SQLRally Pre-Con Selection Process – Draft for Comment

SQLRally Winner

Hopefully you’ve heard by now that PASS is launching a new event format called SQLRally in May 2011 in Orlando. It will be a two day conference, preceded by one day of seminars. Because it’s a new format, we can – if we choose – build a new process for how we pick these seminars. I wrote the draft below after reading some notes about the Summit process and some conversations with Jack Corbett and Kendal Van Dyke, trying to make it more open, more democratic, but still recognizing the fiscal realities of picking seminars. We will be paying these speakers, and in turn attendees will be paying to attend these seminars. That means we may have to exclude some topics that lack broad enough appeal, and that is ultimately a value judgment.

My hope is that we can do this and announce the five seminar speakers at the Summit at the same time we open registration. The reason for that is to generate some buzz around the event, to give potential attendees something to show the boss while we work on the really hard part, selecting the speakers for the conference. That means we’ve got a short timeline if we want to make that goal.

As I write this I’m struck that it’s hard to figure out where to start. Who gets to write this draft? Who approves it? As we’ve modeled SQLRally it’s a partnership between PASS HQ, the Board of Directors, and the local chapter, so I think ultimately it’s fair to have them make the final decision. But we don’t want to make that decision without a discussion with the community, so that brings us to this post today.

I hope you’ll comment on this process, and try to see it not just from one view point. Eventually we’ll settle on something, we’ll try it, and then we’ll revisit it afterwards to make changes for the next time. I don’t expect we’ll get it all right the first time, but it won’t be for lack of trying!

And now, the draft….




Pre-Conference Seminar Proposal

Note: This is a draft. We encourage those interested in submitting a proposal to begin work based on this draft, understanding that there may be changes as we go through the discussion process.


PASS is accepting applications to for three full day (7 hours each) seminars and two half day (3.5 hours each) to be delivered on May 10, 2011 at the Marriott World Center in Orlando. Applications will be reviewed by the selection committee and winners notified not later than October 29, 2010, with the official announcement of accepted seminars being made at the 2010 PASS Summit.


Our biggest goal is to select a set of seminars that will be interesting to a broad set of main conference attendees and that will be perceived as worthy of the additional expense. The second goal is to grow the next generation of seminar speakers for the Summit (Note: being selected for a SQLRally seminar does not imply or guarantee acceptance as a seminar speaker at the Summit).


Presenters must meet the following requirements to be considered:

  • Have not been selected to present a pre/post seminar at the 2010 PASS Summit
  • Be available to present the seminar on May 11, 2011
  • Be available to attend the entire conference on May 12-13, 2011 and deliver a one hour presentation (subject to session acceptance)
  • Meet at least one of the following:
    • Be a current SQL Server MVP
    • Have been selected as a primary or alternate speaker at the 2009 or 2010 PASS Summit or similar sized event
    • Have taught a full day course on SQL Server previously
  • Submit a complete application prior to the deadline by midnight on Sep 30, 2010 (Pacific time)
  • Agree to the confidentiality provisions of this document (not complete)


Presenters will be paid $2000 for presenting a full day seminar, or $1000 for a half day seminar, and will be granted complimentary admission (non-transferrable) to the main conference. Presenters are responsible for their own expenses.

Abstract Review Process

The selection committee will be comprised of one representative from PASS HQ, one representative from the PASS Board of Directors, one representative from the SQLRally partner Chapter, plus three community members. Each abstract will be review to make sure it meets the qualifications listed above, those that do not will be declined and the submitter notified. Eligible abstracts will be scored using the criteria in Appendix A. The top three abstracts in each category will be selected to proceed to the community voting round.

Note: We have not decided on how to choose the three community members. One method would be to randomly select a chapter leader, a previous pre-con speaker, and a community member from a pool of applicants. Too bulky?

Selection Process

PASS HQ will announce the candidate abstracts/presenters by October 7th and open community voting for a period of 2 weeks. The abstract with the most votes in each category will be selected as the winner. Ties will be decided by the Selection Committee.

Winners will be notified by email and required to confirm their final acceptance within 7 days. In the event that any winner cannot be contacted, the Selection Committee may void the selection and pick the abstract from that category with the next highest number of votes.

Abstract Submission

Abstracts must be prepared using the provided form and submitted to PASS HQ not later than midnight on Sep 30, 2010 (Pacific time). Candidates may only submit one abstract for consideration. Candidates who submit multiple abstracts will be disqualified. Candidates are encourage to put as much detail in to the application as possible, it both aids the Selection Committee and provides a strong basis for building the advertising material that will be used to market it if accepted.


It is our intention to stick as closely as possible to this document for the selection process, but this document does not cover every eventuality. In the event that the Event Team decides to deviate from the process outlined above, they will explain at the time the winners are announced why the change was necessary.

Appendix A – Seminar Scoring

NOTE: Huge gap here, looking for help!

1. Speaking qualifications

2. Community name recognition

3. Overall quality of application

4. Broad Community Interest in Topic?

5. Community Participation



Appendix B – Seminar Application Form

Part 1 – Presenter Data

1. Full Name

2. Mailing Address

3. Email Address

4. Primary Phone

5. LinkedIn URL

6. Twitter Handle

7. Blog URL

8. Biography (300 words max)

9. Is MVP

10. Is MS Employee

11. Basis for qualification

    1. Current MVP
    2. Past Summit presenter
    3. Teaching experience

12. Details of presenting experience (list event/topic/paid or free)

13. Links to video demonstrating presentation skills (minimum 1 required)

14. Details of community participation not listed in item #12 above

15. References

Part 2 – Abstract

1. Title

2. Length

a. Full Day

b. Half Day

3. Summary (300 words)

4. Suggested pre-requisite knowledge, if any

5. Skill Level

a. Beg


b. Intermediate

c. Expert

6. Category

a. BI

b. DBA

c. Developer

d. Misc

7. List 5 skills that attendees will take home

8. Seminar outline

a. Broken down into one hour modules

b. List high level discussion points

c. List planned demos

18 thoughts on “SQLRally Pre-Con Selection Process – Draft for Comment

  1. Andy, thanks for sharing this. It’s great to be asked to participate in the building of this arm of PASS.

    Upon initial review, I would avoid using the term “winner” as the verbiage for those chosen as speakers.

    I plan to take more time reading through the Apendices before commenting on those.


  2. Also, your last two bullet points under Qualifications appear to be criteria for “Meet at least one of the following”. That is slightly confusing. Maybe a different style of bullet there to avoid mis-reading?


  3. Agree with Wendy, otherwise I could submit a late, incomplete application as a non-MVP who’s never presented anywhere, but agree to the confidentiality provisions and be accepted.


  4. I would just stick with “Speakers”.

    Also, the requirement of a video of the applicant giving a presentation is a great idea!


  5. –insert randomness here

    1 why include a member from PASSHQ on the review team? im sorry, I love HQ but, they dont know much about speakers, names, subjects etc. This would seem to be a waste of that resources time

    2. From experience in selecting abstracts, a larger team isnt always better, you might consider reducing the size, to say 1 BOD member, 1 chapter leader and 1-2 community volunteers. The main thought here is that its tough to schedule times for meetings to hash out details when the team grows larger, and its tougher to come to an agreement with more people. With community voting as the final determination it shouldnt be too problematic.

    3. in the abstract submission, We’d be asking for very specific info about demo’s, 1 hour modules, discussion pts, etc. Since this is specific info required several months (6+) in advance of delivery theres a real risk the delivered session will not match. It may be a better idea to ask those things that are needed for marketing well after the decisions are made about sessions to allow speakers to tune their presentations

    4. Appendix A: this is where the most peril potential exists 🙂
    * is the grading going to be done as a “group” or individually?

    a. Speaking qualifications — should probably have a system where x lvl=y pts
    1. a former rally or summit precon speaker is worth X pts
    2. a speaker eval rating at pass events of 3.5-4 =Xpts 4-4.5=X+1pts 4.5-5=X+2pts
    3. X # of prior presentations = so many points
    4. marketable = Name recognition, certs, mvp etc

    b. Is the abstract complete, well written, grammar counts!

    c. does this session meet the goals of the rally->summit speaking path

    d. Is the topic marketable

    e. audience participation level (demo’s etc)

    f. is the topic new, never presented before?

    g. does the abstract match the level (ie latching in a 100lvl session)

    since this is being pitched as a “proving ground” of sorts, it would be interesting to see if we could allow for some of the logical increases in pts above to work backwards. ie if youve given 500 sessions you get 1″point” as a speaker where a newer speaker having given 25 sessions gets 4 “points”

    these are just a few ideas/thoughts to throw against a wall, im not sure how awful the fmt is going to look but, it was quick thoughts!


  6. I would agree with the speaker requirements for the pre-con (even though I can’t submit one). I do agree with the worry that Allen White was talking about on Twitter with the limited marketing ability for the Rally where you won’t be able to have Adam, Paul, Kimberly, etc as pre-con speakers.


  7. Andy, my biggest concern is for marketing precons when you’ve eliminated the big names in our industry. People like Kalen Delaney, Paul Randal, Kimberly Tripp, Andy Kelly, Adam Machanic, etc. get people’s attention for the extra sessions, and none of them are eligible under these rules. Part of your reasoning for holding SQLRally in the east is to provide easier travel to those of us east of the Mississippi. Well, if your speaker selection process focuses on the “up and comers” rather than the “rock stars”, are you really meeting the needs of the east coasters? It’s a tough decision on how you want to handle it, but this should all be considered, IMO. (And no, I don’t put myself in that “rock star” status. I’ve been very fortunate to have been chosen for this year’s Summit.)


  8. Allen W,

    First, I’d count you as a rockstar, but only if you actually join us for dinner next time!

    We’re not – so far – excluding rockstars from the main event. This doc is JUST for the pre-cons, and I think we’ve got enough talent that excluding the dozen or so pre-con speakers this year shouldn’t hurt us.

    Speaker selection for the rest is hard. We do want to grow speakers, but we need some name draw too. Jack should publish more soon (his turn to take arrows), but one idea is to limit it to perhaps 12 speakers from the 2010 Summit, have them all compete for x slots.


  9. I agree with Allen’s 2nd point. The group needs to kept to manageable size or you spend all your time in logistical issues and not on abatract selection.


  10. Allen K

    1. I treat HQ as a valued team member on this, and they have the Summit pre-con experience that I don’t. I’ll grant that for ratings they not the right fit, but want them to participate otherwise and weigh in. Maybe that makes them non-voting. Worth thinking on. Definitely don’t want them looking at a 100 abstrats if I can avoid it.

    2. Will consider your advice on team size. Hoping for more opinions one way or the other.

    3. Think that makes sense.

    4. Don’t know? It is the hardest/more open to discord. I can’t remove all the subjectivity…which will people pay for short of doing an “I’m interested and willing to pay vote” followed by another final vote. That feels bulky. The scoring suggestions we’ll look at. Love to find a better/easier/cleaner way.


  11. I agree, thanks for doing this Andy. Transparency is hard and thankless, but needed. It is appreciated.

    I guess my original comments got nuked when the reformatting was done. Just as well since some of them were incorrect due to misunderstanding what was meant. So, here are a few new ones:

    “Meet at least one of the following”
    You might want to consider making it two of the following. It might narrow the pool a bit, but you’re more likely to get somewhat recognized names (although, the “names” many of us think are most recognizable within the community, are not as well known as we think, but that’s a topic for another day).

    “Submit a complete application prior to the deadline by midnight on Sep 30, 2010”
    I said it last time, but it bears repeating, getting together a good abstract for something like this in the next four weeks will be tight for anyone that doesn’t already have one together. Six weeks might be better.

    …randomly select …
    “You may already be a winner” I would hope this would be “randomly select from a group that has already volunteered” rather than thrusting this one someone like a bolt from the blue. It’s hard enough getting people who want to do this kind of work together. Just getting a random DBA off the street might not be the best approach. However, I do like the idea of making sure someone from the “community” is represented.

    “Candidates who submit multiple abstracts…”
    Will be water boarded, horsewhipped, drawn & quartered and subjected to really harsh language. Good! Seeing 8-10 abstracts from one person at some of the events is a bit irksome.

    6. Demonstrate (methods tbd) knowledge of the topic being presented
    How to demonstrate? Good question, but I’d say previous presentations, books, articles, white papers, blog posts, extensive answers in forums… there’s evidence that can be provided out there beyond “Trust me!”

    ” List planned demos”
    Whoa! You got a lot of time on your hands. If I do get my submission together for this, just how detailed a list of demos are you looking for. My presentations are usually demo heavy. I’ll be expanding lecture time for this, but there’s still going to be lots of time spent on code.

    I also agree that having someone from HQ involved in selection doesn’t make sense. Unless you’re just putting them in as a management person but they don’t get a vote.

    Those are my comments so far. I think you’ve got a fantastic start here. Just give me another two weeks to put everything together.


  12. So I realize that multiple submissions from speakers can make the evaluation process difficult just do to the volume of submissions. But I also think that giving presenters the chance to submit more than one gives them the chance to cover a couple of bases just in case the specific topic they’ve selected gets too many submissions.

    It might also lead to some more topics being covered, which can be a selling point for the conference. I liked the PASS Summit approach of limiting submissions to 4 or fewer. 8-10 is indeed a “shotgun” approach that might not add value.


  13. Karen, this process is only for the pre-con paid seminars. We’ll field a different process for the main program, and I think you’ll see a proposla that gives speakers a couple different paths to getting a slot there.


  14. Grant,

    1. We will look at extending the time. The challenge is to leave time to vet the abstracts and then do the community vote. I don’t want to lose good opportunities if I can help it, so we’ll look hard at this.

    2. On narrowing the pool, my thought was to cast a wide net, then assume that the best topic/speaker pairings would win, which tends to favor those with most experience. If your experience is limited to presenting at the 2010 Summit, that shouldn’t score well. Given that thought, would you still vote for more restrictive guidelines?

    3. On community rep, we’ll figure something out maybe names in a hat (volunteered that is) and a drawing.

    4. I think we agree on demonstrating/listing expertise. This should be where experience counts/shows.

    5. On the demos, the thought was to drive home that we want more than a seminar and to require real thought about the abstract. In other words, discourage throwing spaghetti at the wall. Maybe the wrong way to do that. Better to say list 3 planned demos (and can do more if you want for the actual presentation)?

    Keep the comments coming!


  15. 1. I can’t argue with you on this. You’re wrong of course, but I can’t argue.
    2. Probably not. I realize that the process is going to weed out people pretty quickly, so I guess I’m OK with a wider starting base. I’m not sold on exclusivity on this, at all. Just trying to think out what will be a draw for attendees.
    3. Volunteered random… that I can live with
    4. Right
    5. Probably better to ask for “some” demos rather than a list. That’ll give people the chance to communicate with you rather than catalogue stuff for you.


  16. Grant,

    1. It was at least yesterday since I was wrong, I was hoping to start a new streak of rightness. Maybe tomorrow:-) It’s killing me not to be able to announce some sessions at the opening of registration, but I see we’re going to need the time.

    5. We’ll look at this again. I don’t know that I want to lose an opportunity due to this one.


  17. Denny, I know what you mean, and it’s a hard call. We want to grow new pre-con speakers so filtering out the current crop is one way to make room. The other consideration, and this one is harder still, is that we have to think about the marketing side of things. Would we devalue a PASS pre-con at $399 if we do the same thing in Orland for $149? We’re trying hard to fairly position this as a mid level event, and that means lower price points. It doesn’t mean speakers that aren’t good/great for pre-cons, plenty of good if not quite as well known (yet) speakers out there. From a max attendance/max chance of success we’d take the top 4 pre-cons and top 40 or so speakers from the Summit, but that doesn’t grow the pool, and it sure muddies up the differentiation.

    As I say so often, no easy answers. Trying to get it right, trying to see the risk/value at each point.


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