SQLSaturday #57 Recap
In my prior post, I discussed all the people and organizations that made SQLSaturday #57 a successful event in terms of delivering valuable content and networking opportunities to the attendees. But, now I want to focus on what we can do better next time.
We (the core planning team) did not have a good handle on how to effectively use the SQLSaturday Admin website to communicate to sponsors, speakers and attendees. This was glaringly obvious when the reminder email went out to attendees at 11:30am on the day of the conference. PASS HQ needs to make sure that the SQLSaturday organizers know how to optimally utilize the tools provided by the admin website.
In communications that we did send, I think we didn’t always clearly communicate the what, when, where, how. Personally, I know I was guilty of this – assuming because I’d sent info in a prior email that I didn’t need to repeat everything in later emails. I should have made sure each communication stood on its own – lesson learned.
How did we end up at Bammel Church of Christ, you ask? We had been searching for a site for months. Houston area colleges/universities either didn’t have the facilities we wanted or they were booked for years out! Hotel/conference centers charged outrageous fees. When we publicized that we were having difficulty finding a location, HASSUG member Lynn McKee contacted me about his church where he is a volunteer on their facilities team. They had everything we were looking for – a very large concert hall for holding opening/closing and general sessions, and multiple “break-out” rooms for regular sessions all with A/V equipment, a couple of different areas we could use for sponsors, and networking/lunch areas. The fee we paid to use the facility was basically to cover the operating costs (electricity and janitorial services) for Friday (setup) and Saturday.
I’ve always heard people say that you have to learn how to use a building (or in our case buildings). I think we did a pretty good job of this as we had a great venue to work with, but I think we can do better next time (if we get to use the same facility). I know we needed more signage than we had – both inside and outside. Also, I think we need to separate the Speaker Ready Room and HQ – we used the same room and it was really too small to effectively serve both functions.
Wireless internet access – by the time we realized this was missing, we didn’t have the time or the budget to do anything about it. Again, if we are able to use the same facility next time – we’ve got this on the list. And, if we end up with a different facility – we’ve got this on the list!
I think more than a few people were probably apprehensive about using a church facility, but it seems their fears were alleviated when they experienced the site. I believe that there has been at least one other SQLSaturday event which also used a church facility. Perhaps more SQLSaturday planners will consider “outside the box” venues in the future.
Programs \ Schedule
Somehow we missed getting the legend on the pages in the program with the schedule to clearly identify the room numbers for the sessions; and there was no explanation of what DB-102, BI-204, and AD-301 meant! I had multiple people ask me where to find, for example, room DB-102. So, we obviously need to improve the schedule layout and ensure we have a legend.
Also, I’m not sure we effectively communicated that the program\schedule was in the bags which attendees received at registration. Lots of people were using the program they printed from the website and unfortunately it did not have the rooms indicated on it….which goes back to our learning how to use the SQLSaturday Admin website effectively.
And, we probably should have had larger signs indicating the sessions which changed (only 3) from the time the program was printed. We did have an insert for the 2 sessions which changed before we were 24 hours from the start of the conference and we tried to have the current schedule running on the big screens in the common areas.
We actually made a conscious choice to not print name badges for this event. It was simply a time and budget thing. However, after talking to a couple of people about this decision at the event, it will be a priority for the next time to provide name badges.
We were actually on plan C for the general raffle items, but unfortunately we only had a plan A and a plan B and they both cratered on us! We’ll definitely have this activity better organized and prepared next time.
While feedback on the lunch was great (thank you Hinze’s Barbeque & Catering), we severely underestimated the number of no-shows (even though they had paid the lunch fee). Thus, we had an abundance of food leftover which we donated to the True Light Baptist Mission in Houston. They were then able to feed over 50 adults to whom they minister. So, if you are planning an event like this for the first time – apparently the expected rate of attendance is only 50% of those who signed up (even with the lunch fee). This held true for our event as we had a final count of 362 registered as planning to attend and an estimated 184 who actually showed up!
We have to make better use of our volunteers. The core planning team needs to be enlarged, so that no one person is responsible for too many things! I think this was definitely one of the big things which Jonathan Gardner (blog | twitter), Malik Al-Amin (twitter) and I learned – delegate more! There was actually more to do than we realized. We survived, but it could have been far less stressful on us.
Over the next few days, the team will be discussing what went well and what we can improve upon. The items above are a starting point for improvements. This was our first time putting together an event like this; so obviously we had a lot of on-the-job learning. We welcome additional feedback from attendees, speakers, volunteers, and sponsors on how to improve. You can comment here or send an email to “HoustonSQL at live dot com”.