Tag Archives: SQLSaturday

Notes On SQLSaturday Orlando #318

Notes from a speaker/volunteer perspective:

  • It was a lot of fun to talk to the students at our Student to IT Pro Seminar. Interesting to hear their questions, easy to forget what it’s like to be a true beginner. 70 people in the seminar. Win!
  • I had about 20 in my 9 am presentation. Went reasonably well and I identified some things to tweak before the Summit.
  • The chef coats we received as speaker gifts were just excellent!
  • We sold 25 SQLSaturday Orlando polos this year at our cost of $25. Not bad at all.
  • We had 8 serving tables to expedite lunch (which worked), but I could see attendees struggling to see past the lines at the front tables. Minor tweak for next year.
  • Lunch went very well and we had food left over that went to a local shelter
  • We had 5 or 6 schedule changes in the last two weeks, makes it challenging to commit to the door schedules – but change is going to happen.
  • The super sized schedules in the elevators were well received, perhaps in part due to the elevators being really slow.
  • We found a volunteer to do photos and I’m hoping those turn out well. We just didn’t have enough volunteers to do it the way we wanted.
  • 54 speakers is a massive schedule. Not sure I even got to say hello to all of them. We couldn’t do it without you.
  • Shawn purchased a water balloon slingshot that worked well for tshirts. Kendal was sending tshirts all the way to the back table in the gathering area
  • We had minor glitches that we noticed, but I don’t think anything that the attendees noticed (all 450+ of them)

We manage the event as a committee here in Orlando, with leadership alternating between oPASS and MagicPASS. I think this year was our best year so far and a really good team. Everyone had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to get done and stayed focused, and Kendal did a nice job of figuring out which ideas to take and which to leave on the list. Our weekly Tuesday calls really helped maintain communication. We also focused on numbers a lot; registration, speakers, sponsors, seminar registrations too. It was also nice to reinvigorate our relationship with ONETUG (.Net group here in Orlando) and we look forward to doing a lot to help with with the Code Camp in early 2015. We’re all writing up notes on what we could do better/different next year and in the next week or so we’ll have our first planning call for SQLSaturday Orlando 2015, then we’ll mostly be on break until March.

We had a lot of great volunteers, but I had a note to mention one – Rodney Landrum. Rodney is quiet and behind the scenes, but he gets things done. By the time I arrived Saturday morning he was covered in sweat from moving tables and handling problems, then came the student seminar at 9 am to teach students about what relational databases are, and then he went back over at 1130 to host the raffle for them, and that’s just the parts I saw. All of which took up so much time he didn’t get to do the thing he wanted to do – be the roving reporter. We’ll get that next year Rodney! I didn’t get to spend hardly any time with volunteers and I missed that, I like hearing the stories and having time to say thank you to them, something for me to do better at next year.

This year was the most I’ve been involved since I handed over the keys to Orlando years ago. It was good to be back. Interesting to see lessons learned, and some lost and re-learned (coffee plan). The local franchise feels strong. We’re lucky to have a lot of people in Orlando with talent and energy. It was good to have the time and energy to put into trying to push the edges back some, and sometimes a challenge to remember that while ideas area good, they can be stressful when the team sees something else that might get added to the stack.

I meant to take more photos, only ended up with a couple. Here is Jedi Knight Mark Souza defending the attendees against the Empire, which was attacking with a t-shirt slingshot. He put up a valiant fight but was finally knocked to the ground by Sith Lord Rodney Landrum. Obi-Wan was bent and a little crumpled, but was able to attend the closing raffle by leaning against the wall, light sql saber still at the ready!

 

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This is mid-raffle. It’s a lot of people! Green shirts are volunteers. The walkway behind the crowd is where we put the serving tables at lunch (and check-in before that), with the building that has our classrooms on the far side.

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That’s for it this year, now we have to finish up our joint meeting of OPASS/MagicPASS in October featuring Mark Souza, then it’s off to the Summit and then I think it will be time for the end of year break. Time flies.

SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan–Part 48

This past Saturday we held our eight annual SQLSaturday. I’ll write some notes about the event and post today or tomorrow. The final registration count after marking 20-30 people as cancelled (things got hectic, was hard to track) was 640 (vs 344 last year) and our best effort on attendance count is 450 (and was slightly higher than that because we ended up with some students dual registered). Our Student to IT Pro Seminar had about 70 attendees (and some of those were dual registered). We had more people pay for lunch than registered last year. We’ll try to get the final drop percentage refined, but it looks like the expected 30% or so. I surpassed both my goals for this year, 450 attendees against the goal of 350, and 640+ registered against the goal of 500. Definitely satisfying to hit the goals after months of work.

I still have some work to do that I’m planning to have wrapped up by Oct 17th:

  • Send out the remaining sponsor email blasts
  • Related to the event, market the upcoming joint oPASS/MagicPASS meeting starring (featuring hardly seems to be the right word) my friend Mark Souza
  • Write up a core set of lessons learned
  • Write up a plan that can be repeated next year (and by other events)

It’s been a long road and I’m definitely tired. Not unexpected, but a reminder that I need to find ways to make it less intense next year. We haven’t met yet to discuss roles for next year, but I’m leaning towards a different role and a new challenge while I coach whoever takes on marketing. It’ll be interesting setting a growth goal for next year, I know I’ll want to think hard about whether 20% is doable after the kind of growth we had this year!

 

 

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SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 47

Notes:

  • We sent out a final you haven’t paid for lunch reminder on Wed, asked for a reply if they were planning to bring their own. 20 or so are, so far. We don’t mind that they do of course, but it’s really valuable information because it’s another block of attendees we can confirm (or as close to confirm as possible). Paid attendees are one group (very likely to attend), comps (speakers, sponsors, a few volunteers, all very likely to attend), and then the rest. The way the site works we don’t make it obvious that you can NOT pay or how to change your plan. Not huge, but something we could tweak at the system level.
  • We also asked for people to cancel if their plans changed, and we’ve done – guessing here – as many as 20. Every little bit helps us to understand where we stand.
  • Why the obsession over counts? Back at #1 it was food, scared silly that we wouldn’t have enough. With paid lunches (and we order a little extra, still) we don’t sweat the food, but we still want to have about the right amount of water, soda, coffee, donuts, etc. Sucks to order 100 people worth extra, that’s money that could get used elsewhere. The other part is seating. Based on what we think we added a 10th room to make sure we could handle the attendance.
  • We’re at 604 right now, and the count has bounced up and down over/under for a couple days as we add one/lose one.
  • Maybe if we did another push to the not-reg list we might push it some more, but we feel like it’s a busy email week and we’ve done enough
  • All of this a reminder that registrations are all good fun to count, but what matters is attendance. Kendal has one projection that puts at 500 on site. Im curious to see!
  • We had the waitlist count sent to 600, but we moved it to 700. We don’t expect it to go that high, but with the count bouncing we’d rather just add people to the list rather than worry they don’t register because they’d be on the waitlist

 

Here’s some more art from Kendal looking at day by day number for the last week going back to 2009. The guess is +25 registrations from today. The question is how much that will get offset by cancellations.

 

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SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 46

Registration count after some cancellations now at 577, way above my goal of 500. We’ve decided not to spend on LinkedIn this week, our numbers are good and we’re not thinking it would drive a lot. Tough call. I’d like to find out, but agree it’s money we can spend elsewhere. Sent the final message yesterday to the unregistered list, we’ll have a message to the attendees on Friday and a final reminder on Saturday morning. I also just sent out the first sponsor message to the list. We have four this week, then more to send following the event. Not sure of the final count, but we’re going to send a lot of sponsor messages (email blast on their behalf to the registered/opt-in list), quantity worries me, but I get the perceived value to sponsors. Something to watch.

Big conversation on our weekly call today was guessing attendance. We want rooms reasonably full, but not so full that people get frustrated. Paid unches plus comps, minus sponsor comps – a few speakers – a few volunteers? Registration * 70% (my rule of thumb). We’re adding a 10th room/track, we’ll schedule 3 morning sessions, reserve the three in the afternoon for any that were maxed out in the morning. Room size is the challenge. With some rooms holding only 30, just not a lot of flex. Really curious to see what the final is (goal is 350), but in terms of goal and trying to decide on a good enough formula.

 

 

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The Student To IT Pro Seminar We’re Doing at SQLSaturday Orlando

Ever since SQLSaturday #1 our venue has been Seminole State College (Seminole Community College back then), provided graciously and perhaps more importantly, at no charge. Finding a venue is a big deal when it comes to planning an event and finding one that’s free, that’s harder! Putting a bunch of IT people on their campus is a win just by being there. Instructors from the school staff a table, answer questions, and more importantly, they ask questions. It’s a really good way to stay connected with the profession. What’s new? What’s changing? What are you focused on? It’s a pretty good focus group when you think about it.

Each year we invite students to attend including a free lunch, but attendance has always been low. Typically it would be a handful of students. Several years ago Jack Corbett and I visited the IT classes to invite students. Worth doing, but it didn’t change the numbers much. The students are trying to make it through class while paying the bills and/or managing a family and giving up a Saturday for something that may not even come close to what they hope to do is asking a lot. Even the content is a challenge, our “beginner” topics look pretty advanced to them.

This year I had the luxury of extra time/energy, so I went back to the college with a new idea. We’d set up a half day seminar just for the students. We’d cover networking, the value of community events, how to work with a staffing firm, common resume mistakes, and – being a SQL Server event – some coverage of databases at a very high level. We co-located it with SQLSaturday to simplify (we thought) the logistics and to try to give them the whole experience. We did a quick three slide deck and sent it to all the IT instructors asking them to encourage attendance and to consider making it an assignment for students. We added a room the schedule with capacity for 30 and set a goal of 20 attendees. We set up registration on EventBrite, thinking it would be useful to be able to see the attendees clearly and worrying about managing two lists instead of one. We did all of this before the fall semester started, so once in place we had to wait and see.

Once school started we saw some registrations and we quickly exceeded our capacity of 30 and started a waitlist. Success! Never content, I asked if we could get a bigger room and one was available, this one with a capacity of 60. More is better, except of course more costs more. Our lunch cost is about $9/person, so we were now talking about adding an unplanned $500 spend to the budget. We decided to proceed and then we hit 60. Now what? We debated switching to pizza to cut costs, but then we had to figure out how much pizza and have someone manage that, so we decided to just stick to the plan. The college found a room that would seat 100 so we set our limit at 120 to plan for some cancellations and went again. As of today we’re at about 75 registered with a  reminder email going out to them today.

Now to some lessons learned, so far.

Eventbrite turned out to be exactly the right call. Without it we’d be stuck with hoping they filled in “how did you hear about us” with “student” or hoping they used their college email address. Without it we’d have no way to cap/manage attendance separately from our regular attendees. That turned out to have an added benefit that we didn’t “spam” sponsor lists with leads with a very chance of immediate value. We’ll allow students to opt-in when they check-in for the seminar and if they do, that list will go to the sponsors who can decide whether or not to use it.

The seminar ended up being quite a distance from the main event, requiring a separate check-in table and staff. Good and bad. We’d have two lists anyway, but it does take them out of the flow and confusion and fun of the event.

On the money side, we decided to include them in the regular lunch. We’ll all troop over after the seminar is complete. Beyond that though, by NOT having them on the SQLSaturday list we’re not providing them with an event bag, raffle tickets, and whatever else. Again this takes them out of the event flow some, but manages our money (and that of the sponsors by managing who gets the collateral they send). We worried that this was too removed, so we’re going to spend $200 on raffle prizes for the students and do that raffle before we break for lunch. We’re inviting the students to attend the afternoon sessions, but it’s optional. We don’t mind spending, just a matter of making sure we spend wisely.

We’ve had some that dual-registered, so we had to go back and try to clean up the attendee list for SQLSaturday just to make sure we had a good count. That dropped us just below 500 for a while. I can see where it’s confusing for students, something to do better next year.

We’re having to design a quick eval for the seminar, one more task we didn’t plan on (if an obvious one).

Talking about it so far, we’re debating whether we’d be better off next year to hold it 1 or 2 weeks prior to SQLSaturday. That would streamline the message, we could then do pizza, and we – the organizers – would have more time to devote to it and more time afterward for questions. We’d then invite them to SQLSaturday, but there would be a huge fall off. Do we care about getting them to SQLSaturday, or helping them? The latter of course but can we do both? Should we? Is there a new brand needed there? One event not yet complete isn’t a template yet, but it could be!

On top of all of that we’re not sure if we have enough room. With registration at 535 + 75 students, the afternoon could be very very packed. We just don’t have many options for rooms with larger capacity, so we may have to add a track.

So that’s where we’re at. We’ve designed something that appeals to them, will they show up? Will they find it valuable? I’ll guess that some won’t attend, but we’ll have more than our goal of 20 and we’ll learn a lot. Inviting them to SQLSaturday was easy, but not effective. Building something for them was effective, just not easy – took some experience and then the time/energy/money to tackle it. I’m guessing that most will find it interesting, but relatively few will wind up at oPASS meetings – these aren’t all database students after all. It’s nice to do something to give back, and I think the college sees it a huge win, something that they talk about, something that helps students, even something that helps justify continuing to support our events.

SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 44

More notes:

  • Registration at 520. Not as big a bump this week as we expected, probably due to the message going out to the unregistered list Tuesday late afternoon, but equally possibly that we’re reached the ones that plan to go. I’m tempted to email again this week, but I think that’s too much. We’ll stick to the plan.
  • Kendal sweating having room for attendees, running some different calculations to decide if we should add a 10th track. We’re lucky that we have a room we can use and speakers on the wait list, so if want to do it, it’s a small amount of work to do so. The potential downside to adding a room is that we thin out the number of attendees per room. Good if we’re crowded, not good otherwise. I think we’ll add the track and go.
  • My goal was 350 attendees. I think we’ll hit that with our current reg count. Can we add more next week? I’m going to believe history and say we will, so my optimistic bet is 400 on site next Saturday.
  • I’ve also got to move things along on marketing our October meeting featuring Mark Souza. We debated, decided to go for something visual. Ordered two cardboard cutouts that we’ll “enhance” with his photo and a message about the event. We’ll have one at registration and one in the main foyer, and we’ll move them around during the day. Hoping for lots of chat and pics from it, and we might raffle off the cutouts at the end.
  • We have 52 registered total for our two seminars. Did we set a goal? I need to go back and look. I think we were thinking 20 each. Regardless, 52 is good, and we’ll see if we get a few more next week.
  • Related to that, reminder that we offered our speakers a 50% discount for the Friday seminar and a few of them took us up on it. I’d like to see that pattern grow. Wish we could do free, but a days training for $60 isn’t bad. I’m going to one, always something to learn!
  • We have 75 students registered (and not included in the 520 above because we’re not sure how many will attend in the afternoon). I’ll have a separate post on that.
  • So far only two of our sponsors committed to sending out a geo-targeted email about the event. Like to see that go up next year, need to build into sponsor plan and have those conversations early. Good for both sides.
  • We ended up selling 25 SQLSaturday Orlando polos (at our cost), I like that extra marketing outreach for next year!

 

Also, here’s the message that ONETUG sent out for us to their list. We saw a bump of about 20 so far (we can’t measure well), and I think we’ll do even better next year when we make an all our effort to have content designed to appeal to their members.

 

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SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 43

  • I’ve got most of the messages up through Sep 27th drafted. Still need to tweak a couple, but close to done.
  • Two messages going out tomorrow, one to the registered list and one to the – wait, yes – the unregistered list, then one on Wed for a call for volunteers
  • We’re at 502 after removing a couple dupes, and it may go down a few more as I remove some students that are dual registered
  • ONETUG message should go out any time, had technical challenges with Mailchimp and the email background color
  • I’ve queued tweets about all the sponsors and all the speaker/sessions through next Friday, plus a ‘good morning’ tweet for Saturday, a minu 15 minute and minus 5 minute reminder as each set of sessions start, and a reminder for the end of day raffle. We’ll fill in the rest with our TwitterDJ that will be at the PASS table.
  • The chart now includes our data from 2007 & 2008.
  • Strategy wise, I’m in favor of opening registration as early as possible, it allows those that can do so to commit to attending right then, then it’s just a drop-in to whatever messages go out
  • Clearly a lot of people register at the end, so what’s the latest you can start and do ok? I suspect you could do it 4 weeks out if you have a good list and have done the event before, but that’s a lot of stress/risk. Sponsors really like seeing that you can and are delivering on registration, stretching out the curve across 12 or 16 weeks gives everyone time. The better question is when should marketing start? I used to think 8 weeks out for the most part, but looking at this year I’m thinking I like 12-14 weeks a lot better. That’s purely a swag though. I’d like to see some work done across all events and factoring in email volume. Someone want to do that analysis?
  • Right now the wait list will activate at 600. We hate to turn anyone away, but at some point with rooms that hold 30-40 people we hit a real cap. The challenge is what the drop rate will be. Last year it was 20%, but that was after some people cancelled which changes the top number. I’m going with 30%, so if we hit 600 (and remember my ambitious goal was 500) that would put us at 420 on site (not counting 60 students that may or may not attend after lunch). What’s our real capacity?
  • Our nine rooms have a published capacity of 306
  • Worst case we sit 20% more in the back (6 people in a 30 person room), that takes us to 367
  • Let’s guess that we have 25 people working at sponsor tables, registration, etc, so we’ve accounted for 392
  • That leaves 28 people talking to sponsors, networking, or arriving late/leaving early
  • Need to talk to Kendal about tracking cancellations
  • I’ve still got messages to edit/send as well as getting all the email blasts from sponsors done, but the end is in sight.
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    SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 42

    • Reg count at 479. Looking very good for hitting 500!
    • First sponsor sent out a geo-targeted message for us, another one working on it, more to go. We wrote a ‘suggested’ message to decrease the friction. First vendor even sent back open rates on the email!
    • Karla/Shawn dropped in at ONETUG meeting last night to hand out flyers and coordinate ONETUG sharing the PASS table
    • Just scheduled sponsor mention tweets for next two weeks plus day of event (need to do same for speakers/sessions next week)
    • Signed up for trial of Hootsuite Pro to do the scheduling, works reasonably well
    • Our half day student seminar seems to be resonating. Our initial target was 30, we hit that and asked for a bigger room. Today we hit that cap of 60, so we’re moving to a room that seats 100! We’ll see how many how, but still, this is a much bigger response than we’ve seen with our previous efforts to engage them.
    • We’ve tentatively decided to include them in the main event lunch, but not to register them or give them event raffle tickets. That keeps the sponsor list fairly targeted. Students will be welcome to attend sessions or visit sponsors after 1 pm.
    • One of the things we talked about this past week was a photo/video plan, need to make sure that covers the student seminar (is now in a different building)
    • We need a couple raffle prizes for students (most will leave at lunch), an eval, what else?
    • Wrote the ‘you haven’t paid for lunch yet’ message that goes out next week, still a lot more messages to write
    • Starting to get news on raffle prizes, will try to add that to messages too
    • Networking landed us a local gold sponsor, working on a second one. Pays to maintain relationships!

    My goal since Part 2 has been 500 registered and 350 attending, it’s exciting to be close! But if our projection holds, we should still add another 100 before the event. The real question is what our drop rate will be? I’m expecting it to be higher than last year due to the longer sign up cycle, but that’s only a guess. We’ve set the waitlist threshold at 600, can we do it? We shall see.

     

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    SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 41

    Ah, an interesting week for registrations. We’ve jumped to 426 registered, making my goal of 500 doable. The jump is in part due to timing, in part due to only having mailed to the “already registered” list only last week (a goof on my part). This week we’ll have two messages going on, one to the registered list to work on bring a friend, the other to the not yet attending list to continue to plug the event. Besides that, here’s a few more things going on:

    • Emailed a reminder to the Florida chapter leaders asking for one more plug at their September meetings
    • Drafted an email that ONETUG has agreed to blast to their list (to go out after their Sep meeting). This is huge, it will be a ‘one topic’ email just about SQLSaturday.
    • Finished scheduling the last of my canned auto-tweets through this Friday, then we’ll change the mix (interestingly, I see relatively few registrants opting to post their attendance to Twitter)
    • I’m trying to finish the rest of the email messages this week, I don’t want to risk life/work hitting me just when I need to be on my game the most in the last couple weeks
    • Discussing if we can have someone staff Twitter all day at the event and what we can do with it if we can
    • Also discussing our photo strategy, I’d really like to have those for next year
    • Asked Kendal to also chart the number of emails sent out to reg/non-reg lists by week
    • Next week I’ll send the email to the host venue (college) advisory council as part of the final push
    • I still need the 2007 & 2008 registration numbers
    • I need to think more about what I can do at the event to help us market better next year. Focus group, surveys, contact gathering, photos, what else?

    At this point the strategy is simple – keep pushing!

    Here is the current chart:

     

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    Here’s something I haven’t talked about much yet. Over the past five years we’ve seen an incremental decline in the number of registrations, from a high of 384 in 2009 to 344 last year. Not a huge variance. Enough to worry? No, yet at the same time I’d always rather see it static or growing. It’s hard to attribute the changes year over year to any particular cause, but my guess based on what we see this year is not enough marketing messages sent in the last two years. By “not enough” we might be talking a difference of two or three, but it takes time for the message to get through the ‘clutter’ of work and life in the inbox. Kendal created a big win by starting the process of visualizing what little we know about our marketing efforts and it’s easy to see this was a big miss when we built SQLSaturday (a combination of not enough time and not enough vision). Having charts like this built-in would make it easier (and more likely) that whoever owns marketing is competing to match and beat the previous years number.

     

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    SQLSaturday Orlando Marketing Plan-Part 40

    Last week we were at 332, this morning at about the same time we’re at 356. Not bad for a week that included Labor Day. Chart makes it look a little worse than it is, it shows the actual against the goal for the next report period.

     

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    Here’s the last 4 weeks of trend data. If you look at the delta between week 3 and week 0, we’ve always added at least a hundred and twenty. I’ll still – still! – confident that we’ll hit our goal of 500 registrations. The next email will go out tomorrow.

     

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