Help Build the SQLRally Speaker/Topic Selection Process – Part 1

Last week we announced PASS SQLRally, the new event that we’ll be holding in May 2011 in Orlando (aka the “Spring Event”). A big item is deciding how we want to pick speakers and build the schedule. We have a process we use for the Summit and we could use that, but if we’re building something new, why not take a second look at this part of it as well? I’m going to list some ideas we’ve been working on and hope you’ll comment.

Pre-Con Seminars – 6.5 hours (4 available)

We’re pricing these at $149-$199 for the day. Speakers will be be paid a flat $2000 plus admittance to the main conference. Obviously the chance to get paid is enticing, and a big reason for us to build a strong and transparent process. We want great presentations of course. It’s a huge change to go from doing an hour to a day – managing time becomes much more important.

  1. Eliminate from contention anyone that presented a pre/post con at the 2009/2010 Summit (they’ve made it to the top, we want to grow next generation).
  2. Require candidates to have been a speaker at the 2009/2010 Summit (unless excluded above) (no short cuts, have to pay your dues by earning way to the Summit)
  3. Must submit a 1 page outline that explains seminar timeline and deliverables. One paragraph won’t do it. (This is what attendees look to to decide whether to attend)
  4. Can submit only one (No submitting 8 to increase chances)

Main Conference Sessions (36 to 48 available)

One of the things we’re still looking at is the possibility of doing some 2 hour ‘deep dive’ sessions and that decision will impact the number of sessions selected.

  1. Require speakers to have spoken at the PASS Summit or a SQLSaturday in the past 24 months to be eligible.
  2. Must have presented the topic at least one time prior to submitting it
  3. Must upload the deck (doesn’t have to be final) at time of submission.
  4. Can submit a max of ?? (2? 4?) presentations

The goal there is to have no newbie speakers – just can’t do it at a paid event. Quality has to be high. We also want to stop the madness of having speakers submit a lot of presentations that chew up valuable time in the selection process. Submit your best stuff and cross your fingers!


We want this to be a high quality event. We also want this to be the middle step in our speaker farm club system. You start at chapters or SQLSaturday, gather experience, earn your way into the Rally, then you’re a great candidate to move to the Summit. Same for pre/post cons. Pay your dues, earn some cred, get a shot at the big leagues.


Tell us how to make it better. Think about what you don’t like in the Summit system. Is the above fair and achieve the goals? Does it disenfranchise someone wrongly? Looking forward to your comments.

11 thoughts on “Help Build the SQLRally Speaker/Topic Selection Process – Part 1

  1. An additional criteria, that you may have already thought about and elimated for one reason or another. Many SQL Sat events incorporate speaker evaluations as part of the program. Consistent scores from the evaluations may also be used to break ties in the selection process. I know the evaluations can be a bit tricky as an objective measure. But, over large audience populations (and multiple presentations), they should be an accurate predictor of future results.


  2. Barry, we haven’t reached a decision on evals. I like the idea, we certainly want “good” speakers. I’d guess based on my own experience that it would be effective at ruling out truly bad speakers, not sure if it would be the best tie breaker. Interested to hear more opinions on this.


  3. I’m not sure what the requirement to “have presented the topic at least one time prior” is about… unless you also include that the submitter has to let you know contact info for somebody who was there.
    IMO, the act of presenting a topic doesn’t indicate quality of the session. Opinions of those who attended does. So just requiring it to be presented doesn’t add anything – requiring evals from the chapter leader or others would.


  4. So the path to a pre-con at SQL Rally is:

    SQLSaturday -> SQL Rally session -> Summit session -> SQL Rally pre-con?

    I’m curious – not disagreeing, just curious – as to why the path necessarily routes through the Summit. Also, will the role of SQL Rally as the “AAA team” to the Summit’s “major league team” go both ways – that is, will a previous presentation at the Rally become a requirement to present at the Summit?

    As for evals, I’m inclined to agree with Barry. Given a sufficiently large population of evals (both horizontally and longitudinally), I think they’d be a useful predictor. I wouldn’t put them ahead of content or the judgement of the people selecting, but in cases where two candidates are otherwise deadlocked, I think going with the better “crowd pleaser” is a viable strategy.


  5. Todd, that requirement it designed to decrease the number of sessions submitted. Right now abstracts are often just that – abstracts – that often have never been presented before. Speakers wait to see what wins, and then they write it. Certainly we have speakers capable of preparing a presentation and doing a great job on the first try, but wouldn’t it be better if they had done it a time or two first to practice? Plus, it puts a tremendous load on the team building the schedule to have to evaluate a lot of notional topics.

    There is a downside of course, what if someone wants to present on a beta topic, something that is currently NDA. This part would prevent that, and maye that isn’t good. Probably a way to identity certain speakers as being skilled/allowed to add those.

    You’re right that previous history doesn’t mean it will be a good session, or that submitting a full deck makes it a good session. Evals may need to be part of it, I just don’t think (my own opinion here) that they are good tie breakers, and most chapter leaders I suspect will be reluctant to give someone a really bad eval (do you really score someone low that donated their time to present?).

    Nothing simple about this, and all these discussions will shape what we do.


  6. Matt, if it were up to me (and it’s not!), to speak at the Summit you would either have previously presented at the Summit or at SQLRally (or maybe x other events or equivalent). Pay your dues one way or the other. Once in a while you get a phenom that goes from high school to the bigs, but it’s rare, and rarely a good idea even then. If someone is going to pay $299 they deserve good quality, at $1500 they should never doubt that the speakers are credible and good.

    Its got to be done carefully, and takes more than a year. It’s not just quality either, it’s opportunity. If we have the same 100 speakers at the Summit each year (we don’t, but bear with me), how we do make sure that new speakers have at least the chance to earn their way to the top. Do we really want the program committe sifting through 1000 abstracts to schedule a 100 – that day is coming soon.

    Commented earlier to Todd about evals, I guess for me the question is when in the process we use them. I just don’t think effective for tie breakers, but I could be wrong!

    Hope I answer the rest, if not, glad to do a follow up.


  7. I *love* the transparency Andy!

    I think this will be a great event and another milestone in PASS’ quest to “grow down” (yes, I’m stealing from as yet unpublished blog posts. But they’re my blog posts, and I can durn well steal from me any time I want…).

    I’m all giggly.



  8. I’m looking forward to the grow down post! As far as transparency, we will try to do more and take our lumps as we go:-)


  9. Andy,

    I couldn’t agree more with the stated goals – if I want to convince my employer to send me to Summit (more than once, anyway), I can’t afford to come back with many (any!) reports of “this session was useless.” So please don’t think I’m questioning the notion of ensuring that speakers have a verifiable track record of quality, or that they’ve got enough experience under their belts to carry their weight at an event I’m paying $3k to attend.

    Where I was trying to go was to figure out how Summit and Rally are intended to relate to each other; how thoroughly Rally is the “minors” to Summit’s “majors.” It just struck me as interesting that a Summit presentation was a requirement for a Rally pre-con, rather than either a Summit or Rally presentation being the requirement.

    That said, bear in mind I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone whose primary interests are first to ensure quality at Summit, and second to provide opportunities for “up-and-comers” to carve a niche for themselves.

    As for evals, you raise a really good point – I certainly am more liable to cut a presenter some slack if I didn’t pay to be there and know they’re not being paid to present; those evals may not be a good indicator of how I’d rate them at an event I’m paying for and which is paying them to be there; I hadn’t thought of that problem.


  10. Oh, and I forgot to say – add my voice to the others thanking you for the transparency; I really appreciate the chance to see and comment on the process. Thanks!


  11. That clicked. Over time it should definitely be “uphill” in that you go to SQLRally or other equivalent to earn your chops, but what we didn’t want to do is say “yeah, you made it to the Summit, you don’t get to play sandlot ball anymore”.

    One of the things I hope to gather is for everyone to look at it from their own perspective, who does it hurt/hamper and are we ok with that? We might end up back with the Summit process – it works after all – but fun to see if we can do something better, this being a better place than the Summit to experiment.


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