Tuesday, November 06, 2018

No Speaker? No Problem! Host a non-traditional User Group meeting

Was honored to speak to fellow User Group leaders at the PASS Summit User Group leader meeting on Tuesday. Here's detail and links to some of the things I mentioned. Thanks to everyone who chimed in at the end provided their own ideas to the room of user group leaders from around the world!

First, consider having a joint meeting with a shared speaker with other user groups, like a .NET or Analytics UG in your area. Share sponsor, food, speaker, networking. More critical mass of fellow professionals, more ROI for sponsors, more potential future speakers and volunteers.

Second, make sure you ABC - Always Be 'Cruiting - new speakers, attracting people to get their feet wet for the first time with technical speaking. Make sure the atmosphere of your group remains approachable, constructive, and not intimidating to new speakers. Make sure you are always reaching out directly to new speakers, offering short-format speaking timeslots at your meetings, and offering mentoring and constructive feedback.

Non-traditional meeting ideas: I'm not claiming credit for creating any of these ideas, they've been executed by others for sure, in fact, I've tried to link to them when possible.
  • "Game shows" - Most fun if game shows actually have individuals at play, not just "ask the crowd" style
  • SQL Jeopardy! using PowerPoint - Not hard to make at all, just what it sounds like. Don't forget to phrase your answer in the form of a query!
  • I have a slidedeck for three rounds of Jeopardy! from SQLSaturday Baton Rouge 2016, happy to share
  • Here's another Jeopardy! game shared by the Baltimore SQL Server User Group
  • Here's another from Chad Crawford of the Utah SQL Server User Group
  • SQL Family Feud - Chad from the Utah County SQL Server Users Group also put out an online survey and delivered the data to anyone who requested it in January 2018. - SQLSat Dallas did it this year for a big finale as well, or, ask around to collect your own "surveys"!
  • There are a lot of list games that are fine for group play, including SQL-themed games in the style of Listography and the Game of Things, like topics like: write down as many data types as you can in the next 20 seconds, or "things developers say", or "most common table name"!
  • Lead an interactive Normalized Database Design for a topic that many people know the business rules for, or, for a brand new business case with a guest product owner - https://www.sqltact.com/2013/01/try-database-design-exercise-at-your.html
  • Lead an interactive "choose your own" Database Corruption Recovery Challenge from Steve Stedman's blog series - http://stevestedman.com/server-health/database-corruption-challenge/
  • Speaker Idol - self-explanatory - well in advance of the meeting, put the call out for "short-format" speakers only, ask bosses, sponsors, spouses etc. to be judges.
  • Licensing - this is not a common topic - ask a local software reseller to send a SQL licensing specialist to talk and do Q&A for an hour, can be very informative.
  • The Toolbox - ask everyone in advance to bring handwritten tsql or powershell scripts from their own "toolbox" to share and briefly demo
  • Networking Night - invite a wide array of people to give short-format talks on career, interview, soft-skills, invite attendees to bring resumes. In BTR, we also add this meeting as a Gold tier SQLSaturday sponsorship
  • New speakers night - another short-format idea, invite only new speakers to give talks, with experienced speakers primed to give constructive, positive feedback
  • PASS Summit knowledge transfer - invite everyone who attended the PASS Summit to give a recap/best-of style presentation to do knowledge transfer to everyone else.
  • Panel of Experts - again, make sure your group remains constructive, approachable and non-intimidating. But a panel of "experts" for Q&A might be a great idea to attract user group attendees with name recognition. 

Emphasizing STEM Community Education at your SQLSaturday

Was honored to speak to fellow SQLSaturday Organizers at the PASS Summit SQLSat organizer meeting on Tuesday. Here's an outline, detail and links to some of the things I mentioned.

In 2018 we celebrated our 10th annual SQLSaturday Baton Rouge event. Several years ago, our event leveled off as far as attendees go, around 500 per year, pretty steady.

One of the reasons we are a small town with a big SQLSaturday is that we are not an insular SQL Server event. Sure, we attract tons of SQL Server sessions, and the name is SQLSaturday, but we've reached across technology lines and now, across community lines. Look, it's not like we're partnering with Oracle here, we're still very much the game in town when it comes to SQL Server and business intelligence knowledge, including helping to launch a second local PASS chapter, the BR Analytics User Group.

A few years ago, we started coming up with a theme for the event, that generally dictated little but our swag. One year a brand new STEAM magnet high school was opening near LSU campus in Baton Rouge, the fancy new campus was being constructed. We decided to have a "building careers" theme, thus the bulk order of construction helmets with SQLSaturday stickers on them.

We kept going from there, wondering how more we could get involved in the community, what could we as a gathering of hundreds of IT professionals do for a city and a state that, aside from the new high school, was dis-investing in public education, healthcare, infrastructure, especially in north Baton Rouge which is just a few miles north of campus.

So we started collecting money for the Foundation for the public school system, with the help of an organizer, we got in touch with the local Star Wars cosplayers. So yeah, we made a loose alliance with the Empire and so far we've raised a few thousand for the Foundation for the EBR School System.

We've helped to spread the word on the Futures Fund, which is an organization that provides digital arts and web design and coding training to underprivileged youth in Baton Rouge, with training from local professionals in the community. We gave opportunities to their organizer and instructors to speak at our Friday night speaker's banquet and a time slot to discuss their important mission and strategy on Saturday.

This year, with help and advice from organizers of kid's tracks in Dallas and Jacksonville, we hosted our first STEM Kid's Track. It was a logical addition to our goal of getting more involved in our community, it attracted speakers and attendees alike to make it a fun parent-child Saturday. I'm hoping to expand and look for more new ideas to get involved in the local community, especially to add opportunities for young and disadvantaged kids a learning opportunity to share with their parents.

We're hardly experts at this. One of the reasons why we partnered with STEMupBR was to have volunteers, actual professional educators, using well-prepared plans for teaching stop motion animation with Minecraft and coding with littleBits inventions. Similar to the strategies we apply every day in our jobs, we didn't reinvent the wheel here, and we were fortunate to find awesome volunteers, and we let good people do what they're good at.

We're not perfect, and we're not done at reaching out and trying to make SQLSaturday as meaningful as possible for volunteers, attendees, sponsors, and the next generation of IT professionals.

Thanks for reading, but in short, here's some ideas for your SQLSaturday:

  • Reach out to local STEM education programs and initiatives. Offer them free space to do their thing in your event, with a built-in audience of tech savvy or tech enthusiast families
  • Reach out to the local public school system to see if they have any weekend or after-school programs that could easily be adapted to a one-day event.
  • Reach out to nonprofits and STEM education initiatives in your city. Face it, as an organizer for a large and free tech event, there are folks in NGO's and outreach organizations would will listen to you and are eager to partner. Partnering with a free event like SQLSaturday could be valuable to them when it comes to their grant-writing.
  • Reach out to local tech community charitable arms and foundations, who are always on the look-out for tech-focused ways to donate time and effort. If they're anything like the Foundation at my employer, they're also not just looking for places to donate money, but opportunities to get their employees involved in STEM education.
  • Reach out to STEM and STEAM-focused schools, technology incubators, and tech entrepreneur organizations, offer them a free booth in your sponsor area in exchange for volunteers, supplies, or curriculum.
Best of luck to you and your fellow organizers as you efforts to give back to your local STEM community.