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.