SQLSaturday 242 wasn’t attacked by AT-ATs, I just couldn’t resist the chance to use that title. Last year I cheesily went with “A New Hope” for my blog post title for all the lessons learned and how changed I was from the process. It’s not that often you have an opportunity for a Star Wars reference AND a shameless previous blog post plug wrapped into one so I had to do it – please forgive me. Besides it works if you consider I did feel a little like I was frozen in carbonite the day after SQLSaturday 242. Alright now that I’ve got the Star Wars-ness out of my system, and I’ve had some time to recover it’s about time I got my blog post out from my experiences being the lead organizer of SQLSaturday 242.
This year was much different than the last couple years. Those past years I was very involved and helped in organizing but had the wonderful Caroline leading the the way. This year I had to step out on my own and lead. Oye, I should have thanked Caroline more profusely in the past years! There was just so much she did that I wasn’t even aware. God bless ya Caroline! I was excited to do it though. I was anxious to right some wrongs that bothered me since last year (again see blog) and help pay forward to the SQL community some of the goodness that SQLSaturdays have brought to me over the years.
When I started planning this year I was determined to find a new venue. The place we had been the past years was a great venue, just located in an area where it is scarce to find good hotels for my speakers. Since the hotel was the main thing sticking in my craw from last year, hell or high water was going to rectify it this year. And I found a great place in a great location with Indiana Wesleyan on the northside. They were great to work with and good hotels were plentiful. We didn’t even have any act of god storms or issues in the hotel. Demon exorcised – halleujah!
Honestly too it is great relief that I REALLY TRULY know the full ins and outs of what this event takes to happen. There were so many unknowns I had going into this event having not sat in the lead spot that it drove me completely nuts. I would keep myself up at night just sitting and making list after list to try to think of everything I needed to do. I wanted with my hometown SQLSaturday more than anything to take care of my people: my speakers, my sponsors, my volunteers, my attendees. I want them all to just feel like we were taking care of them.
Friday comes and I got at it early so I could get Bill Pearson setup and going for his precon since PTI was hosting it. We had some hiccups with the projector software but Bill, being the pro he always is worked through the rough patches and we worked it out. Then I begin setting up the attendee packet stuffing station. As I looking the table of 1000 laps and a million sponsor flier papers, I started to get a bit panicked. I then called in the calvary…my saint of a mother in law, Pam who agreed to help out. Then when the blessed, wonderful Chris and Gigi Bell show up they help make fairly quick work of it. Alan Dykes also shows up and helps me with the monitor setup. I had attended SharePoint Saturday and they had monitors outside the rooms to display the current and upcoming sessions. I thought it looked slick so we worked that out but it wouldn’t have happened if Alan hadn’t had stepped in to help with it.
Later that night comes the speaker dinner. We ended up doing bowling again this year which was fun. It’s not fancy but is a great way to get folks loose and chatting. I think it went well and seems like all had a good time. I got some cupcakes to help butter folks up too just in case. I started to loosen up a bit and some of the weight begins coming off my shoulders since by that point, if it ain’t done it just wasn’t gonna happen.
Then comes Saturday and we are up at the crack of dawn to get the mad dash going to get things setup. We weren’t able to get in till 7:00 and we had registration starting at 7:30 so it didn’t leave much time for things to fall into place. The morning was just nuts, it’s just the way it goes even if things run like clockwork with an event with that many people. I had to get the computer and printer setup for the SpeedPASS printing area of shame. Never fails, you will just have folks who don’t print SpeedPASSes no matter how many pleas you send. I bought a printer that we ended up raffling off at the end of the day which worked out really well. Just make sure if you stay up the night before getting the drivers and crap setup that you plug it in and do it in the same manner you intend to on go day. Damn thing installed drivers anyway since I plugged it in instead of using the wireless. As the morning moves on we run into more bumps. This was my first year also to administer the site for the event. It turned out I didn’t have some of the sponsors selected to be in the SpeedPASSes so I had to hurry up and make some raffle tickets really quick and get them printed them for folks to fill out (was able to scan SpeedPASSes off of computer for these sponsors after the event to help rectify this wrong). While I was doing super fast design work, I didn’t have time to think over what I needed to say for opening remarks. I think I may have sounded like a stressed out Elmer Fudd yammering thank you and that was about it. I meant to say more so folks were aware of little details.
The rest of the day moves on and things start to settle down from morning craziness. We had some more minor hiccups that had us bobbing and weaving but we came out of it without much damage. Lunch came and went and things went as smooth as I think lunch for 191 people can go and it didn’t take terribly long to get folks through the line. We didn’t have a large area for people to eat so we needed to have folks disperse into the various rooms. Something I think I could have gotten across again in opening comments. Rest of day goes well and we were very lucky to have great sponsorship so were able to get a lot of great prizes to give away. We were needed to get out of the venue fairly quickly so we tried to move through them at a quick clip. Sometimes that portion can drag along if you let it. I let out a large sigh of relief and it was over. We cleaned up really quickly thanks to all the volunteers on deck. We then get a good size group headed out to Scotty’s Brewhouse for a much needed beer and some food. I got a bit misty eyed when I got a good amount of applause when I arrived (I love my SQL peeps). From there some found a Korean place that had private karaoke rooms so some brave souls headed over. We had a blast but it was a tad bit interesting/disturbing with the Korean dramas going on the screens while you (not me) sang. Who knew you could possibly add weirdness to SQLkaraoke but by god we did.
Thank you so much to everyone who helped me with SQLSaturday 242! Thank you so much to my family, Rod, the kids, and my saint of a mother in law Pam. You put up with my distraction, picked up my slack, and even helped with the event. I was so glad you all could be a part of one of these. It means a lot that you got to see a little glimpse into these crazy SQLSaturday things you hear so much about and got to see this side of my life. Thank you to Sally at PTI who helped me get so many things together and cut more paper than a human should! Thank you to everyone at PTI for helping me, allowing me the time and resources to organize this event. And thank you to Alan for your help all along the way and handling those damn monitors! And my registration crew: Gigi, Katie, Courtney, and Stephanie! You ladies just killed it at registration and all through the day! I can’t thank you all enough! Brandon Lukes thank you for your help! Thank you Eddie for handling the precons. And countless others who helped me, thank you! From every fiber of my being, thank you! It meant the world to me to have so many help make this event a success.
And since I am selfish and figure I need all the good SQLSaturday karma I can get, here are some recapped lessons and a few more thoughts on SQLSaturday 242 Indy.
1. Make sure you keep a good list of sponsors and the raffle prizes they intend to give away. You need to keep good track of the ones they are bringing themselves and those they give to you, the organizer. Then PRIOR to sending out word on the SpeedPASS check to make sure all who intend to give prizes are included in the SpeedPASS. The system will only auto print for silver and above sponsorship levels. Double check since bronze/swag sponsors sometimes have giveaway prizes but are not selected by default. Make sure that you have good details on how attendees will need to claim prizes prior to the event. Print out certificates if necessary just to help you keep track and have something easy to hand over to winner.
2. Make sure if you intend to have speakers give away books to get them the details on what they need to do. Sorry speakers.
3. Make sure to be prepared before the morning comes with different items that should be addressed during the opening comments and PRINT it out. I had a OneNote list that I assumed would have time to review before it was time to speak. Yeah that assumption was wrong. Make sure to get information on logistics throughout the day such as plans for lunch. Also make sure to give an overview of what SQLSaturday is and that it is a mix of experienced speakers as well an opportunity to encourage new speakers. We had some comments to the effect that we should “vet speakers as some were inexperienced”.
4. Make sure to check with businesses and city ordinances that it is ok to put up your SQLSaturday directional signs. I had 5 signs of which I got back 1. Maybe it was hoodlum Oracle teenagers or something but our signs went missing. I love it when the signs are up when I go to a SQLSaturday. Sorry to those who came later when they were gone.
5. Get the session levels on the printed schedule. We had some really nice clear envelopes for sponsor swag and the schedule. On one side we had a nice color, printed schedule that was visible through the envelope that I think was very handy for attendees. I did not have the session level on it though which would have been helpful. Also would like next year to get colors for tracks on it as well.
6. Make sure to have some committed help to stuff packets. Just a few hands can make all the difference.
7. Check very early on the catering situation of any potential venues. Many venues will have exclusive contracts with caterers which means extra $$. This can be a huge expense that your $10 charge for lunch won’t cover. Also make sure you account for the cost of speakers and sponsors to eat. Make sure you know how much money you may need to cover the costs before you sign up for the venue. We didn’t have any issues with that but just could see that helping potential SQLSaturday organizers.
8. If you need printers, monitors or other items during the day see if it makes sense to buy those items to raffle off at the end of the day for prizes.
9. Make sure to have coffee setup for the entire day. We had several folks wanting for coffee in the afternoon.
10. Make sure you have some food items at breakfast that do not contain nuts. We had coffee cakes but I didn’t realize they had nuts and didn’t even consider those with allergies.
So I survived organizing a SQLSaturday again and feel like I came out of this one with less battle wounds. It was a lot of work but there really is a great feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. I helped bring some more SQL community to Indy and THAT is a great thing.