Inside SQLSaturday – Who and How

So it has become obvious over the years that attendees are pretty much in the dark when it comes to the inner workings of a SQLSaturday event. I am going to work on this series again only this time for attendees. We’ve started the process of organizing SQLSatNash 2018 so it’s a good time to write as we go through the process. Today I want to fill in the blanks of WHO and HOW.

WHO?

Have you ever wondered who organizes a SQLSaturday event? How they got that job? Well every event has a different who and there is no one from Pass directly involved with an event. Pass provides the website infrastructure, sometimes a small sponsorship and each event is on their own. Every event has a single person that signs the event agreement document with Pass. This person is the one responsible.  Some events have an entire team that works together. Some events rotate the responsibilities like communication, finance, and schedule. Others do things by committee vote.

Each event is ran differently, but how did they get there? Some of the events have reoccurred for years, like Louisville and Orlando have been going on forever. In these places the same person has almost always managed the event.  But sometimes there is organizer fatigue and others get added to the group or the reigns are passed on. Sometimes the event grows so the organizing team has to get bigger to make it reasonable to manage.

In the case of new events, it generally happens that someone gets excited about SQLSaturday and wants to have one where they live so they sign up to organize an event. But these folks are never alone and have an entire community (#SQLFamily) that they can lean on.

HOW?

How on earth does an event get organized?! For starters you can fill in a “Save the Date” on the SQLSaturday website. Once approved this puts notice that there are plans to have an event in this city at this time. Nashville puts in their reservation for the following year as they finalize the paperwork for the current event.  You have to make your event go live no later than 180 days from the event date and no earlier than 6 months. This post was up just 2 hours and I just learned there will be changes to this announced today, you now have to go live no later than 4 month and no earlier than 8 months. To go live you must sign the license agreement and have a venue confirmed (and no, no one really checks this).

When you go live there are several things that need to happen right away. So decisions and discussions on this has to happen before you go live, of course all of this can be changed after the fact but it isn’t easy and is hard to clean up.

  • Sponsor plan; dollar amounts and details per level.
  • How much you are charging for lunch and if you are offering Vegetarian and Gluten Free.
  • When the speaker cut off should be (there is an auto populate but you really need to look at holidays, weekends and other things that impact the event).
  • How long your sessions will be (there are defaults but do you really want 90 min submission if you are only doing 60 min time slots).
  • What tracks you are going to offer.
  • Updating the site with pictures and info about your event.

The other list of things that need to be done.

  • Soliciting sponsors.
  • Budgeting and tracking finances.
  • Pre-conference training. (Not all will chose to do this)
  • Picking sessions, building a schedule and notifying speakers.
  • Planning food and refreshments (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks).
  • Speaker dinner, most events try to have something for the speakers on the Friday night before.
  • Getting hotel blocks (discounted room rates) for speakers.
  • Prizes and swag for attendees, if there is money for that.
  • Speaker gifts, shirts and thank you notes.
  • Planning for volunteers.
  • Getting info on parking/shipping/and other event logistics to sponsors and to speakers.
  • Communications for marketing and event details.
  • Dealing with questions, issues, speaker cancellations and other things that happen.
  • Planning day of; registration, signs, directional signs, speaker ready room, printers for those who didn’t speedpass and etc.
  • After Party, a place for attendees, speakers, volunteers, organizers and some sponsors to hang out after the event.

This list isn’t all inclusive, it’s just here to give you a high level idea of what goes into a SQLSaturday. I’ll break more of these down in upcoming post.

WHY?

I can’t speak for everyone, these events happen around the world and I have heard lots of different reasons but I can tell you that for me I do it for the #SQLCommunity. I want want to give back to the community that has helped me so much over the years. This is one way I can do something good and it help a lot of people. There is a lot at stake when organizing an event, you are the person responsible for paying all the bills no matter what happens. I know one event had to cancel because they weren’t raising enough money to manage an event, and there was an event or two that have lost venues at the last moment and inuring expenses.

About #SQLSatNash

2018 will be my 5th year as the organizer.  I took over in 2014 after 2 years of Nashville not having an event. The core group here had all become extremely busy and could no longer dedicate the time and focus to pull off an event. I try to work with the two local user groups running ideas past them and looking for feedback and this year we held a community meeting to gather feedback. Going into our 5th year we’ve built up a few repeat volunteers and have gotten to know a few UG members that now want to be involved. I’m really looking forward to this year as I think we can make great things happen.

Being our 3rd year at the new venue is proving to be fantastic. I’ve been able to just shoot off simple emails and complete task in seconds that took hours to handle in the past. This consistency gives me extra time to focus on new ideas and ways to give more to our attendees.

My final thoughts

Each SQLSaturday event is unique and every single one of them have their own challenges to deal with. Some have committees, some have tons of volunteers and some have none. I know many organizers from all over the US and a few in lands far away, I know that everyone does the best they can with what they have available.  None of these organizers are paid*, they all just volunteer to dedicate their personal time to put these events together.

The next time you are at a SQLSaturday just remember that someone gave up time with their friends, family, loved ones and pets to put together that amazing event that cost nothing to attend. Remember to thank the sponsors, not only could it not be done with out their money but they also send representatives that are giving up part of their weekend to support the event. Remember to say thanks to the volunteers who’ve given up attending sessions in order to help the event (like at registration,  set up and tear down, room proctors and the list goes on). Speakers, while we think some of them are famous and that most of them are paid to be there, they in fact are not. A few speakers have employers that will pay their way to an event like this but most of them are traveling at their own expense. Speakers are also giving up their weekend to be there. So I guess what I am saying is just remember to be grateful.

 

*Note that there have been rumors that some events are ran “for-profit”, someone organizes the event and plans to keep any money that is left over. There are  no rules against this but it isn’t made clear if an event is out for making money are just doing good things in the community. Most events keep a cushion of $$ for last minute and any emergencies that happen, I feel the general rule of thumb is that goes to the local user group or other events and possibly held for the next event.

1 comment to Inside SQLSaturday – Who and How

  • Chris Wood

    As someone who is about to co-organize the 3rd SQL Saturday in a smaller community (Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA)everything you say is very true. You try and learn from the previous event and set what you hope are reasonable goals. In the end you hope that enough speakers (so far getting speakers has been no problem – thank you #sqlfamily) and enough attendees. At the end of the day you hope that everyone enjoyed the event and you didn’t make a big mistake in spending more than you receive.

    You are so right that it takes a family to organize the event but it may be hard work but its always very rewarding.

    Chris

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