Growing the Pool of SQL Server Speakers

In a nutshell, I’m interested in growing and diversifying the pool of speakers that focus on SQL Server. You might ask why, is there a shortage? The answer to that is…in some areas. For example, when Greg Larsen set up SQLSaturday #11 in Tacoma we really struggled to find speakers.

But that’s not all of it. We need to keep the list off speakers fresh at our events, from chapter meetings to SQLSaturday to the PASS Summit. We need to push our best speakers to get better, and we need to have the next generation of speakers in the pipeline. We need a way to grow speakers so that we don’t have first time speakers at the Summit – we need a farm club system. We need new ideas and new presentation styles. We also need to bridge geography as best we can, get speakers from East cost to visit West coast, etc.

I think of speakers as falling into four categories:

  • The “A” list – Paul Randal, Kim Tripp, Kalen Delaney, perhaps a few others. People with broad name recognition and deep experience
  • The “B” list – speakers are that have participated in multiple events and have established a reputation (to some degree!). For example, I’d put myself in this bucket, and most speakers that speak at the Summit.
  • The “C” list – speakers that have participated in only one or two events, usually a presentation at a chapter
  • The rest – those who haven’t done a presentation yet!

We’ve started the farm club system by building SQLSaturday, now we just need to expand it. That should over time expand the C list and some of those will migrate to the B list. We need to look for the talent and offer encouragement and mentoring where we can, understanding that not everyone wants to move up (and that’s not wrong). The upcoming speaker bureau should also have an impact on this, making it easier for new speakers to identify unfilled niches in the SQLscape.

So we’re making progress there, what’s left?

We need to find a way to make the spots at the Summit more competitive to make sure there is a growth path for people moving to the B list. I think the program committee does ok at this, but I’m in favor of implementing a policy that says no one speaks at 3 Summits in a row. But at least we should make sure that 20-30% are first time Summit speakers (but not first time speakers).

More importantly though, going from C list to B list requires practice, and that practice requires travel. Most events don’t have the budget to cover travel costs, so it’s self funded and that often makes it prohibitive even when the desire is there. What can we do?

  • Encourage event leaders to help reduce the costs of those travelling in – work on room sharing at a hotel, try to place speakers with local members to save the hotel cost, pickup/return to airport to save rental car
  • Set up a system of grants or scholarships. I’m thinking of something like raising $10,000 a year to start with, picking 40 speakers to be given a $250 grant to be used to attend a SQLSaturday that requires travel. It wouldn’t cover all the cost, but it might cover most of the airfare.

Thinking about the speaker bureau I worry that the A list gets bombed with requests, who invites the C list? If the people on the C list showed up as having a grant, then chapters/events would be fighting to get those, because it would be an out of town speaker.

I think this is ambitious, but important. So far it’s my idea, not something adopted by PASS, and it needs some work before we get to that point. But it’s good to be ambitious, because we can grow PASS and grow the state of our craft by building a system that encourages the best and brightest to participate – and they in turn educate, mentor, and role model for the next generation.

Definitely hoping for comments and contrarian views on this.

0 thoughts on “Growing the Pool of SQL Server Speakers”

  1. Speakers list has been my number one request since my first Summit as a UG leader.

    I think you will be surprised at how many “C” listers will get picked up to speak at SSdays or UG’s. As you stated travel is a big deal. Having a list that geo-locates speakers with UGs and events would be really nice. I’ve tried using the speakers listing on http://www.usergroupsupportservices.com but they all list like the entire USA. Having a list of speakers at all levels that are at a minimum by state would be very handy and allow me to focus on people that are closer to cut down costs and still get quality people in to present. Then having a list of speakers that are willing to travel to your location.

  2. I have to say, this is a wonderful idea. I am what you classify as a C speaker, having presented one time so far at a SQL Saturday event. I would love to do more, the experience was great. I have, thus far, felt part of this community mostly through Twitter and blogs, but that day, I was really part of the community, shaking hands and meeting people in person that had the same interests, were part of the same community. I would say, if you haven’t spoken or presented, do so, it will be one of the great experiences of your life.

    You raise a good point about travel. I drove 400 miles each way to get to that event. Well worth it, and luckily my company let me expense the miles, but longer travel or more expensive trips, such as might involve airfare and hotels, I probably won’t be allowed to expense, so if there were some subsidy, it would make it more plausible to do more events.

    Finally, I like the idea of a speaker bureau, some central place where speakers can be found and find a place to be. Keep up the good work, and as you do anyway, keep us informed of progress. And thank you.

  3. Andy,

    First. Thank you for SQL Saturday.

    Second. I recently drove over 500 miles each way to get to SQL Saturday #32 in Tampa for my first ever public speaking engagement. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world (more here: http://bit.ly/6NkNv8 ). I plan to do several more SQL Saturdays in the coming weeks however all but one of these events are within driving distance of Atlanta. I can afford to invest a little into starting this out but I can’t do it for long.

    Third. As for supplying first time speakers at Summit. I’m hoping that the work that we’re doing with the Virtual Chapters will help with that process. Get people’s name out there and a little more recognition from more than just their home city/region. It looks like I may be the first non-MVP speaker so far this year (might have missed someone), but hopefully more will follow.

    Great Post!

  4. David, thanks for the feedback, and for making the 400 mile drive, that’s a fair bit of your time to invest. Will definitely post more as we try to move things along.

  5. Wes, I noticed the same thing about UGSS. Long term I think we’ll be a lot better off if we let our UG leaders do better filtering, especially by topic, evals, and more.

  6. Aaron, bravo for making the drive! I agree that other outlets like VC meetings are valuable and we should look at all the venues we can muster to make this happen.

    More soon!

  7. Andy,

    I have a possible idea for helping fund a portion of the “Speaker Bureau”. I gave a LiveMeeting presentation earlier this week (actually 3 of them) for the AppDev VC of PASS. Things went well in the presentation but I went back and listened to the recording and simply couldn’t beleive the number of times I said “um” before I started a sentence. It got better as I got further along but I could hardly bear to listen to it at times.

    So here’s my idea: Speakers pick a person on the room they are presenting in to track the number of times they say “um”. The speaker then makes a $1 donation back to the fund for each instance of “um”. This should probably be an opt-in sort of thing but I think it’s a fun idea that could help us grow as speakers.

    What do you think? :-)

    Here’s the link if you want to see what I’m talking about:
    https://www.livemeeting.com/cc/usergroups/view?id=5ZM8CD

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