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. 


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

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