It’s Tuesday after PASSMN’s first SQL Saturday event in Minnesota. After a restful weekend, I’m finally starting to completely wind down from the event. All that’s left now is to finish wrapping up the last strings for the event.
Before we let SQL Saturday 58 sail off into the sunset, I’d like to recap a bit of the day. Hopefully those that didn’t attend will have a chance to live vicariously through this post and make plans to be at next years SQL Saturday in Minnesota.
Get Going in the Morning
For me the event started at a brazenly dark 5:30 AM. For the organizers, sponsors, and volunteers – we needed to be sure to get there first before the attendees to get things setup and laid out.
The attendees started arriving at 7:15 AM – and we were ready. We had our table setup. There was a buffet in the back with coffee, bagels, muffins, and fruit. We were set.
People weren’t just hungry for breakfast. They were hungry for some learning – and we had plenty of that. There were 30 sessions total across 5 tracks.
There were sessions that covered PowerPivot, SQL Server internals, Azure, and much, much more. If you are interested in getting the session materials from the event, most of them have now been uploaded to the SQL Saturday event site.
It wasn’t long after the event started and we had more than 250 attendees. This was pretty outstanding, in my opinion. Last year our full day event had just over 100 people – this was a more than doubling of the attendance.
Through out the day I had people coming and expressing how impressed they were with the sessions. This was great to hear. One of the decisions we made early on was the every local user group member that submitted a session would be accepted. There’s a certain amount of risk in doing this and I think it paid off in spades.
The knowledge from the sessions, obviously, wouldn’t be enough for full day of firing the synapsis. That’s where lunch came in. When we originally contacted the Mystic Lake Casino, we know we were getting sandwiches.
I had no idea it was going to be the phenomenal spread that it turned out to be. There was a pasta salad, meats, cheese, cookies, and brownies. But it wasn’t just the spread – it was also laid out pretty dang good. Cloth napkins and all… not what we expected.
Lunch went by pretty quick. I took a few minutes to thank everyone for coming out and to let them know that the event wouldn’t really be happening without the sponsors and volunteers that put it all together.
After lunch we go back into sessions and finished off the day around 4:30 PM. A common comment I heard throughout the day from people was how well the event went. People enjoyed the location, the event and the speakers.
Overall, things went great and I am not aware of anything that didn’t go over as planned. If there was anything, please reach out to me to talk about it. We definitely don’t want to repeat any issues from this year with next year’s event.
There are a number of people to thank for making the event the success that it was. First there’s the PASSMN Board of Directors – Dan English (blog | twitter), Eric Strom (twitter), Mark Rocco, Gordon D’Souza, and myself. A huge thanks goes to Dan English for taking the lead on coordinating with Mystic Lake Casino and managing the funds for the event.
Second, there’s our volunteers – Andy Lohn, Nick Weber, Allie Gentry, Abhishek Kumar, and Tao Peng. They helped get all of the attendees registered and through the gates so that we could start on time.
Third, our sponsors. Honestly, the event would have gone nowhere without their support this event never would have happened. If was a combination of every sponsor that made the event even possible and my hats (I’m a consultant, I wear many hats) go off to them. Each and every sponsor believes in our community enough to have pitched in to help the community grow and expand.
Please take a moment if you can to thank each of the sponsors. Let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done for our community. You can find links to each of the sponsors on this post.
Lastly, I want to thank the attendees who came out. There’s no point in having a SQL Saturday event, even on a Friday, if people aren’t interested in learning. This event has showed us that there is a passionate community of SQL Server professionals that are interested and eager to learn more about SQL Server.
This year we had 250 registrations with another 60 on the wait list and probably as many more that didn’t register since we were full. By these estimates, we need a bigger boat. I expect that next year’s even will likely be at a new location since we’ll probably be able to easily pack in 350+ people.
Make It Better
As we were putting together this year’s event, I took some notes that I thought will help us for next year:
- Start Planning Early: We put our event together in just under 3 months. That’s extremely stressful and I don’t recommend it. Start planning as soon as possible. PASS can expect us to be talking to them in January about next year’s event.
- Designate a Project Manager: we had a small group but often lost track of who was working on what. Designating one person to just handle shelling out tasks and managing the list would be a bit helpful.
- Make a Project Plan: If you have a project manager, you will need a project plan. Make a formal one and use it.
- Physical Meetings: We only had one physical get together. I think things would have progressed smoother if we actually met more. No idea where I would get the time to do that though.
- Nothing is Free: No complaints about the venue, except there were a lot of add on costs that we never expected. When you get the rooms for free and just have to pay for food. There is probably more to the story. Make sure you investigate all of these ahead of time.
- Speaker Ready Room: I can’t believe this slipped my mind. Make certain that there is one. It’s important. I could have really used it.
- Bring the FAQs: Create an FAQ document for everyone. Make one for the sponsors, the volunteers, and the prize table. Then be certain that they all get it ahead of time. There were things we missed and hadn’t considered.
- Register the Sponsors: Until the morning of the event it hadn’t occurred to anyone to make sure the sponsors were on the registration list. In the end this meant that they didn’t have name badges printed up.
- Plan for Sponsor Attendees: In the end this wasn’t an issue, but we had some concern when we started asking sponsors how many people they would have at their tables. We had a lot of sponsors and with 2-3 people per sponsor, this added up fast. It was a consideration we hadn’t planned for. Everyone worked into the food and venue count. In the end there was no issues, but we stressed some wondering if we had over blown our head count.
- Ask the Sponsors About Their Audience: We had all of the sponsors at tables in a long “L” shape that stretched through the entire event area. The nice thing about this is that attendees had to constantly walk past the tables in order to make it around the event area. The plus to this is that sponsors looking to build name recognition and awareness were constantly seeing the sponsors and they were getting this benefit. The downside is that there wasn’t a way to discern whether someone was back around the booth out of interest or convenience. Next year, I’d like to have two areas available for sponsors to allow both types of marketing for them. I want everyone to come back and this is an easy change that can accommodate both types of sponsors.
- Moar Volunteers: Ask for volunteers early and make certain that you use them. Assign them to various tasks – shirts, food, flyers, FAQs, etc. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
- Room Ambassadors: Designate one volunteer to each room for the whole day. Make them in charge of managing surveys, prize tickets, and general questions about the content of the room.
- Morning Keynote: I’d like to attempt a morning keynote next time. I’ve been to a few with and a few without key notes. From a personal experience perspective, I’d like to see if this can improve the event.
- Attendee Shirts: This is something I didn’t feel too strongly about early on. Now that the event is complete. Next time I want to have attendee shirts as something that is provided. Part of this is because of my SQL Pass SQL Saturday Shirt post. But more of it is that it’s a way to remember the event and know you were a part of something pretty cool. And I think our event was pretty dang cool. So expect less cost on the lunch and to see those dollars put towards some shirts.
- Friday versus Saturday: Personally, I prefer Saturday over Friday. Friday worked but it was very tough when trying to make arrangements with getting out of the client site. If a production issue arose, quite literally we could have lost a speaker or an organizer. This risk is much smaller on the weekend. Also, I’ve made some great friends visiting other SQL Saturdays and think that we might get an even more amazing session lineup if we were one day later in the week.
If you are interested, below is the event guide and bingo card from SQL Saturday 58. Feel free to use them as is for you events or modify them as you will: