SQL Saturday Boston: Speaker Selection #sqlsat203

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April 23, 2013 by Mike Hillwig

Hard as this is to believe, the worst part of organizing a SQL Saturday event wasn’t raising money from sponsors. And it wasn’t securing the venue. It wasn’t even the stress of the day of the event. The worst thing was speaker selection. Speaker selection became my own personal hell.

We had an incredible list of sessions from a very amazing pool of speakers. We had locals, MVPs, sponsors, and Microsoftees. How did we narrow several sessions down to the few that would make the final list? How did we strike the right balance of celebrity DBAs with local gems? And how did we get the right mix of beginner sessions and really advanced topics? How did we avoid speakers who might cancel? How do we match the demand of the session with the size of the room? It wasn’t easy.

Our goal was to give our user community the best day of training we could give them. And how do you do that? You turn to your friends. I knew we could count on Tom LaRock (blog|twitter), Adam Machanic (blog|twitter) Grant Fritchey (blog|twitter), and Allan Hirt (blog|twitter). They’re all local, and they’re all MVPs.  And I asked Adam Machanic to do our keynote. By starting there, we had a recipe for success.

There were some speakers who submitted that were going to have to travel, and that could conflict with a late season snowstorm, either here in Boston or in Chicago. It seems that every connecting flight goes through Chicago. That made me nervous. So we limited the number of speakers coming in from distant places, which would make it easier to fill in gaps.

And to be honest, we got really lucky. Our event was the weekend before the PASS Business Analytics conference. That meant Peter Myers was flying into the US and offered to speak at our event. We also had Stacia Misner (blog) doing a session with Joey D’Antoni (twitter). We also got lucky that Christina Leo (blog|twitter) had recently just moved to Boston.

We also have an amazing group of local speakers like John Miner, Michael Corey, Paresh Motiwala, and Brandon Leach. They’re what make SQL Saturday events great, being able to use your local talent. These guys give some great sessions! We were also fortunate that the folks at Pragmatic Works, one of our Gold sponsors, submitted in force. We got some great content from Chad Churchwell, Bradley Ball (twitter), and Dan Clark.

I know that I offended a few MVPs who wanted to speak in Boston when we didn’t accept their sessions. It really sucks to turn away an MVP, but we have a ton of them locally. I told them that we were trying to focus on local talent where we could. Most of them understood. Most, but not all.

How did we get it right? I’m not sure we did. We had some big names that didn’t fill big rooms, and we had some local speakers who had standing room only in smaller rooms. I think the lessons learned here are to put sessions in rooms based on the content and not the speaker. And next year, we need to make better use of the schedule builder tool on the SQL Saturday website.

The one thing I KNOW we got right was asking a local big name to do the keynote. Adam Machanic is an amazing speaker, and if he were doing a session on tying your shoes, I would go, just to hear him present. He’s just that good. He gave a killer presentation on the future of database careers, and the feedback we got says that he was one of the best sessions of the day.