You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Planned a SQL Saturday.

My friends, there is some truth in that statement.

What A Crowd!

You get nervous when you stand in front of a group of people let alone speaking in front of your peers? Try putting together an event for 200+ people who all share the same passion you do about SQL Server.  Talk about a pressure cooker! I’ve faced full blown structure fires that were easier than this.  However, just like anything that comes with hard work, it is VERY rewarding.

I will say it was quite an honor to be a part of our first SQL Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. Watching the event come together and knowing that I helped put the show together, even with the headaches, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  There were some issues that we had to face, which I think for our first time, we did so with class and style.

Here are a few things that I made note of as things to share.  If you are planning your very own SQL Saturday for the first time, maybe they’ll help.

Time.

Where Did The Time Go?

Find some.  A lot of it.  I grosslyunder estimated the time commitment it was going to take to put this thing together.  I am very lucky in that I work in an environment that is very community proactive, so I was able to work on things during the day as long as my job responsibilities didn’t slack.  There are phone calls to be made, emails to be answered, decisions to be made and usually all before 9AM.  If you can’t devote a large amount of time to this project, find help.

Delegate.

If possible, get a small group (<10) of individuals together to help plan this thing.  If you don’t know how to delegate and let other people handle things, this is going to be rough for you.  There was an absolutely zero chance of me putting this together by myself.  I certainly don’t have enough hair for that.  Our team meet every other week for months planning and then moved to a weekly meeting about a month out from the event.

Budget

Put together a budget and be realistic in the numbers.  We put pretty high numbers on our budget as we would have rather come in under budget than over.  It’s easy to get rid of the excess funds but it’s quite harder to find some.

Speaking of money, if you don’t have a company to run the funds through, I highly advise that you get yourself a separate bank account so that you don’t have any co-mingling of funds.  I would also advise you to contact your local CPA about any tax issues that you need to be made aware.  If you are the one in charge of the money, be as transparent as possible to the rest of the committee. I setup a “check register” within the drop box folder and kept it updated so that everybody in the group could see what money was being spent on. One thing to note, if PASS holds the funds for you in trust (recommended) they will not report anything to the IRS, that duty falls down to you so definitely ask questions if you have them.

Basically, at the end of the day, you don’t want any funds left over as then that is considered a profit and you might have to pay taxes on it.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not an accountant nor do I claim to be one.  Ask your local CPA about how to best handle the funds for you and your event.

Liability Insurance

It's All About Liability

Find it and buy it.  Make sure that you ask your venue (assuming you found a place) if they have any specific requirements for insurance well in advance.  This one came back to bite us in that we knew that we were going to purchase some, however the University had a non-standard requirement that pushed the cost of the insurance through the roof (>$800).  We didn’t discover this until later in the process which put additional pressure on us.

However, we lucked out in that apparently there is a a company in Texas that specializes in providing liability insurance for Universities.  Here is the URL: http://urmia.bene-marc.com/.  My advice is to call them directly and talk to them.  Their online application process is not that smooth and I found it a LOT easier to talk to them directly. Oh yea, their cost was significantly lower than what I was finding out in the marketplace, which was a bonus for our budget.

Shirts & Event Bags.

If you are going to order custom shirts and event bags, make sure that you order them in time.  This is a fine line you have to walk as it’s tough to order when you don’t have a good idea on numbers on how many you need to order.  It’s much better to have extra on hand than not enough.

Also, plan on things being on back order.  We ordered the shirts and the color we wanted in the larger sizes was on back order so we had to go with Black instead of Red for the larger (3XL) shirts.  Not a big deal, but it’s worth noting.

Technology

There are a couple of things to note here.

  1. Drop Box.  Sign up, download it, install it, share it, love it.  This was critical in sharing information as we went through the process of getting things setup for the event.
  2. Evernote.  I liked Evernote as it allowed me to take various notes and sync them up to the cloud.  Just like Drop Box, I had this installed on all of my various computers (Home, work, phone,etc) so that I could access my notes very easily where ever I might be.
  3. USB Drives.  If you don’t have one, get one.  Just about anything over 1GB would be just fine.  As your event draws closer, keep it with you and keep it updated with the files from the Drop Box.  You never know when you need to transport a file to a vendor for processing and you can’t email it to them.  You can pick up a 8GB drive for less than $10.
  4. SQL Saturday Wiki.  This wiki is LOADED with information.  I referred back to it on more than one occasion looking for guidance.  Use it.
  5. Twitter.  There are plenty of people out on Twitter who has gone through this process and are willing to help.  You can use the #sqlhelp hash tag in Twitter to ask for additional guidance, although take heed not to abuse that hash tag.  This also helped me out several times. If you have questions, you are welcome to hit me up, @sqlrus.

Have Fun and Keep It Simple.

These are two very important ideals that you need to keep in mind.  Yes, it’s a pressure cooker planning your event, however you need to keep in mind that it’s a free event (other than lunch if you choose to charge for it) and it’s about the community.  If you keep things fun and simple, planning the event and the event itself will be much smoother.  We had to continually remind ourselves of this as there is always the “What if” scenarios and they will show up right up to the day of the event. You have to be flexible and ride the wave.

Water Wings!

More importantly, have some fun with it.  Our SQL Saturday took place in the middle of the Flood of 2011 so in true “geeky” style, we got water wings made up with our SQL Saturday logo.  It was our way to try to have some fun with the event and have some fun with some of the local troubles that Mother Nature threw our way.

Hopefully, some of these will help you to plan a great event.  As you plan your event, make notes of things that work or didn’t work.  The SQL Community is one of the best in the world and after it’s all said and done, share your notes out to the community.  Your notes just might make someone’s future event top notch! =)

 

© 2011, John Morehouse. All rights reserved.

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