SQLSaturday Tampa is the first SQLSaturday in Florida for 2015, scheduled for February 28th, 2015. The event is held at the USF College of Business Bldg, 12212 USF Maple Drive, Tampa, FL 33620. Easy to find, free parking, lots of hotel options near by. The weather at the end of February is typically pretty good too. I’ll be attending and hope to see you there!
One of my original goals was to be more reporter than editorial writer, but I’ve found that the editorial part is important too, though much harder to do. I’ve spent quite a few hours this week trying to write editorial comments to preface the summaries I’m doing of the minutes of the PASS Board of Directors meetings. Writing the summary isn’t too bad, but I find the editorial part challenging. What is worth calling out? Is my perception of a discussion or decision one that others will see, or need to see? Am I assuming too much or too little about what the reader knows about the topic? Am I talking about the good along with the not so good? I’m leveraging various friends (thank you!) for input and have gotten good feedback. It’s hard to write editorial content without diving too far into activism, but at the same time an editorial with no ideas or views doesn’t illuminate as well as it should.
I’ve definitely learned that I have to watch for places where I’m impatient, frustrated, etc, about a topic. Those are often important topics, but all the more reason to try to find the way to explain the issue clearly and calmly. I had one today where I wrote that something “should have been done sooner” and the feedback I got was “does that matter?”, and that was right. It didn’t, at least as written, add value.
I used the word challenging, but I think daunting might be a better fit. Every time I hit publish on one of these I can do good, or not, and I can maintain my reputation or decrease it. High stakes, or at least it seems right now. I’m hoping to get a few more done prior to the Summit so I can get a wider range of feedback. It remains unclear to me if the approach and the vehicle are the correct ones.
Both groups met at a special joint meeting last night at Nova University, part of Operation Souza. Before I go into my usual notes, I want to say thank you to Mark Souza for traveling from Redmond for the meeting. He flew overnight to get here and had a 6 am flight the next morning, making for a long trip. Chapters don’t work without speakers and as much as we rely heavily on the great group of Florida speakers, it’s nice to have someone new added to the mix. Thanks also to the oPASS & MagicPASS teams for trying something new and making it work!
- Nova was a great host facility, great room, great staff, great location. We’ll return there at some point I’m sure.
- We arrived at 5 pm to set up. More setup than usual because we planned for a larger crowd than usual. All went well. Kendal had signs, made coffee, had extension cords and other extras, including a mouse when needed later in the evening.
- There were already a couple people there and I was surprised to learn that one of them worked in the same building as I do (and even stranger, I recently met one of his co-workers in the elevator who recognized me from visiting ONETUG). Networking is good!!
- We set up a table for the swag, Mark had stuff shipped ahead – hoodies, pen and pencil sets, some leather wallet thingies – ended up with almost enough for everyone to get something, and too much to plan on using the raffle ticket method – would take too long
- We had 130 registered and no idea what the no show rate would be. We went a day-of reminder and that did generate a few cancellations (which we appreciate, helps get the food order right). I was hoping for 80-100, thinking to see 30% drop
- Final count was 75-80. Not as much as hoped, but still a great turnout, and I would guess 2 to 2.5x the normal turnout of the combined groups each month
- We printed the sign in sheet from Eventbrite, worked well. Dan Taylor staffed the sign in table for a while, thanks Dan!
- Room had a projector and a rolling whiteboard, very nice to have the latter
- We had some drive down from Tallahassee, over from Sarasota, Tampa, Clearwater, and Denny Cherry drove up from West Palm
- We started just a couple minutes after 6 pm with probably 60 people present (the rest trickled in up until 7 pm or so)
- Kendal did the usual (and fantastic) Chapter opening, working through slides on the groups, PASS, upcoming area events, ONETUG, probably some more.
- That was followed by networking in my favorite form – talk to the person next to you. Always works!
- Dinner was ready about 6:15 consisting of pizza, veggie trays, cookies, various soda, plus water and coffee.
- We forgot forks for those that wanted them for the veggies (some turned up eventually)
- We forgot our own lesson from SQLSaturday and only ran one food line, so it took as much as 25 minutes to get everyone through the and mostly settled. The room was set up with tables for food and we just used as it was. Not huge, but we knew better!
Some thoughts for next time:
- Two food lines is a must
- We should borrow what MagicPASS does and run a Summit video, or have something else planned to keep them engaged while waiting in that pre-6pm window. Not a big deal, but every little bit helps
- Every chapter should keep an extra extension cord, mouse, presentation remote on hand, just in case
And one thought that I’m not sure about. Charging for lunch at SQLSaturday is a win because we don’t have to risk hard earned funds over-ordering food. I wonder if that model wouldn’t work for Chapters too? Set the price at $7 or $7.50 and order boxed meals. Those that want food pay for it, those that don’t would get chips and salsa or whatever. Better food, better logistics (other than the food order cutoff perhaps) and it would reduce the strain on Chapter finances. Would it hurt attendance? I’d be surprised.
Ran into a minor issue while installing SCOM. The wizard wants to create two databases. The first requires a minimum size of 1000mb and a log of 50% of that – call it 1.5g, and the same for the second one. We made it through the first database config step, but on the second one it said insufficient space, though clearly there was tons of space. Turned out to be a problem with how it checks for free space. It checks the volume, not the respective data and log mount points we were using. We increased the volume size to have 4g free and the install proceeded without issue. Here’s the KB: https://support.microsoft.com/kb/2702933. Here’s a nice walk through of a simple install of SCOM.
The election results were just posted. Congratulations to James Rowland-Jones, Wendy Pastrick, and Grant Fritchey for earning seats on the PASS Board of Directors for the 2015-2016 term. This will be the second term for both James & Wendy, so both will be building on two years hard won experience and I hope will do great things. Grant will be the newbie for a couple months and I look forward to hearing his voice about the journey and the challenges while he’s learns the ropes and beyond.
My friend Sri Sridharan was also running for re-election and came in fourth. I’m disappointed about that. I’ve known Sri since the early days of SQLSaturday and in my view there are few that have a deeper love of community and a sense of the possibilities than he does. He’s done a lot of good work in Dallas and he worked hard on the Board to get the volunteer management tools built and deployed. Once his term finishes in December I know he’ll find more ways to contribute.
Last week I spent some time after my presentation to Space Coast SQL talking to Kathleen Branch, the chapter leader, about what works and doesn’t work, and whether she was succeeding or not. We don’t seem to talk about that much publicly. When I was on the PASS Board we measured success in the number of chapters and didn’t monitor much beyond that. That conversation reminded me to write some notes on my take on chapters:
- Finding speakers has gotten easier, but perhaps not easy. Virtual presentations often fill in, but there is no substitute for having a real person in the room. Job one for chapter leaders is to find speakers.
- Finding sponsors…harder? Start by looking to the local SQLSaturday sponsor list and all your local staffing companies. My suggestion is to figure your budget for a month, then plan to split that between a staffing company and a tool/service vendor.
- Ask/plead to have sponsors appear in person, via Skype, or a recorded 3-5 minute message. Attendees will get more out of it and so will the sponsors. Give attendees an “opt-in” option and send those contacts that do opt-in back to the sponsor. Be sure to send a follow up email and a thank you on Twitter. Sponsors love happy tweets.
- Tell attendees the story every month. Kendal Van Dyke does this better than anyone I know, ask him how. Remember that they care about that night, followed by easily access events like SQLSaturday, and have the hardest time connecting at all with the idea of PASS. Grassroots means local focus first, put your time there, but give PASS the one minute plug too.
- I don’t know that I’ve ever seen numbers, but I bet the average group has 10 attendees.
- Do numbers matter? Sure, but as much as other things. I’d measure the health of a chapter by asking if they are sustaining attendance. That’s healthy. Growing is hard and takes work and imagination, and sometimes it’s just not there. The single biggest variable in attendance is the topic/speaker name, nothing else comes close.
- Be consistent in your marketing strategy. Got prizes to raffle off? Highlight that! Free food? Pictures! Don’t forget day before and day of reminders.
- The idea of SQLSaturday as a membership drive doesn’t in my experience translate to more chapter attendees. It probably helps sustain the chapter – biggest list means more chance of X attendees being interested in any particular topic – but it doesn’t have the impact I’d hoped. Maybe someone can figure it out. Which isn’t to say doing a SQLSat isn’t worthwhile, clearly it is!
- Always do some networking. My favorite is to talk about networking for a minute and how most in IT think they aren’t good at it, then I add that are great conversationalists and really bad at saying hello. Then I ask them to talk to the person next to them. Never had it fail, and a lot quicker and less stressful than “stand up and say hello”
- If you’re in a small city consider teaming up with the .Net group, and also
- All groups are different, and all seem to have one or two things that work for them. Go watch some other groups, you’ll learn a lot.
I know PASS has regional mentors, but it’s always felt inconsistent. PASS can’t send money, though surely it could do more to help match up sponsors and speakers, but what it could do is train these leaders. Training at the Summit, new leader training, ongoing education. Some of that gets done, but not in what I’d call a serious way. Imagine if someone decided that the way to have an impact was to train the chapter leaders. Teach them networking, marketing, sponsor management. Monitor the numbers and if a chapter is declining, engage. They’d get something out of it and in return, everyone would benefit.
I’m paraphrasing, but Kathleen says her approach is that she is committed to being there and learning, and if she can get 10, or 5, or 20, then those that want to learn that topic were served. I totally agree. Work on the marketing and try to reach more – because we can train 20 as easily as 10 – but don’t waste energy feeling bad because you only trained 10. 10 is a win. Celebrate those that take a chance to give up a weekend evening, do your best, and on with life.
That also reminds me of a phrase I’ve used for years when I attend an event and see something that doesn’t get executed quite as well as I’d hope. It’s homey, perhaps too parental and too familiar, but it’s what I use: train my people. Even a bad event – which is really, really rare – typically clears that bar. We’re there to teach and share and if the coffee runs out or the signs weren’t perfect, we can work on that, but the pass or fail comes down to the training. Not so different than what Kathleen thinks, just said differently, and less eloquently.
I appreciate and admire the effort it takes to keep a chapter running year over year. It’s hard work, worth doing, and not as sexy as running a SQLSaturday, but it’s so worth doing.
This Wednesday we’re having a special joint meeting of oPASS and MagicPASS featuring Microsoft GM Mark Souza. For the past couple months we’ve referred to it internally as “Operation Souza” as we discussed how to best support his visit and do the most for our local SQL community. We contacted Mark originally to see if would speak at SQLSaturday Orlando, part of the annual outreach to bring new faces to Orlando. Mark had a scheduling conflict that ruled out SQLSaturday, but he graciously offered to speak at a Chapter meeting instead. That led to an interesting discussion – where should we hold it? oPASS is on the far north side of Orlando, MagicPASS on the far south side, far enough apart that we thought we’d have very low attendance from the non-hosting group. The alternative was a joint meeting which seemed like the right approach, but we had to find a free and central location to make it work. We finally found what looks to be a site that is just about perfect, Nova University in mid-Orlando.
With venue settled, we moved on to to the issue of sponsors – should we have one? We decided to go sponsorless, it just seemed easier and reinforced the message that this would be a special event. We did just a little messaging about it during the run up to SQLSaturday, but we didn’t want to dilute or confuse the SQLSaturday message, so early registration was mostly driven from the two chapters. We also sent out special invites to the area group leaders and influencers. At SQLSaturday we had some fun with some cardboard cutouts of Obi-Wan and Yoda with a Souza picture applied, but the real marketing was at the end of day when we could then move on to the “next” message.
As soon as SQLSaturday wrapped up we turned to logistics and meeting organization for Operation Souza. We’re trying to make it a normal meeting in most ways – greetings, Chapter deck, some networking. oPASS & MagicPASS will divide up all the usual tasks of running a chapter meeting. Food will probably be pizza because it’s easy, we’ll have water and maybe coffee. We’ll have some raffle prizes after Mark finishes what we expect to be a two hour presentation/discussion. My role in this is nice and easy, I’m the handler, charged with making sure Mark knows where to be, gets what he needs, remembers to drink water, and all the rest, which – Mark being Mark – means I will spend most of my time as an attendee.
I’m expecting this to go well, the two groups already do a lot of stuff together for SQLSaturday and while this is a bit different format, that’s offset by the lesser complexity. We’re at 117 registered as of today, and I expect a few more before Wed night. Even with some last minute cancellations we should wind up with very good attendance. I’m also hoping that this is a template for some other things I’d like to see happen, but we’ll come back to that after the meeting!
- Not a bad drive over from Orlando. Only a little traffic, about 80 minutes.
- I was early enough to have time to review my presentation and then work on the final marketing notes for SQLSaturday Orlando (good to have a few tasks queued when time appears)
- I stopped at Starbucks (a nice one that felt like a coffee house) and only when I was leaving did I put the pieces together and realize the woman that had been sitting near me reading and making notes was homeless – the last piece being the shopping cart in a parking space. I didn’t go back in, I should have.
- The group meets at Sonny’s BBQ. What used to be the patio has been enclosed, one row of tables in a long narrow room, but perfectly workable. Sonny’s even draped one window that tends to get afternoon glare.
- I ran the chapter deck slides while Kathleen did the intro (and a note here – the slides about volunteers needed more…something, luckily I know Sri and the back story so I could add to it some)
- I did my presentation on learning plans for the ten attendees and it seemed to be well received. It was interesting to see the college student and the recent grad there, listening and nodding.
- We also talked a little about SQLSaturday in Florida and some questions on replication (I use it as a passing example in the presentation)
- Afterward we talked about attendance and membership drives, I’ll have a follow up post with some notes from that.
After finishing up six months of managing the marketing for SQLSaturday Orlando I’ve been going back through all my blog posts to outline stuff we (or any other event) can use next year. It’s not a complete project plan, but I hope it gives you some ideas and a structure to start from. I wish I had time for a true task list! If I really, really condense it, I’d tell you these things:
- Your success depends on the size/quality of your mailing list. Nothing else comes close to being as productive.
- Marketing is writing more than just about anything else and writing copy every week is tiring. Learn to write before you take on marketing.
- If you’re doing seminars (“pre-cons”) use a template that allows you to mention them in every single email
- Invest time (or money) up front on a good email template and a good flyer
- Track your progress against previous years and look at the number every week (every day!)
- Beat the drum slowly, consistently, and go faster as you get closer the event
There is some work you can get out of the way when (or before) the event site goes live. I believe in opening up registration early, at least 4 months prior. All of these tasks should be done before or within a week after the site goes live:
- Begin monitoring the event hash tag (and I prefer #sqlsatorlando over #sqlsat318 – ask HQ to configure it for you) on Twitter
- Get the front page HTML laid out. There isn’t much room to work with and you need the most important parts ‘above the fold’
- Create (or reuse) and test your email template. We used one with a right hand column that we used for our “calendar” which included our seminars, plus our flyer, and more. This is the vehicle for all that writing you’re going to do – make it look good, and make sure it works at least in Outlook/Gmail and on a couple different phones
- Create an event flyer. Event name, location, date, URL. Simple, catchy, graphical. This is what you’re going to print and hand out, and what you’ll ask people to forward and/or print at the office.
- Pull your entire mailing list forward from last year (all previous years). In Orlando that was about 2000 addresses. We did it by adding them with a status of “bulk loaded”. Add to that any net new addresses from your chapter list.
- If there is a local .Net group open the conversation NOW about having a developer centric track, attending their D-60/D-30 meetings to plug the event, and see if they will do a blast to their list at D-30 just about your event (hint: offer to reciprocate when they do Code Camp)
- If you’re going to do one or more seminars start talking to the team about picking topics that you can market (which doesn’t mean pick the one with the highest earnings potential) – what audience will you be selling it to with what story? Does the speaker have name recognition and if not, does the abstract/social media presence offset that? If at all possible someone else should own the seminars, but you’re the one that has to drive the message consistently.
- Set a registration and attendance goal
- Come up with a way to track registrations vs previous years. If PASS doesn’t field this soon reach out to Kendal Van Dyke for the powershell he used for Orlando.
- Push your team to lock in the speaker schedule at least 90 days out, and preferably 120. I recommend “releasing” the schedule to the public at D-60, but it’s a big win to let the speakers know they can commit to travel sooner than that, and you can then feature those speakers in your email in the mid-intensity D-120 to D-60 window.
- Get your sponsor plan to include a plug/push for the sponsor to send a geo-targeted blast at D-30 (which doesn’t mean they will do it) and get your sponsor person telling it to every lead and new sponsor – help us help you by emailing your list once about being at our event.
- Publish a message calendar to your team (based on tempo zones below and what worked last year). That lets you work ahead a week or two on the writing.
How often to message? Never an easy question, but I used this in Orlando and I think it worked, and it generated few complaints. Most people I talked to said the frequency felt right (that’s with the caveat that the content has to be fresh, not a repeat every time).
- Greater Than D-120. If you’re more than 4 months out you do at most one message to the SQLSat list per month. Mention it via your Chapter list each month and be patient.
- D-120 to D-60. Here I recommend one email every 2 weeks. You can go a little longer, or drop an extra message in, but it’s early days.
- D-60 to D-10. I like to see one email a week, and you can skip a week or so if you’re closer to D-60 and it feels like too much.
- D-10 – D. Pretty much one email a day. Some will be yours, a couple will be sponsor messages
I tried to tell them three things each time, always putting the most important thing first. I also included the seminars in the right hand column, though sometimes the message would also be about the seminars. We all write differently – mine are probably plain, yours might be more dynamic, do it your way – just make the format and the message understandable. Some tips:
- Use a long subject line that covers the three things and always starts with “SQLSaturday YourTown – “. The subject line may be all they read (and re-read, if they don’t delete it)
- Repeat the subject line in your message. It helps you stay structured and it looks nice if they print it
- Be wary of complex CSS. You need it to render on all devices. I’m not saying you should HTML tables everywhere, but they work!
- Put images in every message. It makes it interesting. Also, upload the images to the event site so they are all in once place. Ideally you have some great photos from the year before you can sprinkle in to make it personal and real.
- Only link to things you care about. Really care about.
- Spell check. Twice.
- Run the early ones through HTMLTidy, will increase the chance it renders ok everywhere
- I wrote all of mine offline and tested in a browser, then pasted into the emailer.
- Be sure you know what each list definition really means!
- A consistent template is good, but it’s okay to evolve.
The messages from the last event and all the other events is viewable via the administrative site. Great place to find/borrow ideas. There’s a “copy message” link that is really handy!
Google ads are price prohibitive. LinkedIn Ads are affordable, but didn’t generate much for us in Orlando (you might do better, worth trying). Meetup may work for you if you have it for your chapter, they denied setting one up for SQLSat Orlando because it was annual event. Some things worth trying are:
- Email every PASS Chapter in the state/some big radius and ask them to plug your event to their list and on their site
- Ditto for your local .Net chapter and any others you know well enough to ask
- Ask every speaker to blog/tweet about attending
- Try to put flyers (and someone to hand them out) at any SQLSaturday in the area that happens before yours does.
- Visiting chapters in person is a lot more powerful than asking them to mention it during the standard meeting intro
Don’t stop there, but don’t let it take away too much time/money from your email marketing. This is one place where having someone focus just on this would really help.
Pick seminars that will benefit your community, but think about the marketing. You need a short, strong title, a clear abstract, and a good bio/photo of the speaker. Ideally the speaker has a blog and is on Twitter, but you can make it work if they don’t. Don’t feel bad about asking for/suggesting tweaks to any of it. Most seminar presenters are techies, not marketing people. Explain what you need changed and why, it’s rarely an issue.
- Make a flyer for the seminar (if you have multiple seminars its up to you, one that mentions all, or one page per seminar). Create thumbnail (or a bit bigger) to use in email and link to the flyer.
- We offered speakers a 50% discount if they attended. Not sure it was a marketing win, but it was a win.
- Ask the seminar presenter to blog/tweet about it on a regular basis
- Coach the email reader on how to take it to the boss. What’s the value prop? What would a good email request look like?
- Mention it in every email to the core list
- Price bumps might work, but it’s not a big win. We did a $20 discount if they registered for 2 days and we did get a lot of those.
Be patient. Much lower/slower numbers on this compared to the main event. Whoever is managing them needs to be watching costs/attendance, you’re just driving the message.
We tried hard this past year to make Twitter work. We didn’t have a huge number of registrants opt to have it auto tweet that they registered – those that did we followed and tweeted back a welcome. We wanted the twitter feed on the front page to not look dead, so we tried for one tweet a day from D-120 or so. From D-30 we had multiple tweets per day and the last week we had hourly tweets. I generated them used a hack query to build combinations of messages about speakers, sessions, and sponsors, and then scheduled using Hootsuite ($10/month, you can turn it on and off). We even scheduled 15 minute and 5 minute reminder messages for Saturday. Did it matter? I’m hard pressed to say it did, but it was a seed planted, we’ll have more on Twitter next year and if there is one thing Twitter is good for it’s event news and interaction. Great if you can find someone to own this and just follow along on the calendar.
You need a few good photos from last year to liven up your messages, and you need a few good photos this year for next year. That’s what you need, ask the team to staff getting it done. It’s a great way to engage volunteers and show sponsors some love/success.
I’m a huge fan of writing up notes diary fashion. You can get two for one if you share these with the team as part of the weekly call, or you can just put highlights in the status call and write all the details elsewhere. I blogged about it because I can easily point someone else to it and I have the blog up, but you can do a Word doc on DropBox. Just write down what works, ideas, etc, etc. Just writing it has value, but wait until next year when you go back to those notes!
Track Your Progress
I mentioned it earlier, but it’s critical that you track registrations towards your goal on a weekly basis. Minus that you have no sense of what works or doesn’t. You’ll wish for more info, but this is enough.
Doing the marketing is a lot of work, but it’s fun and a great learning experience. Stick to the tempo/calendar, write clear and concise messages, and don’t let up – keep pushing the message. As my friend Steve Jones reminds me, people don’t read every email you send them. I hope these help you and your team, and please do comment or email if you have questions, or ideas to share!
One of my current projects is PASSWatch. Right now it’s mostly aggregation which I think has value, but I hope to do more over time including news and maybe opinions. I get by on writing (and hope to get better at it), but I don’t know much about journalism. When I want to learn something new I want something focused and curated, so I’ve been reading The Elements of Journalism, Revised and Updated 3rd Edition: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. Its been interesting to see that some ideas like the wall between advertising and news doesn’t work out to be as practical as it sounds, and I’m taken with the idea of skeptical editing where someone goes through a piece line by line to validate it. The book reinforces for me how confusing the journalistic landscape. I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of being a journalist (which I think implies more training that I have or will probably get), but it does feel like this is learning that will help me in other ways.
I try to always figure out what is “done” for learning and that’s hard when you’re just getting started on a topic. Here’s what I have in mind so far:
- I need to better understand how to decide what “news” really is
- How (or if) to mix factual content with opinions
- How to build a brand that is considered to be fair and trustworthy
Looking at those, they feel superficial. Early days and we shall see.
I have the rare luxury of not needing to figure out the commercial side of things which I think greatly simplifies what I need to learn. I’ll finish this book in a week or two, then go through the recommended reading from it to see if I can discover something else that seems like a good investment of time. I did a quick search for free stuff (below) but I’ll go through those once the reading is done. I think I’d enjoy taking a class online if I can find one that fits my needs.
- What Should Reporters Learn in Journalism School?
- List of Free Online Journalism Classes and Courses
- Free Online Writing and Journalism Classes
- Teaching and Learning About Journalism
If you have a recommendation for reading please comment, email, or send to me on Twitter at @sqlandy.