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Lessons Learned from Event Leaders

Modified on 2014/11/14 22:41 by Wesley Categorized as Uncategorized


Before picking a date find out if there are any other events, holidays (religious or otherwise) or celebrations at the same time.

Handing out book tickets for the speakers to give out that the attendees can redeem at a community booth.

A larger venue is far better than a smaller one - large rooms, sponsor areas, registration areas, etc...all allow for greater flexibility and less cramped quarters.

Buying office supplies is a good use of budget $$ - scissors, scotch tape, packing tape, easel w/paper, highlighters, markers, etc...all can be handy the day of. Borrowing from user group members is better (free!) and also a good way to get coolers & extension cords, which are invaluable!

We were able to borrow a projector & configure http://tweetwally.com to search for “sqlsatmadison OR sqlsat287” tweets & project it on the wall in the sponsor area. Proved to be a gathering/observation spot all day.

Specifically request a Microsoft mailing to publicize the event if they are sponsors. They will do it, but only if asked.

If you are in LATAM make sure you can transfer money from PayPal to your local bank account.

The keynote helped gathered people right from the start and provided better networking.

The one thing we did different that went REALLY well; we have a 25 minute sponsor (coffee) break before the last session. We did the raffle then. Far more energy, sponsors loved it because it was earlier and they could book afterwards, I loved it because I could then clean the café, and we didn’t lose many people. The majority at the raffle went back upstairs for the last session.

Have an early morning session on some aspect of 'Giving Technical Presentations' or 'Public Speaking'; Follow up with actual 'Workshop' type sessions offering coaching from multiple experienced Speakers, and then provide a 'Speaker Idol' type of opportunity. Great for growing local Speakers.

Doing the SQL Experts panel was a lot of fun and well attended. Made for a nice after lunch session to keep folks energized.

Setting up the event the night before made the morning of the event much easier and smoother.

Signage, signage, signage! Not only in the venue, but on the streets around it.

Make a checklist, especially if this is not your first event.

important to advertise with local colleges and regional user groups

International payments are always associated with a fee. These should be included in all calculations.

Understand venue layout. Put GOOD signage up yourself (we were let down badly by our venue who were supposed to have done this).

Do a very detailed walkthrough with the venue coordinator, including where sponsor and registration tables will go. This should also include the path participants will take to get from the door to registration to the first session. Had we done a better walkthrough, we would have moved registration to a different location and removed a bottleneck in our traffic flow.

If possible have a someone from the venue technical staff on hand the day of the event to help deal with any issues that come up (projectors not working, wifi issues, etc)


Your volunteer instructions cannot be simple enough. We laminate a page of instructions with detailed steps (for example, who gives/collects eval slips, books in the classroom) and a map on the back. This is invaluable to volunteers, but we still end up finding things to add to it.

Recruit kids/teenagers as volunteers.

Delegate, delegate, delegate!

Get more volunteers to assist the day of the event.

Engage a group of volunteers ahead of time and delegate pre-event tasks to avoid becoming a bottle neck or be overwhelmed.

A reminder to volunteers to count attendees in each session.

No matter how well you plan, you'll need a runner to be ready to hurry out and grab ice, printouts, coffee, etc...with little notice.

Slowly building a team can build trust and make for better events. We are looking to start much earlier this year after issues with venues.

although it is important to grow local talent and nurture local speakers, we feel that we should have done this in a more formal way for unknown speakers – not quite lightning talks but definitely not billing them at the same level as international experts… we would look at different ways of achieving this objective going forward and look to work more closely with the UG to develop talent in advance of a SQL Saturday in the future.

Get reliable people who are committed to the cause. Don't choose people who are distracted with other Events.

Delegation can only work with people who can be trusted or are willing to give themselves to the cause (I made a couple of bad new choices this time).

Make sure all tasks are well on the way months in advance and that mailshots and lists are lined up in whichever tool you use. Event day volunteers to be fully ready and prepped months ahead of time.

Farm out as much as possible, such as printing, moving, and catering. We hired movers and had FedEx Office do all the printing. That saved tons of time.


Encourage your sponsors to stay until the raffle. It got very confusing and frustrating for our coordinators when half a dozen booth sponsors left before the 4pm raffle and dumped their prizes and raffle tickets on us. This also looks bad to the attendees.

In July, the last user group meeting before our event, we had a special all-user-groups-invited Networking Night meeting that was very well attended. We invited only Gold+ sponsors of SQL Saturday to give a talk in a recruiting context. This was another thing to help separate Gold from Silver.

We sold out on booth space and offered a discounted Silver level with a "small booth". We may offer fewer full size booths and more small booths next year as there was a huge demand for vendor booth space.

Get confirmation from each sponsor that they are attending, who is attending and if any SWAG needs to be collected. Be firm on dates and don't be afraid to say no to a potential sponsor especially if you are running out of room.

Lock down dates for sponsors.

Platinum sponsorship levels, we name the rooms after the sponsors for more visibility

Supermarkets and office supply stores will donate gift cards or goods if you ask. Some will give special discounts on food/supplies as well.

Building relationships with potential sponsors well in advance is recommended as it can take quite a bit of effort to get them over the line.

Instead of providing sponsors a 20 minute window for their presentations, a request was made by one of the sponsors to have more time. We may consider providing a room over lunch for each sponsor to provide them more time. It could be more beneficial for attendees and provide sponsors stronger leads. This would be something at the Gold or above level.

It was uncomfortable having to tell Silver level sponsors that they were not invited to the banquet. Our banquet area needs to be big enough to host all 2 people from each sponsor, plus all planning committee members and speakers. We'd also like to invite all volunteers to the banquet but that has been too expensive in years past.

Try to make sure the sponsor area is part of the flow of traffic as attendees go from session to session.  If people don’t walk through the sponsor area your sponsors may not return the next year.


Business intelligence around registrations and demographic info was fascinating to attendees and helped draw attention to social media for us this year.

Offering a prize that's tied to printing of the SpeedPASS works really well.

We will NOT use the wait list. Caused far too much confusion for the attendees and made registration on the day of a nightmare. A lot more management of the attendees is required with the wait list and with the email issues mentioned above it made it even worse. We will just make sure to "build in" the 20-30% drop-off into our numbers for next year along with speakers/sponsors.

Become familiar with SpeedPASS QR-Scanner process. Great addition


Provide a coat check on cold days.

We included a Code of Conduct in our conference booklet this year, including a phone number to text if there were any violations. We received no violation reports, but it was good to have in place and we're glad we did it.

If attendance is lower than past try to compare attendee emails to see if there is a pattern. We found two reasons - a leading company which sent many attendees had their own in house training going on (which was not in any way in our control but at least we found out),

Some attendees didn't like so much sessions over the day. Next year we will try to make more rooms available to have more parallel sessions, but at least 5 sessions on the day sequence


We have begun to collect a list of speakers we will not be accepting because of lack of professionalism or negative speaker feedback from the anonymous survey. We had no last-minute people backing out, though we have added people to our list because of that too.

Get confirmation from each speaker that they are attending the event, as well as shirt size and dinner attendance.

Lock down dates for speakers.

We had a couple of speakers not be able to attend. We found out about a week prior to the event. It is a good idea to keep a couple of alternate speakers in case of speakers who might not be able to attend.

A forum for sharing speaker evaluations could be useful. (Particularly bad feedback or speakers who tend to cancel / not show up.)

Keep consecutive sessions by the same speaker in the same room (if possible)

If a speaker is giving multiple sessions don’t schedule them back to back without talking to the speaker first.  There are some sessions that require the speaker to do some setup prior to presenting.  Also, there are many times where attendees will stay after a session to talk to a presenter and ask additional questions.

We also made use of Survey Monkey to get the attendees to vote on their preferred sessions - however make sure that you then keep 2 or 3 speakers on standby in case of last minute cancellations.

The organizer can't be the first speaker


Make sure to give all attendees good information about event evaluations.

Try to get as much feedback on sessions as possible, both good and bad. Perhaps say it is only for event organizers. (We had sessions with ok evaluations given to the speakers, but heard very poor reviews directly from attendees who didn't want to give bad reviews because they felt mean.)

Survey Monkey has been a very cost effective way to gather post-event evaluations from attendees in a way that gets us the data electronically. Well worth the $27 one month subscription.


Have a large space where everyone can sit for lunch (your gold sponsors will thank you for allowing them to speak to just about everyone)

A menu of pulled pork, macaroni and meatless sauce, salad and some go-withs seems to work very well and pleases vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Having 2 sets of buffet line tables with lines on each side (4 total lines) worked way faster than just 2 lines.

Some universities have culinary courses and we took advantage of that, by making a contract with them to provide the food and coffee for a very good price.

Don't be tempted to buy any more than 10% more lunches than what have been paid or comped even if registration is much higher.

Have multiple buffet lines for lunch to serve more people faster

Each year we manage to buy too much bottled water. Not sure how we manage to do that, even though we slash the order every year.

We boxed jambalaya lunch a little early, starting around 10:45. By 12:15 some of the jambalaya boxes were no longer warm and this drew some complaints.

Someone on our anonymous survey was furious at us for not offering a cruelty-free lunch option.

Apparently vegetarian sandwiches from subway are still cruel. Cheese maybe?

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