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SQLSaturday #107 – Event Evaluation

April 21, 2012, marked the 176th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, my nephew’s 14th birthday, and the 2nd “annual” SQLSaturday in Houston hosted by the Houston Area SQL Server User Group! If you follow us on Twitter, then you may have noticed that @HASSUG uses as its picture the San Jacinto Monument.

HASSUG PicSo, I could delve off into Texas history now and remind everyone that this epic 18-minute battle ultimately resulted in the United States acquiring present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. But, I’d better get back to SQLSaturday #107 and the topic at hand ….

Our actual attendance this year was about 250 – or 73% of those who registered for this FREE training event showed up. We had 60 sessions on the schedule provided by 15 Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), several Idera ACEs, and some first-time presenters as well.  

Yes – 60 sessions is quite ambitious! But, because we were using a school facility (YES Prep Public School – North Central Campusplease go read about them!) with an average “comfortable” capacity of 25 students per classroom – we needed to run 10 sessions in each time slot to accommodate the number of attendees that we expected! Thanks to the large number of attendees who used the session builder tool, we were able to move the session with the highest anticipated attendance in each time slot to the Auditorium\Cafeteria. However, I’m acutely aware that in at least two time slots we still had sessions in the regular classrooms which were SRO!  Amazingly – I’ve not found a single complaint about this in the overall event evaluation forms – so THANK YOU for being so understanding of the limitations of the facility!  

I do want to apologize for the break-down in communication during one of the morning time slots. We did not have a volunteer stationed outside the room of the session which had been moved to the Auditorium and we did not have adequate signage about the move. Unfortunately, a room full of people sat waiting on the speaker who was actually in a larger room speaking to an unexpectedly small audience for quite a while before we got the anticipated audience redirected to the correct room for the session they wanted to hear. So, again, my sincerest apologies to both the speaker, Benjamin Nevarez (twitter | blog), and to the attendees who really wanted to hear his session, Inside the SQL Server Query Optimizer.

We had a couple of other “issues” that I want to mention in hopes that other event teams take note and don’t have the same oversights. One, provide lots and lots of coffee all day – enough said? Two, ensure any directional signs you plan to put out in the vicinity of the event site are in place well before the scheduled “start” time (and have them onsite ready to go the night before). Three, communicate schedule\room changes as “loudly” as you can – with BIG BOLD BRIGHT signage updates and volunteers stationed to help people adjust. Four, SpeedPASS is great – if the attendees remember to print it out and bring it with them; however, we should have had two laptops and printers for those who didn’t do this ahead of time instead of one. We also experienced a technical glitch such that only if the attendee knew their PASS ID and password to login, then they could print it as opposed to us using the SQLSaturday Admin site to print on-the-fly for them.  PASS has promised to get that issue fixed. Even so, I was amazed (I don’t know why!) at the number of people who did print their SpeedPASS and bring it with them. So, strongly encourage this in all of your communications with your attendees.              

Lots of things did go right thanks to the great team we had this year. On the Steering Team with me were: Jonathan Gardner (twitter | blog), Malik Al-Amin (twitter), and Lynn McKee (twitter).  Core Team members were: Eric Cruz, Ken Goins, Vicky Harp (twitter | blog), Will Howard (twitter | blog), and Amy Muehleman. At the risk of overlooking someone (please comment if I’ve left you out!) – the Friday night setup crew and bag stuffers included Leah Guzman, Martin Mason, Revathi Iswarya Nambi, Brandon Smith (twitter), and Kendal van Dyke (twitter | blog).  Saturday volunteers included Linda Harmes, Allen Kinsel (twitter | blog), Robert McLeroy, and Jenny Yang, plus a whole slew of Idera folks and the previously mentioned Friday night crew.    

But, at the end of the day, how did the attendees feel about the event? Last year, we tried online evals and as techie as we all are – the response was abysmal. So, this year – we killed a few trees in the name of collecting more feedback (data) in the form of an overall event evaluation form, plus speaker session evaluation forms. We asked attendees to rate their experience in the following categories on a scale of 1-5, where 5=great. We had 89 people turn in the event evaluation form and here are the averaged results:

We recognize from the ratings that the bar has been set pretty high. If you have any additional feedback for us to help us provide an even better experience next time – please comment here!

Additionally, we asked the attendees to list their favorite session and the best speaker they heard. The top vote-getters are:

  • Favorite Sessions:
    • T-SQL Brush-up: The Best Things You Forgot You Knew (Jen McCown)
    • Avoid Errors on Errors (Rick Morelan)
    • Eating the Elephant: SQL Server Table Partitioning (Mike Fal)
    • SQL Admin Best Practices with DMVs (William Assaf)
  • Best Speakers:
    • Kalen Delaney
    • Thomas LeBlanc
    • Jen McCown
    • Sean McCown

Thanks to all the speakers for giving so generously of your time to prepare and present, and in many cases travel significant distances. That high overall event score is due to the value of the content that you provided to the attendees making it worth their while to give up a beautiful Saturday to further their career development.  

And, finally THANK YOU to our sponsors! Platinum sponsor Idera provided not only funds at the highest level, but man-power to assist with the event as well. Idera was also the sponsor for the precon with Kalen Delaney (twitter | blog) on Friday. I can’t thank Amy Muehleman enough for all of her hard work coordinating the precon, speaker dinner, breakfast catering, and after party for us.  Red-Gate and HP were Gold-level sponsors and provided lots of great swag.  Silver sponsors were Confio, Texas Memory Systems, Joes2Pros (who also provided books and training DVDs as swag), Fusion-IO, Insource Technology, New Horizons, and PASS. Bronze sponsors were CozyRoc (who also provided pens & notepads for attendees) and SQLWatchmen (also the proud sponsor of the precon VGA cable). The publishers McGraw-Hill, Morgan Kaufman, and O’Reilly generously provided technical books for swag. Sponsors, your generosity to the SQL Server community enables us to provide SQLSaturday free of charge to attendees.  Thank you for partnering with us.

In wrapping up, I must share my favorite feedback on the day (which someone told me at lunch) – “Oracle has nothing like this!”  

Thank you SQL Server Community!


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