Seminars (aka “pre-cons”) have been part of the DNA of SQLSaturday going back to #1. For those that weren’t there we started off with Joe Celko doing our first one and it went really well. I think we sold it at $99, included his latest book and lunch, and had about 70 paying attendees. That was in year one. Since then we’ve had many more accomplished speakers and teachers present seminars for us, but none that I think went over 40 attendees and I think our average over the years is now in the 15-20 range.
What did we do right the first time? Or wrong since then? The price has remained the same. The marketing if anything is better, or at least more prolific and to a larger list than we had the first time. We don’t include a book anymore because the logistics are a pain and at $99 it’s just very tough to make that work. The price has remained $99 since then. We use EventBrite now, that’s one change, but I can’t think of much else. We’ve had years where we ran multiple days of seminars and years where we ran multiple seminars on the same day. We’ve had all kinds of topics over the years. Database design, reporting, SSIS, performance tuning, BI topics, and more. We’ve done surveys to gauge interest. Most have done well as far as attendees being pleased at the value they received for their (or their bosses) $99. Performance tuning usually does well and that’s about the only trend I can call out.
Why did Celko do well? I believe it was name recognition at the manager level. Celko has been around a long time, written a lot of books, and people that back in 2007 were managers knew the name. It went something like “Celko for $99? You’re going!” That’s hard to replicate today. Yes, we still have a few superstars, but none that is quite as dominant as Celko was (or is). I also know it’s possible to get 70 without a superstar, we did in Jacksonville at #3. What was the magic there? The only thing I can think is that was a regional name and more than that, we talked about it all the time in email.
Name recognition matters. Topic matters. Good marketing matters.
Let’s say a home run is 70. We’d like to hit 20-30 on a recurring basis and mostly we do that. What would it take to get to the 40-50 range? How about to get to 100? I want to train more people!
I think strong, consistent message is critical. Messages that clearly call out the value and the cost. We have to be careful about mixing “Free”, “$10 lunch”, and “$99 seminar” in the same message, but we can do it – and we should send some single message messages too. We will need to take what the speaker gives us for bio and abstract and polish, and we need the speaker to deliver a solid hour by hour summary of what the course covers. Do we do a separate flyer? I’m torn. It’s something else to create, something else to distribute, but it clarifies the message.
I also had some notes about seminars in general I wanted to include:
Part of the reason for doing the seminars is that it’s a chance for our members to get quality training on a single topic, something many don’t get otherwise because there is no training budget. Part of the reason is that it’s a chance to earn money for the Chapter. Part of it is that we want to grow the pool of people that can/have delivered a full day topic. Several years ago the PASS Summit seemed to be locked into the same seminar presenters (if not the same presentations) because they were (in my opinion) making decisions based on ability to drive revenue. Nothing wrong with that from a fiscal perspective, but not healthy over the long term. That’s changed now and while it may not be all because we encouraged more people to try, it helped. Sometimes seminars are a way to get a “big name” in town for SQLSaturday, but it’s rarely the deciding criteria for us. It’s always useful – if you think long term – to train leaders on running an event that requires making decisions that can’t be boiled down to a formula and for which there is some financial risk.
One of the ideas I’ve floated is giving away a seminar or two a year as part of an ongoing series, try to get them on the list once. We could also look at the idea of a year subscription for x seminars, but that’s beyond what we have time/energy for right now. I’d love to have a speaker here for an all day seminar 3-4 times a year