A Few More Thoughts on Summit Session Selection & Growing Speakers

Last week ended up better than expected when PASS decided to release feedback to speakers (selected or not) who requested it. I imagine many did and the feedback on the feedback was surprisingly good – and that is good. That’s a good step and I hope it will be become standard to deliver that feedback to anyone who submits a session. The next step is to provide the same level of feedback on the speaker evaluation. Right now we don’t know what matters or doesn’t, and there is no reason for that. If people can work hard and improve their standing, that’s never going to be bad for PASS except in one way – it will make the final choice of the sessions for the schedule even harder!

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read How Conference Organizers Pick Sessions by Brent Ozar, a great write up. Building a schedule worthy of a Summit size/cost event is non-trivial.

I also wonder if there hasn’t been an interesting dynamic in past years where those that (arguably) wanted/needed feedback the most were the ones not selected, and those are the people (like me, last year) who are apt to not make much of a fuss.

I hope the program review committee will include some outside voices, and that it will start soon, and that it will do transparently. We need to see the discussion and the challenges.

Changing focus to growing speakers, Chapters and SQLSaturday (and maybe 24HOP) are the farm club that feeds the Summit, and I think do so in grand fashion, but neither have anything close to the demands/process that go into the Summit selection. We (me) had hoped that SQLRally would be the piece that plugged that gap. With the abandoning of SQLRally in the US I haven’t seen much in the way of thinking about whether the problem remains or a way to fix it. I think it does, and I still think “regional” events are the key, something that is more selective than our Chapter/SQLSaturday events, but not as selective as the Summit. Or maybe exactly as selective as the Summit, but with the same idea we had for SQLRally, largely exclude any previous year Summit speaker so that “new” speakers can get a chance to grow.

I’d like to see regional events, but I don’t know that PASS (the Board) has the passion for them, so how else can we do it? Trained evaluators are one way, and we’ve seen the beginnings of that with well known people in the community offering to review abstracts. We could charter a program to train people to do abstract and presentation evaluations in a detailed way (somewhere back in the archives I have a 60 point eval sheet I suggested at one point) and as many (if not all) would be speakers, they could do one here and there as they attend events if someone has requested (and is ready for) an in-person evaluation. Maybe there is an opportunity to do some regional classes where experienced speakers attend for a day or two for instruction and then evaluation by the instructor – I’d have PASS pay the instructor and the overhead, make it free for qualified attendees. That’s something we could easily trial at the Summit. I think how great it would be to have the discussion about what we’d teach. Maybe it can be done online. Maybe there are other ways?

We’ve addressed the quantity problem of speakers, though I think we have to continue our efforts to find more people to step to the front of the room. What we need now is a deeper focus on quality. That would not just lift the Summit, but all the events that tree up to it.

I was just thinking that we hold meetings each year at the Summit for Chapter Leaders as a place to hear and share ideas, and we do the same for SQLSaturday leaders. Why don’t we have something for the speakers? Is it a different dynamic, or a so far missed opportunity? In the early days of SQLSaturday we knew that to grow we had to find that one person in each city that would take on the huge task of putting an event together, but we also saw that the entire success of the eco-system was based on speakers. That’s something I’m reminded of every time speakers sign up for SQLSaturday Orlando and fly in from some other city to attend. I wonder if that lesson hasn’t been lost a bit at the Board level, and I’d suggest that maybe it’s time to have a portfolio that focuses on growth of speakers.

I’m not arguing for doing more for the sake of doing more. There are ways here we can serve our members, directly and indirectly, just be putting some more effort into the growth and education of our speakers.

One thought on “A Few More Thoughts on Summit Session Selection & Growing Speakers

  1. I think these speaker meetings and advice ought to not be at the Summit, where people are busy and would-be speakers may be seeking technical skills, but during Feb/Mar/Apr, though webinars that talk about what the conference would like to see from speakers.

    I’d also suggest that the same be done for the program committee. Some of my feedback was what I’d call ridiculous. It’s inconsistent and doesn’t make sense. Just because you volunteered doesn’t mean you have competence.


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