SQL Saturday 122 – Addressing attendee feedback

Most organizers including me usually write one post covering the entire event. This year I decided to break it up into multiple posts simply because the lessons are many and the audience for each post is different – a post on budgeting would probably interest organizers a lot more than an attendee. This post is for attendees, addressing some of their feedback.

A lot of attendees have never been to a sql saturday. A lot of attendees have, but do not know much on basics of how these events operate. At every one of the five events we have hosted – I have explained to wide eyed attendees (including one microsoft employee this time) that this is a completely free event, and nobody makes a dime out of doing it – the organizers as well as speakers, all do it for free, just for the pleasure of learning and community. To add to that a few more facts –

1 There is a lot of feedback on having more vendors and more swag. Starting with vendors – we are thrilled to have as many vendors as we can possibly have and we try very hard to sell our event to as many as possible. But how many vendors we actually get is a combo of budgeting decisions vendors make and the luck factor. This year has been a landmark year for us in terms of finding local vendor support – VSoft Consulting and SIS, both local consulting companies, came in as a Gold Sponsors. New Horizons, another local training company came in as a silver sponsor. Lakeshore Consulting sponsored breakfast, and Republic bank gave us swag bags, as well as 10 attendees for our pre cons. We hope to get more of their support going forward too. As for national vendors, we still had four of them – Quest, Idera, Confio and PASS. But they have a huge choice of events, some events much bigger than ours – we understand that and we have to live with the choices they make.

2 On to SWAG and give aways- many vendors have cut down on swag material due to budgeting decisions. SWAG is cool for an attendee but in reality it is extremely hard to handle – someone has to store it before distribution and someone has to keep the leftovers after, that takes up room in their homes and garages, space that they would rather keep their personal stuff in. Truthfully having less swag has given us more time and energy to organize other parts of the event better. Give aways again, are a vendor call. We do not control any of the decisions they make – if they have an IPad or not, and if they have 3 gift cards instead of one.

3 To clarify both points again – all SQL saturdays are not funded the same. Some of them get 10x more funding than we do (and no, not 10 times more people or more sessions!!). It is a vendor decision to offer more funding to some events and less to others – so if you are at an event with several ipads or television give aways or karaoke parties, do remember that we didn’t get as much funding as they did to make those things happen.The main goal of a sql saturday is in two words ‘free learning’. Any feedback you can give us to make that better can and will be greatly appreciated – but free giveaways and swag are not likely to get on the improvement list easily.

4 Space for lunch – We realize that not having enough tables and eating areas around was a significant issue for several attendees. The location is given to us for free (we cannot afford most paid locations with such facilities). Their request was not to allow food in classrooms – which we had to accomodate in return for 7 awesome classrooms and some vendor display space. This limited networking opportunites and also took away valuable time from having well attended lunch sessions such as WIT or Toastmasters.This is definitely on top of our list of things to improve for next year.

5 Post event party – This is again one thing that comes up for discussion every year and has not happened yet, for several reasons.On top of them is the fact that our small and committed team of volunteers are tired to the bone towards the end of the day. Heading to a party is frankly the last thing on our minds, and it is difficult to have a party without atleast one person there making sure things are going ok. We considered having a job fair kind of a party this time – but the recruiting companies we worked with had already signed up as vendors and done their networking at the event itself.  Lastly, most bars are packed in and around Louisville on friday and saturday nights, and we cannot book any of them for you without dropping a significant sum of $ which we would gladly use for other purposes. All said ,this is also on our improvement list for next year and the goal is to make it happen.

6 ‘Missing’ or bad lunch payments – A couple of attendees claimed they had paid and were showing up as not. There are 3 ways to track a lunch payment – one is if they have a lunch coupon, two is if they have the paypal receipt for the payment, and three is if they show up on our list as paid. If none of the three are available it is really very hard to attach payment to the person or prove he paid (in all probability he just thought he did and didn’t). We did have spare lunches but it was against rules of the school to accept cash payments on site, and also would have been unfair to paid attendees. So all we can say in this regard is to keep your tickets and payment proof handy.

The remarks on various speaker sessions have been taken seriously and passed on to the speakers. We hope you have considered giving them same/similar feedback on the paper forms that were available in each session. Speaker feedback is taken very seriously by speakers and organizers but with reasonable limits attached – so if you went to a design session and complain that you didn’t’ get something to ‘act upon’ immediately (unless you are half way through designing something that is unlikely) – it is really not the speaker’s fault. We have also noted the requests for more developer sessions and will try to accomodate this as well.

Last but not the least – SQL Saturdays happen on a global level, in all countries and all communities. The last place where you expect a racist remark is on feedback for an event, but this time I got one. This person accused ‘one community’ of ‘dominating the event’ and that ‘knowledge is not enough but communication skills are important as well’. Being an organizer has nothing glamorous to it – it is not a position of ‘authority’ or ‘domination’ in any way. You are lucky as an organizer if you get committed volunteers to share your load, like I do. It is a task that makes huge demands on your personal time, makes you handle a lot of $ that is not really yours but you are accountable for it just the same – you get nothing out of it other than a few compliments here and there and you do it just the same because you love the community and the team work. I am a US citizen and living in this country for 17 years now. My team is as american as apple pie. If anything  we did upset this person all I can say is more constructive feedback would be appreciated, and references to communities/domination etc is just plain hurtful.

Judging from the overwhelming number of personal compliments many of us got, and the fact that almost 95 percent of our attendees who responded to the survey want to come back next year and the remaining 5 percent are just a ‘dont know’ – we have done most things right. Now is the time to kick back and relax a while..until next year..thank you everyone!!

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. WayneS
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 20:52:10

    Thanks for all of the hard work that you and your merry group of volunteers did to make things run as smoothly as possible. You guys really did a great job. After the last minute questions of whether the projectors would work properly with our computers, I was very pleased to hook up and find everything working perfectly. Everyone there seemed to be learning, and that is THE goal.

    Again, thanks for all of your hard work to make this event look so… smooth.

    Well done!

    Reply

  2. Louis Davidson (@drsql)
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 21:54:27

    Weird, I didn’t see anything to compain about. I enjoyed the sessions I went to, and enjoyed giving the sessions I did (even if the last session of the day wasn’t filled, the people who were there and I had what seemed to be a great discussion.) I like what you are doing with what I can only imagine are less funds, and even at the PASS conference in Seattle, swag is not what it once was….

    Thanks for all you (and your team, naturally!) have done, and I look forward to next time.

    Reply

    • diligentdba
      Jul 23, 2012 @ 22:19:59

      Louis, majority of feedback was very positive. I like to address all of it, that is all.Glad you had a good time. Hope to see you at SQL Sat Nashville, and attend sessions too then!!

      Reply

  3. Morgan Roberson
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 22:51:35

    This was only the second SQL Sat event that I have been to and I thought it was excellent. there were many good presentations and speakers and there were times that I wish I could have been in two sessions taking place at the same time. I appreciate the sponsors supporting events like this and I tried to take the time to speak to every one of them. I did win a book but I can honestly say I would attend even if SQL Sat was swag-free. If this event weren’t so far away from where I live (3.5+ hour drive), I would have tried to volunteer. Perhaps next year.

    My thanks to all of the hard-working people who put this together!

    Reply

  4. Sanil Mhatre
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 01:07:56

    It was an excellent event Malathi. Totally worth our time driving down from St.Louis. We got some great SQL Learning and had a good time. A big thanks to the team for putting up a great event.

    Reply

  5. Dave Fackler
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 12:21:38

    Mala, my compliments and kudos to you and the rest of the volunteer team for another totally EXCELLENT event! I come away every time amazed at the dedication, hard work, and professionalism that you and the rest of the team provide to every event we have in Louisville. Yes, there are always challenges to overcome, but you and the team rise above the challenge(s) every time and make our events successful and memorable. For anyone in the Louisville area who believes the next SQL Saturday we have could be better, I can only say — VOLUNTEER to be part of event team and make it better!

    As you and the rest of the commenters have indicated, learning is the number one priority for every event we hold, so as long as even one attendee comes away more knowledgeable than they were coming in the door, you, your team, and the speakers have all done our jobs! As usual, I can’t wait until out next big event!!

    Reply

  6. Andy Thiru
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 21:38:39

    Malathi , congrats to you and your team for putting up a such great event, Enjoyed every minute and had good time to the session i went to and the one I presented also. looking forward for next one.

    Reply

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