Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My Organizer's Notes and Goodbye after #SQLSatBR 2019

Some 2019 tips for other SQLSat organizers from my last year as lead organizer of SQLSatBR. I hope as a fellow organizer, you can pull some ideas and inspiration for your future events!
  • Last year we tried to take an "action" pic of each sponsor booth. We sent a personal email and included those photos to the sponsors this year, with an email "We'd love to have you back at SQLSaturday Baton Rouge 2019!" This year, we included action shots from Saturday in our "thank you" email that also included the scanned raffle badges for those sponsors. It worked to renew a sponsor in a couple cases, and we received some really nice replies to those emails. Examples:

  • Always capture booth "action" photos, of conversations taking place and with big crowds in the background/foreground. Use them as great call-outs on social mediaBig crowd shots are always winners, tell your photographers! Then, we post all our photos in a shared community photo album for anyone to contribute.
  • Our Thursday night bag-packing event was just so impressive. Notice our double-barreled, assembly-line approach to packing 500 bags in <2 hours. We also packed our third annual speaker goodie bags as a team that night, which was nice, since I'd done that on my dinner table in past years. 

  • In an effort to reduce waste and our landfill impact, we bought biodegradable badge holders this year instead of the slightly cheaper PVC badge holders which are worn once, tossed in a landfill forever. (Biodegradable plastic badge holders aren't as common to find, we bought from and they worked fine with the SpeedPASS PDF name badges that are 4" wide.) We also had our vendor use biodegradable paper-based serving boxes for the lunches instead of standard styrofoam. 
  • Be sure to recognize your user group and host facility partners, offer them a special place in the sponsor lineup. We were fortunate in a position to offer both the La. Tech Park and LSU a free booth at our event, as a big thank you for the free host facilities they provide us year after year. We also reached out and provided free booth space to the local Toastmasters group and a nonprofit that offers STEM education to low SES kids in our city.  But it's important that we make sure to reach out and offer our host facilities some recognition and an opportunity to participate, rather than just a transactional facility rental.

    Especially if your host is a higher education facility that provides post-grad certificates or degrees, which are major revenue sources, they would likely appreciate an opportunity to staff a booth and get their pitch out. This type of relationship is the type that leads the school to give us the facility for free, because the department is "hosting" our event rather than renting us rooms, so we bend over backwards to thank them.
  • We plan on expanding the use of facilitated panel discussions next year, they have been the past three years well attended and an additional honor to speakers and community partners including new potential sponsors. This includes the CIT Panel that we've done for years in partnership with Careers in Tech and our CIO Panels in the past. 
  • Feedback from Kenny Neal, our amazing schedule master: "If we could get a drag and drop scheduling module for it would be great. Like a listing of approved sessions on one side and let me drag them where I want them." Our schedulemaster was otherwise very happy with the new features on the admin SQLSaturday site this year. Gotta keep them happy. Big thanks to all speakers who spoke multiple times, some on short notice, and some three times back-to-back-to-back. Speaker dropouts are always a reality and easy to overcome when you have an diverse, experienced speaker lineup from around the country. Our strategy is to accept single sessions from as many distinct speakers as possible, and then add second sessions from their repertoire as needed.
  • Our Friday sponsor/speaker/volunteer dinner featured live music from the jazz band led by one of our long-time volunteers and a local data professional, Lori St George. Honestly it exceeded all expectations and Lori's Collaboration Band was a huge hit. It was an amazing collection of musical genius until they brought some of our SQLSatBR organizers up on stage for a hard-working finale.

    Are there any fun music acts in your local SQL community? Pro tip: don't ask them to play for free. Don't ask any independent/freelance folks to do what they do for free. We paid our tee shirt artist for design time, our band (no website for them... yet), our user group logo designer, and the baker of our pralines and bread pudding. If someone wants to volunteer their time, great, but if you're asking them for their normal services offer to pay their normal rate.
  • Blown away by all the people who participated in our small remembrance of SQLSaturday volunteer photographer and Baton Rouge community volunteer Carter Spade. Carter tragically passed away in July, leaving a void in many volunteer organizations like ours. Thanks for joining us in that, friends. Thanks for all your help in years past, Carter.
  • Our second year of a STEM Kid's Track was a hit. I visited the classroom after lunch, and the 30 kids in there were actively typing, plugging away, smiling and laughing, planning and debugging, and definitely the opposite of bored. Produced by the Foundation for the EBR School System, it sold out really fast despite being greatly expanded. There were definitely some disappointed parents. Next year we plan two classrooms, and an expanded partnership with STEM educational organizations in the city including the La. Women in Technology group, who we raised money for at our end-of-day raffle, netting a total donation of $1452.

    Someone asked why a few years ago we started emphasizing, featuring, showcasing, and raising money for STEM education nonprofits like The Futures Fund. It's because stuff like this helps the event to be more than "established IT professional training established IT professionals". We cast a wider net, a wider view. I don't want to be a part of an insular same-faces-every-year cycle. That's one of the reasons I have stepped down as lead organizer of SQLSatBR, but will be around to help the volunteers ready to step up.
Why am I stepping down as SQLSatBR lead organizer? There are a few reasons, I'll explain some here. I definitely will continue to support the both our SQLSat Baton Rouge conferences in 2020 as a volunteer, as well as the SQL user groups, as well as my role as a PASS Regional Mentor. But not as lead organizer for the SQLSatBR planning committee.
  1. Organizing the SQLSaturday has been really good for me professionally and personally. I've met tons of people. I've exercised skills as a public speaker, decision-maker, organizer, logistics. I've made friends from fellow organizers and volunteers, vendors in the community. I've exercised gratefulness in making sure to thank people as often and as individually as possible. So, why shouldn't others be able to do this? Other volunteers deserve the chance to own a larger portion of the conference we've built together since 2009. The Baton Rouge SQLSat scene is great to have not only a new SQLSat BI event coming in 2020, but also a dozen folks who I think would be perfectly capable and enthusiastic about running the conference, talking with sponsorships, making sure the spending lines up with the fundraising, talking to vendors, etc.
  2. First off, we have a ton of volunteer/organizers. I have had a lot of help. I want to make sure a smooth a transition as possible happens, so while I won't be lead, I will still be around. I'll probably be speaking more, leading less. But others deserve, want, and are enthusiastic about filling my shoes. There's no better time, the table is set and a great crew of volunteers is hungry. I left with a tight throat but with no animus, no regrets, and no apprehension that this thing that I have grown and loved will continue on. It'll be different in their way, and that's OK.
  3. I'm not sure what I'll do with my freed-up time in the late summers, but I'll figure it out. Don't worry about me. My wife and I have an empty nest and many adventures ahead of us. 'nuff said.
In case I got a little too choked up on Friday night, here's the notes I printed:
Lemme talk a little about SQLSaturday Baton Rouge.
I was just bragging on Twitter about the awesome volunteers we have, literally a couple dozen people show up, new faces and old, to help pack 500 attendee bags and a few dozen speaker bags. We have an amazing venue given to us free via our partnership with the LSU College of Business and the Stephenson Department of Entrepreneurship and Information Systems. We have an artist we’ve known and trusted for years for our poster and tee shirt designs. We’ve got documents, spreadsheets, contact lists. We got shared accounts for email and docs and social media. We’ve got a UPS Store box, we’ve got a high-falootin business bank account with have a dozen card holders and hours of paperwork, we’ve got a legal not for profit corporation. We even got branding for the SQL, .NET and Analytics User Groups to share a common logo concept across all our platforms and signage. We’ve got an amazing team up here, of DBA’s, Dev’s, and Data Professionals, and Microsoft MVP’s and Microsoft employees,
, and one lead singer who is also a data professional.
, and one Oracle DBA but we don’t hold that against Kristen. 
So when I say that 2019 is my last year as lead organizer of SQLSaturday Baton Rouge, I am stepping down from that role, and this is me announcing that to everyone, everyone including my wife, I’m saying it with a high degree of confidence that this thing we’re all doing with our free time in the late summer is in good hands. I’m not vanishing, I’ll be around to help, I’ll probably speak at the event, but this team has got this and we will work deliberately to make sure we’re as successful in 2020 as we have been in the past.
So, enough from me, thank you all, please eat, enjoy the music, see you tomorrow morning.