SQLSaturday Orlando 2017 Notes – Part 2

SQLSaturday is really three sites. The public facing one (www) plus one for event admins and one for HQ to do overall admin. Most of the notes in this post apply to the site for event admins. These are all from my perspective which is biased in a few ways; I sketched the original concept for all three sites, I believe in a vertical app (vs a simpler mashup, say WordPress/EventBrite), and its based on how we do things in Orlando. Not all of these will make sense for every event.

  • Contract. Starting at the beginning, I’d like to see the event agreement contract part of an online process. Right now it’s print, sign, scan, send back. (And for what its worth, that agreement is entirely too long)
  • Lunch
    • We need a way to add a description of the lunch option. What are they getting for their money? That should show up somewhere on the site and we need a token that can be inserted into email messages.
    • Related to that, we need to list the lunch refund policy (arguably it could be included above, but I think it needs to be called out separately so that it gets written). For example, our policy in Orlando this party year what that we will refund lunch up through Thursday night. I think next year we will change that to Wednesday night so that we can do the refunds on Thursday during the day instead of Friday. It’s not critical to do it before the event, but it’s better. You close the loop with those not attending and you true up your cash position.
    • I’d like to see this more of a checkout process. You pick “buy lunch” or “bring my own”, then you pay $x or $0. The way it is now many people pick “buy lunch” but wait to pay (or never do), which means some amount of effort for the event team to remind them to buy lunch.  That’s during registration. I have no objection to them changing status later (to cancel lunch or to order it.
    • It would be useful to set a date after which ordering lunch is no longer available. In Orlando this year we did boxed lunches. One order, one box. If someone paid for lunch at 10 pm on Friday night we have to have food for them on Saturday. That means either trying to adjust the order Saturday morning (when everything is going on) or ordering extra and hoping we ordered enough but not too much extra. I think in Orlando we’d just use the same date as for the end of refunds – Wed at midnight.
    • Refunds. We processed about 30 refunds this year. Not everyone pays for lunch using the email they registered with it, but the site does provide an invoice id as an alternative lookup.  The process is to look up the user in the registration list, change their lunch status (and potentially their attendance status), go to PayPal and issue the refund. The amount paid in the registration list seems to get synced with PayPal. Tracking refund requests is a pain though, some are in email and some you derive based on them cancelling. I don’t have a perfect vision for the answer, but adding a ‘Refund Lunch’ button to the registration page would be a start along with a list of refunds that need/have been processed.
  • Recommended Hotel. This doesn’t seem to show up on the site anywhere and there is no token for email.
  • Location. The auto-generated map showing the location is nice, but not always useful. It would be nice to add an option to upload a better image (captured, hand drawn, and/or annotated). For Orlando we could do that and use the same image year over year.
  • Admins. It would be nice to have it copy over the previous year list, then let us update from there.
  • Call For Speakers
    • My biggest pain point is when I need to allow a speaker to submit a session after the call for speakers has closed (a speaker for a sponsor, or someone from the (manually tracked) wait list to replace a cancellation. What we do now is open this up for a day or two and hope that no one submits a session (which means telling them you’re on the wait list). I don’t know the best way to do this, but easiest would be to generate a custom URL that expired after x date.
    • A variation of that is that there is no good way to enter a place holder session for another speaker. Let say that I know speaker X will be presenting, but is traveling and I want to get the schedule as close to done as possible. I have to guess which email they use for PASS, there is no lookup. Not the highest priority
    • It would be nice to customize the message that speakers see. For example, I might want to say “please consider submitting 2 sessions on a topic in part 1/2 format”.
    • Would also be nice to have settings under event details to capture time and location of the speaker dinner (and after party)
  • Sponsors
    • I was dismayed to find that the “shared sponsor” list is not being maintained. The goal of that is to leverage contact information across events, make it more likely to reach the right person the first time. This is something that could be done annually or quarterly, but doing so helps events and sponsors.
    • Sponsor leads are not carried over from our last event (you get a copy of the shared sponsor list). What I want to do is enter companies that aren’t on that list that I hope to get as sponsors (primarily local companies) and even if I don’t get them this year, try again next year. As it is I have to re-add them each year.
    • Also on the shared sponsor list it might be useful to flag which are current GAP sponsors. Should they still get messages, or be excluded? Don’t know.
    • Same for marketing contacts. Each year we should be emailing all the other groups in the area, plus news sources, etc, to ask them to announce our event. I don’t want to re-enter that stuff every year. If this were fixed it would get used more.
    • The sponsor signup is mildly confusing, “existing” vs “new”
    • I really really want the ability to customize the email they get after signing up.
    • We struggle to get sponsors to have all their staff that is attending register (which can lead to a lunch issue). How can we do that better?
    • (I haven’t looked at this from the sponsor perspective in years, need to do that next year)
  • Registration List
    • Doesn’t show date added
    • I think available to volunteer is the old flag? Or does it link to the volunteer portal now? Dk.
    • Needs a refund button (per above), or least a hyperlink on InvoiceID that goes to PayPal.
    • Not in my top 5, but the ability to see the edit history would be nice. They ordered lunch on X, cancelled on Y. Just row history would be good
  • Schedule
    • Really, it hurts to event talk about this. We’ve yet to have a great implementation of this and its such a critical part of the process
    • Adding tracks is, no kidding, a comma delimited list
    • You approve sessions in the event site, but build the schedule on the public site. I dont know why.
    • The sessions not scheduled didn’t seem to be consistently accurate.
  • Sessions
    • Need the ability to sort sessions by speaker
    • Need the ability see/sort by submitted track
    • Need the ability to see which are on the schedule (from the session page)
    • Need to see their contact info on that page
    • Would be nice to have a link that showed me their presentation history
    • Would be nice to notify a speaker that a session has been accepted (or un-accepted) – would let them start working on travel plans without us having to send an email to them directly
    • Also part of schedule, if a speaker cancels it should remove them from the schedule, unapprove their sessions, and notify us
  •  Messaging
    • Would be nice to have a “Speaker – Session Accepted” mailing list
    • Organize and clean up the list of mailing lists. Prefix all the volunteer lists with “Volunteer – “, etc
    • Would be nice to be able to understand what the list means exactly. Maybe a link to the Wiki.
    • Related to that, show or have a button that will show how many messages would be sent for a given list.
    • Tokens
      • Schedule, session list, and sponsor list just aren’t good enough to use.
      • Need one for hotel location
      • Need one for after party location (if we add the ability to capture it)
      • One for “has sessions approved” that would be for speakers only
      • One for a link to the map for the location
      • One for a link to MySQLSaturday
      • One for the lunch description (if we add the ability to capture it)
      • One for a link directly to volunteer page
      • One to display the list of open volunteer tasks
      • One for the download link for Guidebook
    • User defined tokens? Could be useful.
    • Formatting. The core format for messages is plain text/vanilla HTML. Can we get, or have the option to pick, a richer message template?
    • Would be great to send metrics on messages – number sent, open, not delivered
    • Would be great if every URL was shortened so we could track click throughs
    • Really wishing, an option to have an A/B send (registration # is odd = A, even = B!). Would it get used much? Dk.
    • The default set of messages that get added and scheduled are just…blah. That’s a one time investment to clean those up, make them nicer and more useful
    • It would be interesting to be able to manage the default messages a little more – copy default messages, or copy messages from last year?
    • I think the goal is to make as many messages as possible reusable year over year. If the defaults were better, maybe we’d use them. Even if they were, we’d still want to customize some or all, but the more we can use tokens the more likely we can cleanly re-use the next year.
  • Printing/Reports
    • We need a better report for printing door schedules.
    • The shirt report should also group by size and have counts. We send a count by size to have them printed, but need the detail so we can know who gets which size
    • Really dreaming, a way to generate the schedule for poster sized printing and a way to upload to Fedex for printing/delivery
  • SpeedPASS
    • Change the PDF naming to include first and last name (along with their registration ID to make it unique).
    • Write a mini app that will let someone at check-in type in a few characters of a name, see the matches in a folder, click to print (because we cannot all rely on having a solid internet connection)
    • Add the option for a condensed page. If we could print 1 page per registration in Orlando (600-700) I’d do that over dealing with setting up a printer. We’d print them Fri afternoon or evening and not worry about handful of late registrations. (Didn’t Rob Volk figure out the condensed page already?)
    • Make the scanning process faster. Stop showing an ad on the ok/no-ok page!
    • Allow self service download of scan results. Sponsors can log into the portal, no reason to not let them get the file.
    • Auto generate for new registrations AND auto it email it to them (assuming SpeedPASS has been activated).
    • Show and send a reminder to the admins if something changes that probably means SpeedPASS needs to be regenerated (toggling status of a sponsor, new sponsor, etc)
  • Guidebook
    • Make this more prominent on the www site
    • Didn’t update track names when we changed close to the event date
  • Volunteers.
    • We set it up but didn’t use it this year, so not as much feedback
    • Didn’t see a way to bulk edit tasks (the room proctor ones)
    • It’s just not very visible on the event site, no token for email, makes it hard(er) to use than it should be.
  • Tracking. Include the charting Kendal has built for us in Orlando that shows year over year registration counts by week.
  • Photos. Is there a pattern for photos? Instagram, or ?
  • Announce News.
    • We don’t use this much, but its not high value (or isn’t because we don’t use it much!)
    • I think the biggest use will be for big announcements – schedule is up, last chance for lunch, event has been rescheduled, etc. That feels more like something that should show up if populated and show up higher on the page, won’t get noticed where it’s at now.
  • Web site sessions. The event admin site is wonky, keeps sending me back to pick my event again. There is a flaw there somewhere.

Bolded items: I think would be easy to do and useful to most events. Those could probably get one done in one sprint.

Looking at my wish list overall and trying to think about things that would have the most impact, I’d say my #1 wish is for the changes to the lunch process. I can (and do) work around most of the other stuff. Improving the lunch process would make for a better user experience and reduce the workload on the event team.

Trying to step back and think about it all again, I’m not yearning for any major new feature. I miss the networking page, wish we could schedule tweets and a few more, but the stack we have does the core of what we need to do. I think we should look at places where we can refine the experience, reduce the friction. For example, SpeedPASS works, but it’s full of friction; generating and regenerating, showing sponsors how to scan, downloading and sending them their reports, users forgetting to print, staff having to print ahead of time or on demand, even bringing scissors so they can cut them out. We can’t throw it out unless we have something better (and I don’t know what that is), until then we do what we can to make it a little easier, if still not perfect. Because we do 100+ of these a year it’s worth smoothing off rough edges here and there.

I’ll send this list to PASS for consideration.


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