My first SQLSaturday organizer experience blog was called “SQLSaturday Indy Episode 2: A New Hope“. The next year I just couldn’t resist and did “SQLSaturday 242 – The Empire Strikes Back“. I have to finish out the trilogy thus the reason for the blog post name. I’m sorry if you were lured here in hopes that there were gals in metal bikinis or Ewoks at SQLSaturday Indy. Sadly there was nothing Star Wars related at all but I did Game of Thrones geek out with the room names. To tie the title in though, I am getting better at this SQLSaturday organizer role so if you want to call me a jedi, I won’t be mad at ya.
I was again at the helm leading the organization of SQLSaturday Indianapolis. It was my second year fully leading the effort. It definitely was a little different this year, going in with last year’s experience under my belt. I was a little more calm knowing how the whole process worked and didn’t have that fear of what I didn’t know constantly getting to me. I also made sure to keep really good notes including some of the various communications sent out. That was helpful as I didn’t have to start from scratch on many of them. Most importantly I also knew early on to pull in some help. I have a saint of a mother in law, Pam/Mamaw, who last year helped me as well. What I didn’t tell folks though was that I called her in a panic Friday morning before the event last year. She offered (or I begged, I can’t remember) to help again this year. She helped with so many of the logistics of prepping the many materials and various other things. There are many things take a decent amount of time that I underestimated last year. They aren’t difficult but are tedious/time consuming.
Here’s a list of such things for any new organizers:
1. Stuffing of bags/packets for attendees
2. Preparing the gift bags for speakers
3. Printing the schedules
4. Cutting speaker session evals
5. Cutting event session evals
6. Cutting SpeedPASSes for speakers and preparing lanyards
Friday I take off work so Pam and I start bright and early. She had the good idea to wait to get drinks that morning so we only have to unload them the one time at the venue. We do that and then get those and all the various paraphernalia to Indiana Wesleyan. We get done and have some lunch while I go through my many lists of to do items. I was a little uneasy at how smooth it was going compared to last year. I even had time to head home for a bit and get ready for the speaker dinner. Last year I was so rushed I had to buy a shirt on the way to the speaker dinner as I sweat through the first one. Classy egh?
We had the speaker dinner at a local restaurant called Oobatz. I had been working with the owner, Kirk, who was absolutely great! As great as he was I had only visited once and had drinks. Having not ate there made me a little nervous, you know me…want to take good care of my sql peeps! I had NOTHING to worry about though. The food was great and the service was excellent. I highly recommend that spot, especially if you have a large party. Tell Kirk I sent ya. Having 29 beers on tap doesn’t hurt either though I mostly pushed my favorite local brew, Triton Railsplitter, on everyone at the party.
So Saturday starts bright and early. My husband, Rod, and daughter, Ashlyn, came with me again this year to help. I was working out some last minute schedule changes (thank you Kathi (Twitter|blog) again for taking another session super late in the game). Due to that I was a little later than I wanted to getting out the door. Rod was so great and talked me off the ledge while on the way there. I was a bit on edge when I was trapped in the car. I really love it that SQLSaturday Indy has become a family affair. It just means the world to me that my family can be a part of it. They may feel like SQLSaturday hijacks our life a bit but they don’t let on at all and I love them even more for it! Us in the community understand SQLfamily and we know why we do these crazy things. My family jumps in and helps not seeing that side at all. They do it without question, just because they love me and are awesome people. That’s family, right there! Thank you all again from the bottom of my heart!
Where was I? Ah so I was like 5 minutes late and I arrive and my volunteers and Pam are already at work getting drinks in coolers and registration setup. I love my people. Ok, enough love fest. It’s a bit crazy getting setup and going and ready for the masses. We can’t get in the venue until 7:00 and folks are set to show up at 7:30 so it’s a total mad dash. We move like a finely tuned machine. Katie, Aaron, and their boys (another family affair) help with checking folks in with others. Brandon was awesome setting up coolers and other vital logistics. Ashlyn and Mamaw/Pam are getting the sponsors all set. I’m at the SpeedPASS printing table of shame and doing the directing. Things are crazy but it went about as well as it could have. I had more help than tasks and stuff got DONE! I can’t give enough props to the team that helped! You are all amazing and wonderful and all things great!
The day winds down a bit and able catch our breath. The next craziness to make it through is lunch. It went well I think but just takes time to feed the masses. We had some good sessions going and think the word got out better than last year to disperse to other rooms. Day moves on really well from there. The last hurdle then comes with the raffles. We had such great prizes from sponsors. And not to toot my own horn but I thought prizes were good from the SQLSaturday group too. We took the printer idea a little further this year and bought more items we needed for the day and raffled them off. So we raffled off a printer (only used for printing SpeedPASSes and other items used that day), a couple nice monitors (Twitter feed/sponsor slides that never got setup in chaos), and a Keurig we had setup in the speaker ready room. I just love the use and raffle approach on prizes.
We get cleaned up and out of the venue pretty quickly and then some of us head over to Scotty’s Brewhouse for some food and de-stressing. Next is the after party. I had setup for karaoke to start early for us at Tilly’s Pub and Grill. Oh those crazy kids, how they love the #sqlkaraoke. A really nice end to a great event, full of great family, great sqlfamily, great speakers, great volunteers, great sponsors. It was all just…great! I am really proud to be a part of bringing SQLSaturday to Indianapolis.
Lessons learned this year:
1. Don’t print the schedule until you are done messing with it. I try to send in at least one my attendee communications to registered attendees to have them use schedule builder on the site. It helps to get an indication of how popular sessions could be and can adjust those to have larger rooms. Every year I think I know what folks want to see, but normally I have several sessions that surprise me and I’m WAY off. I let my knowledge of the speakers cloud my judgment time and time again. It works better getting some indication from outside parties. I wish there was a way to get info from Guidebook but until then Schedule Builder works. So the problem was that I printed the schedule before doing this check/room switch. Wasn’t major issue but had to print them again and the tree hugging hippie in me cried a bit at the wasted paper/trees.
2. A new thing I learned this year was that a SpeedPASS for a vendor will print even if they didn’t pay. We had a sponsor sign up for 2 levels of sponsorship. They paid one of them naturally. I didn’t remove the unused sponsor entry assuming that it was harmless. It wasn’t until very late that noticed they had 2 SpeedPASS raffle tickets. I left them with 2 as didn’t want to have some folks with 2 chances at a prize, and some with one. Figured more fair that all had 2 chances. Not a very common scenario no doubt, but a tidbit for my fellow organizers.
3. Make sure in the communications to attendees to have them print AND cut out their tickets. We had many well intentioned folks who listened to my many emails pleading to print their SpeedPASSes but did not cut the raffle tickets. So these folks were hung up cutting out tickets. Also make sure to let them know the process for raffle tickets at the events. We had some at the end of the day not knowing what to do with the tickets.
4. I was trying to do a New Speaker buddy system that Nic Cain (Twitter|blog) referenced here. I had good intentions but didn’t have the best organization with that portion. Next year I will make sure to try to formalize that a bit more. Speakers also make sure that you READ the communications organizers send. I had many new speakers that I didn’t find out about that were first time speakers until the speaker dinner or even later.
5. I knew in past and from experiences at other SQLSaturdays to try to have food set out to allow for at least 2 lines. I would always hate to see tables lined up against the wall with food as it forces only one line. We had the table where you could do that. If you can set food to allow more (i.e. same food 2 tables, allowing 4 lines). We didn’t have major issues but the faster you can feed that many people, the better. Looking back now I think we could have managed to setup more lines.
6. Make sure to put in communications that the schedule has changed or is subject to. It is just bound to happen, it’s just part of it.
7. Make sure to touch base with your sponsors at the event on how they want to handle raffle tickets. Some sponsors will take tickets with them and scan them. Others may want them mailed to them. Others accidentally leave them. And some just don’t care to keep them at all. I plan to put some info on that to sponsors in communications next year.
8. Never rely only on email communications alone. Folks don’t read email. Sure many do, but many also don’t.
9. Get someone else to do opening/closing remarks. I have just come to terms that I am not good at it. I can chat folks up informally or in a session but when it comes to remarks stuff, I am just damn terrible. I am frazzled and just worried about getting ‘er done. I need like a host of the Grammy’s type person to do it up right next year.
10. Check for duplicate speakers before making any orders. There are some in the system as similar but different names. I know I had some with multiple sessions and seems they were in twice.