SQL Tact

pointers, solutions and scripts for the SQL DBA
not intended to replace msdn, common sense or oxford commas

Monday, December 04, 2017

Attracting Non-Technical Speakers to Your SQLSat Events

Fellow DBA and community leader Peter Shore of the Columbus SQL PASS UG and SQLSat Columbus OH asked me via Twitter, "What is the best way for us to have a discussion about how you handle SQLSatBR? I am curious about the none data platform tracks, how you attract other disciplines and executives etc." My answer was the draft of a blog post... and a few email and Twitter exchanges later, here we are. Thanks for the blog inspiration, Peter!

This blog post is for SQLSaturday organizers, session selectors, and schedule-masters. 

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Professional development and IT leadership talks at past SQLSat Baton Rouge

At SQLSaturday Baton Rouge we try to provide non-technical content for two major audiences: career-minded IT professionals, and also IT leadership

The former is common at many SQLSats, but the latter we find is invaluable to our success as a small town SQLSaturday event in Baton Rouge. In a city of less than 500,000, we had have a 400-600+ person SQLSat event for the last 7+ years because of a broad session lineup.

First off, advertise the tracks you want to fill in your initial Call for Speakers. Emphasize in your Call for Speakers announcement emails that you have a desired track list, and it includes nontechnical tracks. Advertise in your event when announcing it to local user groups, schools, and companies: "Bring your boss! We have a track for IT Manager and CIOs". And yep, these tracks are fairly well attended. Not always full rooms, but we get a critical mass of people for good audiences and conversations. 

Firstly, jobseekers/career switchers/students is an obvious audience, they're probably already in attendance at your SQLSaturday event. It's the IT Management/CIO-level content that we try to add too, because that attracts net new attendees and even more importantly the decision-making crowd, which increases your event's attractiveness and ROI for the sponsors

So how do you get speakers for these two audiences/tracks?

Well, marketing budgets aren't exactly a thing. We remain mostly attended by word-of-mouth, we believe. We have a slick one-pager (feel free to copy), and we've put it in various break rooms, coffee houses, bulletin boards, etc. Reach out to local colleges and universities of course. But to get speakers during your Call for Speakers campaign, you need to reach other motivated professionals like yourself. Start with social media platforms of course, Slack, Twitter, LinkedIn, are good starts. But as a community event organizer and/or SQL Server user group leader, try to become aware or at least reach out to network with organizers of user groups for .NET, SharePoint, VMWare, game developers, Women in Technology, Agile development, IT Pro, etc. 

To fill non-technical tracks for career-minded professionals at your SQLSaturday events, the formula is takes some legwork, but is probably familiar to you:
  1. You can encourage your speakers to submit non-tech topics, most professionals do already have tips for being interviewed, career growth tips, lifehacks type of presentations. In general, you should always advertise a list of tracks/topics to fill during your Call for Speakers.
  2. We encourage these types of professional talks at our annual networking night, and provided some sample topics here.
  3. Reach out to leadership development and young leaders groups. Reach out to local versions of "Shark Tank", young entrepreneurs and similar groups, make sure they know there's a local conference with a track for their topics.
  4. For topics geared towards resumes, interviews, and job hunting, reach out to local HR departments or the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).
  5. Reach out to Toastmasters International. They're great for this sort of thing, and can likely provide either a sample Toastmasters meeting or communications-focused sessions.
I bet there are presences from both SHRM and TM (or similar) in most towns in the USA. Both of these groups have conferences of their own where they give talks on interviewing/being interviewed, career development, professional communications, etc.  (Keep in mind some speakers in these organizations may be used to getting paid for speaking - be professional and polite about telling them that your conference is a free conference.) 


To fill tracks for the IT Management/CIO track, here are some ideas for recruiting sessions and speakers. At SQLSatBR, we've had IT Management/CIO/Executive tracks at the last three events. Take a look to see what kind of speakers and sessions we picked in the past, and feel free to reach out to those speakers for your own events.
Presentations for those who perform interviews can be especially useful for the IT Management/CIO-level crowd, especially if you can find someone (like my wife and most HR professionals) who know the law around what you can/cannot ask in an interview, not just to be EOE compliant, but to avoid discrimination. IT leadership will definitely want (need?) to attend that. Some IT professionals may also give presentations on technical interview tips.

Other good ideas for tracks for the IT Management/CIO crowd are "strategic" (aka salesy) presentations by Microsoft or other vendors, without being too technical (or too salesy). Reach out to local IT consulting firms or offices. They probably already run their own "CIO luncheons" or "executive roundtable" meetings. The head of my employer, an IT consulting firm, pulled in all the CIOs he knew (many of which were customers) and honored them with appearance on a panel about "cloud strategy" or "modern IT strategy" or "hybrid datacenters." CIOs eat that stuff up.

Inviting local IT Managers/CIOs to be on a panel can be a nice honor, especially if you advertise it as such. Don't be afraid to organize your own panel, perhaps facilitate it yourself with questions about IT strategy, future trends, past successes/mistakes, etc. A good panel discussion may be 50/50 panelists/audience Q&A. It's not difficult at all, in fact we do a similar panel-style presentation around Jobs in IT

Finally, if you're looking for sessions to place in a CIO track, Business Intelligence talks work well, especially presentations for "executive dashboards". PowerBI sessions, as long as they are not too technical, would be very popular for a IT Management track. Anything on data warehousing, data lakes, "big data", or presentation-layer stuff (like SSRS mobile reports) would be appropriate. 

So fill non-technical tracks for the IT leadership/decision-maker crowd:
  1. Reach out to SHRM or other organizations for HR professionals. 
  2. Reach out to IT consulting firms, especially ones that do Business Intelligence consulting. 
    1. Reach out to anyone in your town who has ever presented a "CIO Executive Summit" or similar.
  3. Reach out during your call for speakers to local chapters of the AITP, ACM, itSMF, VMWare, IT Pro, and other technology chapters. Again, something I've encouraged for a long time - involve other community user groups in your SQLSaturday event, including but not limited to the .NET group.
  4. Reach out to anyone in your town who does "leadership consulting" or "executive coaching", they'd probably jump at the opportunity to present and work in a subtle pitch for their own services. Be sure they are familiar with the format and expectations of your event.
  5. Consider organizing your own Panel discussion of local IT leadership or thought leaders.
  6. Consider some Business Intelligence sessions for a CIO track, especially sessions involving executive dashboards, or BI sessions that are more strategic or design-oriented in nature.
Let me know if you have any questions, and best of luck organizing your next SQLSaturday event!


Careers in IT Panel discussion at SQLSatBR 2016

Monday, November 06, 2017

SQLSat Organizers and UG Leaders Meetings at PASS Summit - Tips and Tricks notes

At the SQLSat Organizers and UG Leaders Meetings at PASS Summit meetings last week, we were given an opportunity to share "tips and tricks" with other leaders, and I had the opportunity to.

Now that I'm home (despite a thrilling late-night sprint through IAH to make a connecting flight) and starting to get caught up on sleep and email, here's my notes I typed up, annotated with some links.

Happy to share and thanks for the followup questions afterwards, let me know if you have any more.

SQLSat Organizers Meeting

  • First off the Microsoft global sponsor is a big deal, I have strong positive opinions in that, thank you for that.
    • I am a big-budget SQLSat organizer, I think this is a really good thing. Bravo Microsoft.
  • Broad set of topics, “for everyone in IT”
    • We pull in 400-600 each year for past 5 years
    • We invite the developers, sysadmins, students, IT managers and CIO's, SharePoint…
    • More ROI for sponsors, a bigger audience that includes decision makers
  • Join the Empire - Fundraising for foundation (for local schoolsystem?)
    • Call your local chapter of the 501st Legion - star wars
    • They'll help you raise money for whatever charity you pick
  • Jambalaya is cheap
    • Rice, meat, spices, salad, sides, plates, $4-5/head
    • Similar dishes: arroz con pollo, paella, fried rice, shawarma and rice
    • It's also gluten free!
  • R is hot, what else is?
    • Example: Chris Hyde at capacity in 60-person room for R
    • Pay attention to the hottest topics if you have opportunity use your bigger rooms
  • Speaker goodie bags
  • Sticker game - part of vendor ROI
    • We give stickers to the vendors with instructions to give them out to folks who actually show interest
    • Attendees have to collect 4 out of 5 stickers, n-1 on a game sheet
    • They get to keep the one for their field, the stickers have said in the past, "I'm building" or "Performance Tuning" or "rising", so it's SQL or Careers or Code or Servers or BI
    • About $300-400 for five 500-count rolls of stickers (pictured, right)
    • Sample game card here.

UG Leaders Meeting


  • South Central Regional Leadership meetings held bimonthly with fellow RM Keith Tate
  • Talk to your local .NET
    • Build a critical mass of people for networking , but also for sponsor ROI
    • They have a new parent organizer, the .NET Foundation, which is finally stepping in
    • For a long time we’ve enjoyed being a chapter of PASS, and I think sometimes we take it for granted how great it is, other technologies don’t have it
  • Remote speakers? Must have a good AV setup
    • We’ve had remote speakers more often recently because our venue has given us a conference room with a big TV
    • Do NOT try to do remote speakers with a shabby AV setup. It will discourage people.
    • Always prefer building a local new speaker
    • You can still have a local lightning round speaker as the remote speaker stands by
  • Networking Night
    • Every year the month before our SQLSaturday, we add to the vendor ROI by hosting a networking night.
    • This is one of the biggest meetings of the year for us, 75+ folks show up, many new faces with resumes in hand
    • We have lightning round style talks on career topics, soft skills, entertaining etc. My wife gives a different talk from some aspect of the HR interviewing process every year.
    • http://www.brssug.org/group-news/batonrougeusergroupsnetworkingnight2017
  • Meetup
    • We paid for it with leftover sqlsat money in 2017
    • So far, we have gotten a handful of first timers from meetup, but few retained regulars
    • Other User Groups have had A LOT of success with Meetup.com
  • More social events
    • We’re trying to build more social camaraderie so we’re going to do official self-pay events at various locations around town
    • Especially in December annually

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The #SQLSAT Speaker Goodie Bag

Last summer, I heard about an awesome idea for speaker gifts at SQLSat Pensacola 2017 from organizer Karla Landrum and Tamera Clark (SQLSat Nashville). It was our 9th year of SQLSat Baton Rouge, we've had polo fatigue and were looking for fresh ideas for useful, memorable speaker gifts. SQLSat Nashville's speaker goodie bags, full of day-of-conference supplies, was an inspiration.

I personally heard that at least three speakers went to the bag during SQLSatBR, specifically for the Mini DisplayPort-to-everything video adapter common to laptops. It's an annual occurrence that someone with a newer laptop is dismayed to find they've left their adapter at home, and they don't have a way to hook up to the room's VGA or HDMI cable. I've heard other speakers mention it at user groups meetings since. And just today, my wife Christine (hrtact.com) mentioned that at work she pulls it out for the various useful items.

So in advance of the SQLSat Organizers meeting at PASS Summit this week, I figured I'd list out the contents and sourcing for the goodies that made it into the bag. For some of these, you can even "subscribe and save" via amazon for a huge discount... for one month. ;)

The idea is to give a useful pack of inexpensive things in a bag that sits nicely inside of a laptop bag. The goodies are small, bulk-purchased, inexpensive things that someone would need the day of a speaking event. Links to the items, almost entirely sourced from Amazon.com, are provided only as examples.
The total cost per bag ended up being around $31, or a little more than the cost of an embroidered polo shirt. The biggest single expense (and most often used) item was the mini DisplayPort, roughly half the cost of the entire bag.