Recently Karla Landrum posted a blog – SQL Saturdays Gone Wild. I was eyeball deep in planning SQL Saturday #62 in Tampa – so I threw together a response to her which she asked me to blog. I did not have the time it deserved so I placed it on the back burner. Here is my response.
I just completed my 4th SQL Saturday. The first was tough because SQL Saturday had not established itself. The second and third got easier and easier. We had established a track record and were able to point at previous sponsors who were relatively unknown who were now well know and doing well as ROI. But at the same time the phenomenon had not really taken off. This year, SQL Saturdays are becoming more common. In previous years, scheduling was by quarter then every other month, then monthly. This year it seems to be weekly and still I am seeing doubling up. For the sponsors who once aspired to being national sponsors, that means a lot of budget required and still not a lot for each individual event.
So far I have spoken more to the sponsorship side of things – but a similar issue is being raised on the session /speaker side of things. The first year, we did not have that many speakers. We offered 5 tracks, if I remember correctly, and we had numerous speakers doing more than one session. We moved up to 7 sessions per time slot last year and still had a couple of speakers doing multiple sessions. This year was the first year I had to turn speakers away. It was painful. My first response was “next year we need a bigger venue – more tracks” – but is that really what we need. As it is, we have a night mare ahead just getting the scheduling in place. Minimizing conflicts between speaker schedules and conflicts between common topics or popular sessions is already tough enough. Is expanding the number of sessions going help? It makes a single choice for each time more difficult for the attendee. Bigger is not always better. Keep in mind, the number of attendees per event is not growing proportionately.
So what are the planners supposed to do? Scale back on expectations is the first thing that comes to mind. Since lunch is the one thing that scales with attendance – let the attendee pick up the cost? If so, we need to make sure that if the cost of lunch is the only thing holding an attendee back – you can cover the few impacted. I know I will be giving less purchased give aways. I still want to take care of my speakers – they do supply the content our attendees come to see – but it has gotten more expensive. I now have more speakers than sessions because of co-speakers.
For our sponsors, it is more difficult to provide solid ROI. With the opt out option, ROI is not what it used to be. I try to give the sponsor a little extra by introducing the sponsors in emails prior to the event as well as in the event guide. You don’t want to cram the sponsor down the throat of the attendee – but they are paying to let the attendee attend for free. The attendee gets a few emails that have short intros to the sponsors. After that, the sponsor must woo the attendee to get them to hand over a raffle ticket which we provide. We also have a BINGO card which helps encourage the attendee to meet the sponsors. At the same time, the sponsor must find a means of interacting with the attendees that do approach them at the event. Some are definitely more successful than others. Relationships are an important part of this process. Some sponsors are better at cultivating these relationships than others.
To offset the decrease in sponsor funding, we decided to hold 2 pre-cons, one focused on the DBA and the other on BI. The issue I found with pre-cons is they are slow to build momentum. You have to put money out to get them going. The upfront costs are speaker travel expenses and booking the space required. Even with early bird specials, the registrations were slow to show. We did not get to the breakeven point until early the week of the event. We did make a very small profit, but there were some monies to offset SQL Saturday expenses. We may need to focus on local speakers next time.
I am still struggling with answers to all this. I know that I am going to find a way to make it happen. The education opportunities are too good to pass up. The networking is more critical in these days than ever before. So going without is not the option. Going for bigger is probably not the answer either. I believe that an equilibrium will be met in the next year. I think that it will require an adjustment of expectations for both the organizers and attendees.
I welcome your ideas on the subject. Like Karla, I saw complaints that there were too many sessions they wanted to see in a single time slot – so expanding the number of rooms is problematic. I also saw complaints that there was not enough SWAG and no t-shirts.