration push closer to the event when potential attendees could look 30 days out and think…yeah, or nope. Every task adds up, so it’s been nice to do less, but I absolutely feel like I’m not doing enough, even though I’m on plan.

Another part of this is budget uncertainty. Most years we are pretty confident about our ability to connect with sponsors, but this year is, as expected, much different. We have enough cash to cover the basics, but we don’t want to spend beyond that unless we offset with sponsors. It’s wonderful to be able to make that minimum bet without having to cover it personally. It’s not without its downsides though, this will be the first year with no lunch available at the event. I know that’s not the biggest thing, but it’s always been such a big part of our event that it’s hard to not do it.

Related to lunch, one of the things I’ve talked to Steve Jones about is raising the maximum lunch fee that an event can charge to $30. It’s not my favorite plan by far, but if you want to use hotel meeting space you’re not going to get lunch for $10. It would still be just a lunch fee and optional, not an attendance fee. Even then it’s not the easiest thing to manage because the hotel wants commitments two weeks out and you generally need a minimum order and who knows how many will pay the money for the convenience vs going off site to save $20?

Speaking of lunch, we have always provided lunch for speakers, so what to do this year? We could pay $30 x 20 speakers for lunch at the hotel (tough on our budget), try to arrange something really close by (Plan A), or give them a gift card (Plan B). I’m hoping to have that finalized this week so we can set expectations well ahead of the event.

Shirts or speaker dinner? Right now it’s an or and I’m thinking the more important part is the dinner. I really appreciate 20 speakers committing in these times to come to Orlando and I think having that time with peers is the most important thing.

I’m excited about the simpler logistics this year. We’ll need about 3 signs to direct people, we’ll have a check in table and a few sponsors table to set up, and four projectors to set up in the rooms. No event bags, no lunch tickets, no sweating if the lunch order will show up on time and be correct! We’ll still have event badges and a small raffle at the end (I think we’ll be raffling off some projectors!). End of day clean up will be sooo easy and we’ll be at the after party 15 mins after the event ends.

Attendance is definitely below the curve so far, but I think that will improve as we move to weekly messaging starting this week. My ballpark guess is 125-150 on event day. Regardless, we’re going to do some good for those that decide to attend.

Back to volunteers, I’ve taken on most of the work with some help from Katie and Kendal and haven’t tried to engage more volunteers. Part of that is there is a lot less work and part of it that I know people are still not back to normal. I don’t know if that was the right decision, but it made committing to the event easier for me because I knew what work I would have to do.

Thinking about SQLSaturday around the world, I imagine many are debating when to have their event and/or struggling to find space. I’ll offer these thoughts:

  • It’s ok to wait until next year
  • It’s ok to have a smaller event. Do the doable.
  • There are pluses and minuses to being freed from the PASS hosted tools, plan for some extra time when you do the next one.
  • I think you can find speakers
  • I think sponsors are much hard to get and will probably remain that way through Q1 of next year. Doesn’t mean you can’t go, just don’t assume standard fund raising

I hope you’re all doing well.

  • Why do SQLSaturday now?
  • Is the event really going to happen?

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