SQL Saturday 2012 – Lessons learnt

We had our fifth SQL Saturday at Louisville this year. It was an awesome day of free training and networking, with a record attendance of over 200 people and 35 sessions on 7 tracks. Our venue was at the School of Business at University of Louisville. Some of the lessons learnt and experiences we had as  organizers are as below.

1 Pre Cons/Day before:
I have written a separate post covering pre cons themselves. Generally having pre cons at the same location gave us a huge breather in terms of organizing – usually we only get the location the day before – and stay there until late night setting up. This allowed us to put up signs, fill bags and get tables and swag organized a whole day earlier. Many volunteers could enjoy the speaker dinner and show up far less stressed the next day because of this. While it is tough to get the same premises again without interruptions on a working day, the advantages are tempting and we will try to make this happen in similar ways next time.

2 Signs: We made a significant investment in getting good signage this time, and it paid off really well.Many people appreciated the signs, and not too many complained of being lost.

3 Speaker Dinner: We wanted to pick up the tab on speaker dinner this time since we had not done so in the past. The Bristol Bar and Grille provided good food with local flavor at a reasonable price and well within our budget .Most speakers and attendees enjoyed the dinner.

4 SpeedPass:
This was our first experience using speedpass. We were a little skeptical to be honest – since a lot of our attendees show up with barely any info/paperwork on them even for paid conferences. The location did not have any fast printers, and it didn’t seem practical to have inkjet printers on us. Printers are pretty heavy to lug around and set up, and we had enough to do without that as overhead. So we made printouts of name tags and raffle tickets, to be safe. Approximately 20-30% of attendees showed up with no printouts, much lower than what we thought. So while the printouts were useful – speedpass largely worked for us and we will use it again.

5 Vendor Area:
Setting up vendor area went very smoothly and all vendors were appreciative of the experience.This is also a landmark event for us in terms of finding local vendor support – we had four local vendors, two of whom was gold sponsors.All of them seemed extremely happy with the experience.

6 Lunch – Our usual vendor Jason’s Deli did a great job this time also with delivering quality food on time at very affordable prices. The only hassle with lunch was that no food was allowed in classrooms and people had difficulties finding areas to sit and eat. This is one of our action items to work on for next year.

7 Speakers and Sessions – Our speakers were a mix of those who were loyal to us and proven good speakers, and new speakers who had submitted interesting sessions. We have recieved great feedback on most, and some small complaints on others. As is the norm this will be considered for selection next year. It is heartening to note that the list of ‘loyalists’ or proven good speakers grows every year, we regard this as an extremely healthy trend.

8 Session timings – We timed sessions to last one hour each with 15 minutes for questions. It seemed to satisfy most speakers – a couple of attendee feedback comments indicated that some were ‘rambling to fill time’ 🙂 We are not sure if this is serious enough for any kind of action – but we will let speakers know of the duration well ahead of time.

9 Professional Growth – We had a dedicated track to professional growth this time that included an awesome panel of speakers for Women in Technology and many other useful sessions. Unfortunately these sessions had very thin attendance – I have seen Professional growth suffer low attendance even in PASS summit so this is nothing unusual but i personally believe many speakers on this track deserved better. Perhaps having the WIT session at lunch and scheduling some of the other sessions around the technical sessions instead of a dedicated track might help in this regard. This is something to experiment with for next year.

All in all the event was a huge success. With 35 tracks and 230 people signing in, 4 local vendors and 4 national vendors, it was bigger than any we had ever hosted. We were proud and happy to have provided quality free learning yet again, and look forward to next year already.


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