Speaking at the 2014 PASS Summit

Finally the email we’d all been waiting for arrived yesterday, the results of session selection for the 2014 PASS Summit. Good news for me, one session of mine was accepted, so I’ll be presenting “Turbocharge Your Career With A Learning Plan” this year. It’s a good topic and one I’m excited about. I’ve been presenting an early version of it already this year and will be doing more changes and practice before November. Below I’ve included the email so you could see the titles I submitted and the results. I didn’t expect to get two sessions (and I’m opposed to anyone getting two, so that we have max community involvement) but I’ll admit to hoping I’d also get a lightning talk.




I wasn’t selected last year, so I went back to re-read my post I’m Not Presenting At PASS Summit 2013. Here’s part of it, and note the part I bolded for this year:


The thing I know is that picking sessions is subjective. You can score them all you want, but in the end you do some juggling to get a diverse (people, topics, levels) yet balanced (people, topics,levels) schedule. It should be subjective,to a point. Use a system to get close, then a committee to fine tune.

Human nature – including me – is to ask “why didn’t I get picked”? It might be that the abstract had a typo, a title that was too cute or too blah, was too short or too long. Maybe it scored equally with someone with a track record of presenting the same topic, or with perceived better speaking experience. Maybe there are 18 people wanting to talk about indexes and we don’t need 18 index presentations. Giving personalized feedback on that in an official way is hard – there is enough work to do just evaluating them and picking the final schedule. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s more work with more complexities because now you’re telling people why they aren’t good enough, and being human, we’re probably going to disagree with the assessment!

Rather than feedback, I’d like to see PASS and the Program Committee do more to educate speakers up front. Do an updated webinar every year that reviews the process, talks about common mistakes and misconceptions, how to find and use peer reviews to increase your chance of being selected, and how to lay the ground work for being perceived as being ready for a national stage. I think that would dispel a lot of frustration. For example I had two sessions rejected as being repeats from a previous year. I didn’t know the focus was on new content (maybe I missed that) or I would have submitted something a bit different.

If you didn’t get selected, I feel your pain. Take a look at the final schedule, read the abstracts, try to be dispassionate while you consider if they had something that your submission didn’t. Reach out to a peer, or find someone that has spoken at the Summit and ask for their feedback. If you think there are changes you could make, go make them now so you’re ready for next year. If you don’t see changes and think it was just luck of the draw, start thinking about what you can do in the next year to increase your chances. Maybe you can present on the topic more often, maybe you can build a second or third presentation, maybe you can work on extending your network. There will be something you can do to increase your odds next time around.

I’ve been a proponent for years of forced rotation of speakers, something along the lines of making them sit out every third year (or something like that) to make sure we get new voices on the schedule. I sat out a year deliberately a couple years back and it was hard at first, but then it was pleasant. I had the freedom to just be an attendee, no practicing, no pressure. I remind myself that I’ll have that freedom again this year!

Both Brent Ozar and Adam Machanic have stepped up to fill the gap about “how”, Adam writing Capturing Attention: Writing Great Session Descriptions and Brent with Writing Better Conference Abstracts and Presentations. Great material, worth reading. I still wish for an “official” presentation from PASS (which isn’t to say we shouldn’t talk Brent and Adam) into doing it, I think it would be a great next step in evolving the biggest event in our community. Writing is good, reading is good, but I think this cries out for at least one video presentation.

Thanks to the Program Committee for all their effort, I know it’s a slog! Thanks also to all who submitted a presentation, selected or not.

As we move back into “Summit mode”, if you’re attending, I hope you’ll join me, Steve Jones,  and a couple hundred or more really interesting people at our fifth annual Monday Night Networking Dinner. It’s a nice low key way to start the week.

2 thoughts on “Speaking at the 2014 PASS Summit

  1. Congrats on your acceptance. I too got an email from PASS, but it was exactly the opposite of yours. I expected my session would not be accepted as this was my first year submitting. Before submitting I read Adam’s post on writing a great abstract several times, and even asked him to review it before submitting. Looking at the accepted sessions on the topic: Encryption, I see two amazing speakers were selected, and understand why I was not.

    There is always next year, congrats again.


    1. Thanks Jason. That seems like a solid try for the first time out and now you can really focus on what will get you to the top next year. Take a look at how you might explore a niche not being covered is one way, and a good way!


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