We wrapped up our 12th SQLSaturday here in Orlando two weeks ago. Overall things went well. Registration was just a little higher than last year at 505. Last year we estimated attendance at 300. This year Kendal really worked to get an accurate count and it came in at about 260. Perfect counts aren’t impossible, just really hard!
I think this confirms for me that we should plan on attendance be 50% of registration. I wish it were higher, but I think there are two paths:
- Push the message of “don’t register unless you plan to attend” and hope that they see a reminder message and sign up at some point
- Encourage registration and putting it on the calendar and hope that your continued marketing to them maybe tips the balance.
Maybe there is a third choice? For me, the first one is easier and friendlier and I appreciate that sometimes you wake up on Saturday morning and just don’t want to do anything. I do wonder if that percentage is growing over the years or if we’re just getting a more accurate count (or if we’re under counting somehow!). Reminding them to come seems worth doing it, obsessing over it does not. It’s worth noting that one big reason we went to paid lunches was the attendance uncertainty. It’s a little bit scary to order food and hope you have enough. It’s a lot frustrating to order way too much and realize you’ve wasted money that could have been used for other things.
Here’s the registration chart (courtesy of Kendal Van Dyke):
You can see the big uptick at the 60 day mark when we announced the schedule and sent the first marketing message. From there the line tracks well to previous years, as expected.
We tried an abbreviated keynote this year and it sorta worked. Logistically it was a stretch, the room is in a different building and we were deliberately mixing the SQLSaturday attendees with our students there for our IT Pro seminar. Keynote as at 9 am, first sessions started at 9:45. That later start (latest ever for us) felt like it worked well. I think next year we’ll do more of a kickoff vs keynote and do it in the largest room we have in the main building that seats about 100.
Lunch was about the same as last year, boxed lunches (Crispers) and a 30 minute break, then the “lunch” sessions by sponsors. I think next year we might do a hot lunch (maybe I said that last year?). I think the lesson for us is that we prefer to have a dedicated timeslot for sponsors and doing it right after lunch works out well compared to trying to get everyone to take food to the rooms.
We did our cupcake break/informal networking again this year. Worked, but still missing some magic. We did #SQLFamily Feud at the end of the day again. Worked, but felt less impactful than last year. I think the surprise factor helped last year, attendees weren’t expecting it. Needs more thought.
We registered 235 students for our Student to IT Pro seminar and we had more than a 100 in the room. Gina Meronek and Kendra Little were kind enough to volunteer their time to speak to the students in the morning, Brad and Josh did Family Feud for them and after lunch Jonathan Moorman, Dale Sullenberger, and John Wang did a panel so that about 25 students could ask questions for an hour. Best year ever in terms of content and attendance.
We did two pre-cons this year, one six weeks prior (attendance=5), one the day before (attendance=26). I think the one six weeks prior confused some and that points to our need for a better marketing list than just attaching it to SQLSaturday. Both were a success in delivery. Logistically we experimented a little and while it needs a little more thought, I think I’m close to writing down “this is how we do this” as a prelude to trying to do one each quarter next year.
This next part is hard to write well, but I think its important to share. We have a group of volunteers here that are passionate, but limited in time and energy due to family and work. That means we’re great at getting stuff done on Friday/Saturday of the event, but we struggle on the earlier tasks (me included). I don’t know if it’s fair or accurate to call that “volunteer fatigue”, maybe more accurate to say that we’re less inclined to heroics? I any case, the question is how to make it work? For me it’s two parts; find new volunteers and reduce/consolidate the early work. We did some of that this year and it helped. Looking to next year I think we can do fewer meetings once we kick off and that will help too and I think we will take another look at every thing we do. Can we trade money for time (or vice versa)? Does it really add value (or cost extra time to do)?
It’s helpful to have some philosophy on such things:
- Having the event and training people is the biggest goal. Everything after that is nice to have. I find everyone is prone to thinking “this is one small thing” we can add. Yep, you can, but it adds up.
- The event needs to be run each by someone with the time and energy to make sure all the commitments happen, no matter what
- Volunteers should be asked to think hard about whether they can commit to tasks and reminded that giving a task back is ok and much preferred to not getting the task done.
- Life happens
I say all of that to get you to think about the health and morale of you and your team. Do what you can sustain. If you’ve got energy to do more, do more. But don’t feel bad about doing less (and I wish I could take my advice here!).
So much to think about and this is long already. Just a little more.
Last year we formed a not for profit and received a sales tax exemption for Florida (6%-7%). We used that this year. Vendors will want the tax exemption certificate (easy), a copy of the credit card with part of the number masked, and to see that your drivers license matches the name on the card. Worth doing for larger purchases.
We went into this years event with about $2k in the bank. Not much when you think that a pre-con is a $1000-$1500 bet. We needed more liquidity, so we cut expenses every place we could, made some on the pre-cons, and increased our balance to about $7k. My goal is to have enough that we can make a once a quarter bet on a pre-con without worry, that we can cover food for group meetings if needed, and have enough on hand that no one has to put the big purchases (shirts, lunch) on their personal card. SQLSaturday is our annual fund raiser, now we get to the fun part of thinking about what can we do in 2019 to support and train our people with those funds. That doesn’t mean spend it all, but it does mean we can spend and we will. Look for more on that soon.
On the SQLSaturday tools, my latest wish list:
- The shirt report should also show totals by sizes. Every year I gotta count them!
- Auto notify speakers when they are accepted and scheduled/changed. We accept early, but it means emailing each speaker as we do it.
- Allow sponsors to self-serve download their scan results. Faster for them, one less task for us
So, a good year and one that sets us up for a better 2019. I’m excited about that.