Growing the Pool of SQL Speakers – Part 3

Continuing on from Part 2, I want to continue this time with two points I left open last time:

  • How to qualify who gets help in terms of funding to speak
  • Whether there is really a speaker shortage

I want to start with the second point. Is there a shortage of speakers? The honest answer is somewhere between “I don’t know” and “in some places”. For example, when we did a SQLSaturday in Tacoma about 2 years ago we struggled to find speakers, so there is (or at least was) a local shortage there. It could easily be that there are speakers we don’t know exist and that’s something our upcoming speaker bureau project hopes to address. My hunch is that in the rural/smaller urban areas we don’t have the speaker density we need. I’d like to see us at the point where we can stick a pin anywhere in the map (of the US, to start with) and find a dozen people within 200 miles that want to speak, and ideally it’s closer to 100 miles. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Providing funding for speakers is a big deal. We’ve either to go come up with some options to help out, or we have to build enough events within a reasonably driving distance that new speakers can afford to get some practice. Options?

  • Speaker just tries to travel on the cheap, perhaps asking for a mid day session so they can drive over, present, drive back. Not the greatest, but probably lowest cost.
  • We try to help lower costs by offering room share, ride from the airport, etc
  • We build a fund and some way to decide who gets to use it
  • We start to see speakers funded by vendors in our product space in return for demoing their product and/or staffing a table

I’m most interesting the latter two options. Let’s say we build a $20,000 speaker fund at PASS. We ask each chapter leader to recommend a local speaker for a sponsorship that would allow them to visit another group or SQLSaturday. We do the same for SQLSaturday event leaders. We compile that list, send out invitations offering to reimburse up to $250 in airfare or mileage to speak at an event at least 150 miles from their home. That won’t cover the entire cost of course, but it means they have a vested interest in managing the other variable expenses. In the best case we can identify and fund 80 speakers to get a second chance at presenting, speakers that their chapter/event leader have identified as credible.

It’s only a second chance, but it also means that we’d have a good chance at having each chapter or event get a mostly paid for out of town speaker. It’s a chance to feel the heat of presenting to total strangers, and the excitement of hitting the road as a ‘real’ speaker. I might have the details wrong, but my question to you is: would doing something like benefit the overall community?

The other point is about vendor funded speakers. We have a few now, mostly true employees of the vendors, but a few cases where it’s less formal. I think as long as there is disclosure, and the speakers are presenting a “real” session with a slide that indicates they were sponsored by Vendor X, there is no problem. In fact, I think it’s a real win. Vendors often struggle to get speakers to all the events, and covering a portion of travel costs might well be cheaper than keeping someone on staff.

I know I’m dreaming some, but I also see some of the growth and problems happening already. Think about what we (PASS + members) can do, think about what you can do. Are you scouting talent locally? Doing what you can to encourage/train them to take the next step? Maybe we need a prize for best talent scout!

3 thoughts on “Growing the Pool of SQL Speakers – Part 3

  1. Andy,

    Maybe PASS needs to develop an plan for growing speakers locally, using best practices, so that chapter leaders can all work from the same page on this. Perhaps this should be driven/mentored by the PASS regional mentors. Most chapters have enough on their hands and for small chapters this might not be feasible. But doing it on a regional basis makes sense to me as you’d have more resources available.


  2. Tim, we have the same problem in Orlando, though now that Jack is working with me we’re doing better because he is putting a lot of time into it. It’s easy to forget the burden/cost of traveling to speak at a meeting, especially when you can’t write it off as ‘marketing’!


  3. Dave, I think that is something that both Lynda and Douglas are looking at. I’m just brainstorming the context of the speaker bureau to see what might evolve.


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