Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Does The Fat Lady Sing? or Tips for a Successful SQL Saturday

Since it's baseball season, I'll start off my recap for the Chicago SQL Saturday #31 event with this:

 It ain't over till it's over
And, folks - it still ain't over!

I want to take a different spin on my blog post about the event, as other great recaps can be found by reading Ted Krueger and Jes Borland blog posts. They both already did a great job of capturing the feel of the event, the awesomeness of all the great volunteers and their tireless enthusiasm, plus the amazing sessions by our fabulous cadre of speakers. Since I don't want to just say all the same stuff over again, you get to read how we made it all come together and what we can do better next time. My hope is to help future SQL Saturday organizers create a successful event.

In the few days leading up to the event, there are only so many things you can prep:
  • Printing lots of stuff:
  • Name Badges (I recommend just the logo!)
  • Lunch Tickets
  • Attendance Check In Rosters
  • SQL Saturday Evaulations
  • Session Evaluations
  • Certificates of Appreciation for Speakers and Sponsors
Hopefully, you have a printing resource whom you trust and can get materials from as promised. We ran into running short of Session Evaluations and had to get more made at the last second. For whatever reason, Office Depot was not cooperative and not nice about it, either. I'll put that onus on the Office Depot in Elk Grove Village, though, I'm sure not all of them have such unprofessional staff.

Where does all this stuff go?
We had literally THREE cars packed with boxes of stuff for the event, and that did not include anything the Sponsors sent to the hotel. Instead of the litany of what we had, let me say how I think things should go for next time.

1. SQL Saturday t-shirts should be delivered to the venue if possible.

2. Unless you have the manpower to stuff event bags ahead of time, all those things should be sent to the venue, too.
- Note: Vendors should clearly mark what SWAG is for the event bags and what is for their table. We spent a good hour or so rifling through the vendors' boxes trying to decide what went in the bags. I think a quick packing list would be unbelievably helpful!

3. Raffle Boxes. Ours could not have looked more cheesy. Black and white sheets with company logos, taped to whatever boxes I could find in the mailroom. UGGGGGLY. Functional, yes...but....embarassing. Next time, I'll hit up the dollar store for colorful sand buckets or something. Anything would be an improvement!

4. Prizes, Prizes, Prizes! We were so fortunate to have probably 40 prizes to give out (est). Have a plan for how and when you want them to be distributed. We did ours all at the end of the day. Prizes of value stayed with me or the Sponsor and the rest (mostly books) were placed out of sight and out of reach.

  • Sponsor prizes. If the sponsor is present, let them pull the names and give their stuff away.
  • Book prizes. We used these as incentive to complete Session Evaluations. For each completed eval, you got a raffle ticket. We gave away about 20 books!
  • Attendance prizes. We had...more books! We gave out 4 general attendance prizes and one prize from the overall Event Evaluations which were submitted.
  • Additional SWAG. I went around from session to session as the day drew on to distribute other SWAG items we had to give out. The Speakers all did a nice job helping us get that all out to people!


Most events so far haven't been the size of ours. With the potential of having over 400 people come through the door, we had to have a plan and have it streamlined. As it was unknown who the volunteers for the day would be, I spent some time writing up everything and making sure I had it as foolproof as possible. Here were the highlights:

1. Separate the list into 5 mostly equal sections. I didn't want one volunteer being swampped with 40% of the attendees in their line.

2. Put as much in the event bags as possible. In retrospect, we could have put the blank name badges with lanyards inside of the bag.

3. Event schedules should be the first thing people see when they open their bag. Alternatively, just put out stacks of them near registration.

I want to sincerely thank the Registration crew: Jes Borland (blog | twitter), Eli Weinstock-Herman (blog | twitter), Christina Leo (Twitter), Aaron Nelson(blog | twitter) and his incredible daughter Dorothy , Andrew Karcher (blog | twitter), Bob Pusateri (twitter), Keith Mescha (blog | twitter), Wayne Gant and one more that I feel really stupid for not recalling who you are!

Recommendations for Next Time

The next SQL Saturday in Chicago, there will be a few things I do differently (assuming I'm the one in that role again).

First, have dedicated volunteers ahead of time for things like: making raffle boxes, PROOFREADING, arranging printing and cutting needs, designing shirts, Speaker thank-you gifts, SSUG Resource Table, Speaker announcements, Raffle distributions, Room monitors, Event Bag assembly. Not that any of these things went awry, moreso because it's just nicer to know they are in someone's hands and will get done :)
Second, ask each vendor to provide a packing list of what they send and how they want it distributed.
Third, make DAMN sure to write down each and every volunteer's name!
Fourth, have better aim when flinging SQLChickens at Tim Ford :)

So, when does the singing start?

Apparently, right after I get all the promised contact information to the Sponsors; all the Speakers get their slide decks loaded; we send the Speakers their evaluations; sort through all the overall Event evaluations; and THEN we send a big Thank You to all the people who actually came through the door. I think that's when the fat lady gets to sing...(no, my karoke doesn't count).

To sum up: We had a great event, we had amazing volunteers (bag stuffers, set up people, room monitors, lunch helpers, clean up crew!) and I just couldn't have asked for anything better. SQL People R.O.C.K.!!!