Planning a SQLSaturday

Planning a SQLSaturday

Date and Location

The first step is to decide on a date and location. Your event date must be at least 4 months from the day you want to submit the Event Request. Check the SQLSaturday website for other upcoming events or reserved dates. If your event is in the US, it must be at least 600 miles away from other events on the same day. If your event is outside the US, it must be at least 400 miles away from other events on the same day. If your preferred date and location does not conflict with any other events, you can go ahead and submit a Reserved Date Request.

Venue

Once you've decided on a date and location, you need to find a venue. This is often the most difficult part of planning a SQLSaturday. If possible, try to find a free venue. Good options are schools, colleges and universities. Make sure you have enough rooms for all your tracks, a speaker room, and a general area for registration and sponsors.

Attendance Goal and Max Registrations

Depending on the size of your venue, you need to decide on an attendance goal and max number of registrations for your event. The max number of registrations is how many people can register before before the wait list is enabled.

Finance

The event is responsible for managing its own finances. This means PASS does not pay taxes and has no responsibility for reporting any of that money to the IRS on your behalf. If a vendor pays via PayPal the event receives the NET amount of the payment. If paid by check then event gets 100% of the amount. You are not obligated to spend all of the money you collect through sponsorship dollars. If after the event you find funds remaining it is recommended you use these funds to support other chapter efforts or just save it towards the next annual event.

PayPal/Online Payment

When sponsors sign up they automatically get an invoice sent to them with PayPal link and check mailing address. Check mailing address should be the event organizer. The event is responsible for taxes on funds collected. We cannot give direct tax advice so we highly recommend hiring a tax professional to handle these matters. As an overview of possibilities, treat it as personal income and hold back a percentage of the funds to pay the taxes on that money. Another option is to work with a local business and ask them to pay the expenses for you so that they can expense it and this reduces tax implications on your end. 

Be aware that PayPal does charge a fee of 2.9%+$0.30 on payments received up to $3000 (the percentage goes down as the amount goes up and over $3K). As an example, a lunch fee of $10 the event will receieve $9.41 if paid via PayPal.  Any refunds of paid lunch fees are the responsibility of the Event Leader.

 If you set up a new PayPal account, be sure it is verified for itme to be “auto accepted”, otherwise payments could end up in a “pending” status and after 30 days of it not being accepted, PayPal will refund the person who made the payment.

If you ever have any problems with your Paypal, be sure to call their support line and have your last 4 numbers of your bank account or credit card on the account available (they will also accept the phone number associated to the account).

Check/Manual Payment

If vendor chooses to pay via check or other non-online means, you will have to provide them a W-9 tax form before you receive funds. (Update: Some vendors are now even requiring you provide a W-9 to them even if paying online via Paypal).

Tracking Expenses

On the SQLSaturday site there is a basic expense collection page. This page is visibility only to other SQLSaturday admins. This can be used for committed and planned expenses. Using this tool is optional but recommended to keep track of these expenses.

Refunds

Lunch and Sponsorship refunds are the responsibility of the event leaders.

Sponsors

We tend to think of sponsors only as sources of money, but we have to think long term - will they get enough value from the event to sponsor again next year? Here are some thoughts on how to make it work for them.

Sponsors want to show their product and build their mailing list, keep that end game in mind

Really encourage them to provide a flyer to put in the event bag. The pick up rate for flyers on a table is very low. Putting them in the bag means the attendee has something to look at while waiting on a session to start. Cheap for sponsors, easy for events to support. Ask them to include a discount code or other offer on the flyer, or refer to their raffle item.

If you're doing event t-shirts, put logos from your top sponsors on the back.

Be sure to include them in your event guide. Give the top sponsors a full page (can be same as flyer).

Consider offering your top sponsors the chance to do a lunch time presentation, or to do a true product demo on sponsor session or track (just make sure attendees can tell it's absolutely about their product).

Raffle items combined with pre-printed raffle tickets is a great way for them to build their list. Push on them to come up with a gift that geeks will salivate over - free software is ok, Xbox/GPS/etc usually does better

Be sure to remind the attendees several times about the event being sponsor supported, and call out the sponsors by name (especially if you do a keynote)

 

Speakers

The call for speakers is a key part of the event.  You should open the call for speakers early to start to stimulate interest in the event.  You also need to close the call for speakers well in advance of the event for several reasons: 

  • Allows you to get the schedule out which can help drive attendance based on the topics/speakers.
  • Allows speakers time to make travel events.
  • Helps sponsors see what value they can get based on speakers.

Marketing methods

NOTE: PASS currently sends out an automatic Call for Speakers message to all speakers of any SQLSaturday event when your event is published.

Twitter - Post a tweet using the #SQLSat and #SQLSaturday hash tags.

LinkedIn - You can use the PASS LinkedIn group to post a discussion.

User Groups - You can see a list of user groups to contact on the PASS Chapters Page.  User group leaders will often be speakers and will be able to recommend other speakers.

Local MVPs - Try the Find and MVP Page (requires a Windows Live Login)

Local Microsoft Developer Evangelists, TS's, and PFE's

Sponsors - many times sponsors also have speakers that they will provide for an event.

Local businesses/colleges - you may be able to get local college professors that would be willing to speak.

Leadership's co-workers - use your personal network to get speakers

Marketing

Contact every local college (especially the IT dept)

Contact local user groups (not just SQL)

Contact local MS developer evangelist/other contacts

List on the PASS event calendar (should happen at event set up, just confirm) (causes it to be listed in the PASS Connector)

List on the UGSS calendar

List on the LinkedIN calendar

Big community sites - SQLServerCentral, SQLTeam, etc

Ask local staffing to broadcast

Post flyers in local bookstores

Ask chapter members to print and post flyer at work

Frequent messaging to attendees and previous attendees via site email (once a week is NOT too often!)

Ask speakers to blog and twitter (more than once)

There is a place in the admin tools to catalog your marketing contacts and a dedicated email list

Important to reach developers - they know SQL people!

Ask SQL vendors to announce to their mailing lists

Ask local vendors - especially really close to venue - to post the flyer

Make sure to post twitter weekly, use the event hash tag

Try to get one really big name speaker

Accelerate marketing once schedule announced

Integrate any seminar with the main message

List in local newspaper (upcoming events)

Schedule

Our goal for SQLSaturday is to have at least two tracks, giving attendees an option if a given session isn't what they expect. It also increases the chances they will attend - if you have only one track and a potential attendee sees two sessions in a row that aren't of interest they usually decide against attending.

You can designate tracks in advance (BI, Admin, etc), but it's usually more effective to just label the Track 1, 2, etc in the beginning based on the number of rooms you have available. Once you start to build the schedule, it makes sense to try to group related topics into a track, and often that means a miscellaneous track or two for the ones that don't group neatly.

As far as the total number of tracks, more is better to a point. We've had several events with 8 tracks and most attendees love the variety. It works if you have enough speakers and rooms to support it. It's a useful approach if seating in rooms is limited, gives you a way to increase maximum attendance. The downside is more logistical work; more rooms to clean, more door signs to make, more speakers to check on. Reserve a couple more rooms than you think you might need, but don't feel obligated to fill them all. We also recommend against scheduling any speaker for more than 2 sessions in order to fill tracks - speaking is hard work, and they deserve to attend a few sessions too.

Building the schedule is all about trade offs, it will never be perfect. Here are some things to consider:

General Scheduling Considerations

Determine if you are having a keynote.

Determine when raffle timeframe.

Are you having post event? If so plan timeframe around location.   For instance if  post event is onsite it can be shortly after event is over.   But if it is offsite then consider travel time and parking when considering start time.

Registration

Consider how long you think it will take to register you registered attendees.  If you have 100 verse 500 it may determine how long this take.  The number will determine how long it takes.   Typically registration time length is between 1 to 2 hours. 

Breakfast with SQL

Consider having a early morning during registration.  These session focus on entry level topic.  For example building a simple SSIS package.

Tracks

When developing a list of tracks you need to determine how to origanize.

Some go by numbers and other align by categories of contents (i.e BI, DBA, Development, etc). Name tracks once you get close to final

Your number of tracks will be driven by the number of speakers and number of rooms at event site. 

Speakers

Determine limit of session per speaker and don't feel compelled to give any speaker more than 1

Origanize abstracts by categories

Develop select criteria

Review abstracts and select sessions based on criteria

Scheduling

Determine length of each session, and number of sessions per track.  Keep in mind need have time for questions and answers.

Allow breaks between sessions, for example 15 minutes.

Try to start the day with strong speakers & topics, and end the day that way too

Strike a balance between having some "big name" speakers on the schedule with a good mix of local/less well known speakers (we want to grow the latter)

Try to have a beginner/intermediate/expert at every hour.  Do not put beginner sessions at the same hour.  This allows for different experience level attendees to find a session to attend more easily.

Consider adding one mini channel at end of lunch, great way to give really new speakers a chance

Watch for part 1/2 sessions that need sequencing

Consider length of session and when they start and end.  You may want to have all session start and end at the same time.  This makes it easier for attendees to get from session to another.

Determine how long you need for lunch.  Also you could consider allowing vendors to present during lunch.

Once your schedule is built you can make it available on the website by clicking on "MISC" then "Site Settings". Scroll down until you see the check box for "Show Schedule".  Check the box to enable viewing of the schedule on the web.

You should send out an email blast to all speakers who submitted sessions letting them know the schedule has been posted.  If you couldn't schedule everyone who submitted a session it is nice to email those individuals directly to let them know they didn't make it prior to posting the actual schedule.

Special Accomidations

Out town speakers may want special schedule (speak early to make flight, or speak late so they can drive in same day)

Think about the location of sponsor when schedule rooms.  You want attendees to be pass by vendor location when moving between sessions.

Attendee Bags and Swag

Breakfast

Depending on your budget, you may want to offer breakfast, or just drinks. If possible, have coffee and tea available all day. If you are doing everything yourself, remember to buy:

  • Coffee / Tea
  • Coffee cups
  • Napkins & paper towels
  • Milk or creamer
  • Real sugar and artificial sugar

If you have the budget for it, you may want to consider:

  • Fresh fruit (bananas, apples, oranges)
  • Doughnuts
  • Cookies
  • Sandwiches

You'll also need a trash can right next to the coffee stand.

Make sure there is water available all day long.

Lunch

There are three models for lunch: 

  1. Attendee pays for lunch (up to $15 USD)
  2. Event covers lunch for everyone
  3. Attendees go outside the venue to get their own lunch

This involves deciding the menu, finding caterers that offer the menu for the best prices and making sure that you also account for comps (volunteers, vendors and speakers).   Please be aware that some of your attendees may be vegetarians or have allergies.

Do not promote on-site purchasing of food but order a few extras in case someone wants to buy onsite. 

You will need a few lunch monitors to collect lunch tickets during the distribution of lunches. This model works best in a boxed lunch model rather than a buffet where people come back for seconds.

The SpeedPASS will print a lunch ticket for all attendees who have paid for lunch. If you are not charging for lunch, and don't wish to use tickets, you can set this ticket to not print prior to generating the SpeedPASS. This is located under Event Settings/Site Settings in the admin site.

Avoid the generic raffle tickets to be used as lunch tickets since vendors might end up providing a similar colored ticket for their raffle and could cause confusion.

It would be good idea to have one of the vegetarian volunteer/attendee to test the food out as well. Also many meat eaters can eat vegetarian so ordering of vegetarian food is not a bad idea since vice versa will not work out.   During lunch, your chilled soft drinks will go fast, be sure to have one volunteer watch the soft drinks.  You will also want one volunteer watch how much trash is being generated and remove it.

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