Organizing a SQL Saturday – Part 2 – The Team

This is the second in a series of posts I am writing as SQL Saturday DC quickly approaches.
It is a look into the behind the scenes of pulling together a community event for SQL Server professionals.
You can start the series here.

Who will pull this all together?

Once you have decided, you want to pull together an event you need to get a team together to help make it possible and not burn yourself out.
There are so many moving parts to an event that it is near impossible to pull off alone.
Trust me; I speak from experience when it comes to that. The first SQL Saturday that I hosted I did by myself. It wears you out like there is no tomorrow.

A lot of these types of events are pulled together by the local user group. If there is none, it is a great resource to spawn a group afterwards. Regardless, it helps to get a team together to get things underway. The trick is how you build the team and who is in it will have a tremendous impact on how the event evolves and eventually runs.

Volunteers or Professionals?

A majority of the time an event like this is pulled together by volunteers. Larger events tend to bring in organizations and teams that specialize in running huge events such as those with thousands of attendees rather than maybe 1 – 200 people.

I have been to events that have large teams of volunteers and some that have just a handful. Depending on how well the team works together helps drive the overall feeling for the event.

A professional team works together like clockwork because that is their profession. It is what that team is supposed to do. In our case of smaller SQL Saturday events, volunteers make up the teams. What I find gets tricky is getting the balance of the team members just right. There will inevitably be a hierarchy needed, and that can upset some volunteers.

Volunteers are great, but when it comes to a tech event in a field, they have a passion for, it is easy to get a commitment of help up to the conference day. Don’t be surprised though if on the day of a good number of the team may want to attend sessions that conflict with their roles on the team. It is a reality. They have volunteered their time and effort and desire recompense for those efforts.

Because of this type of situation at SQL Saturday in DC in the past, we have developed a small core team that focuses on the event and not the sessions.

The key is to have the right people doing the right jobs and not have too many people doing too few things. It is great when you have an event coming up, and everyone wants to be a part of organizing it, but you need to be ready to trim the team down to what is required and if you are the lead be ready to delegate.

Team Member Roles

Here is a short list of the key roles I feel an event needs to have:

Main Organizer

The Main Organizer is the person that is leading the effort. Usually, the one with their name on the agreement or license to host the event. They help coordinate the team efforts and keep an overview of the event. They also are the one to help make final decisions on how the event unfolds. Why? Because it is their name on the line. Literally! They signed the agreement or contract to host the event.

Financial Organizer

The Financial Organizer is the one responsible for managing the money for the event. They help create and control the budget along with paying for the expenses of the event.

Sponsor Organizer

The Sponsor Organizer works to find and get sponsors to sign up to help the event. It is very rare that a group has the funds required to run an event for hundreds of people. Th Sponsor organizer also needs to work on the event day to make sure sponsors are adequately represented and happy at the event. An unhappy sponsor is one that is less likely to help later events.

Volunteer Organizer

The person that organizes the other, non-team, volunteers. This is the person who needs to create the schedule for room proctors, parking assistants, clean up crews, registration, etc. It is a vital role to pull an event together.

Food & Beverage Organizer

An army marches on its stomach, and so do conference goers. In my opinion, food and drink are vital to a conference. It is one of the things every attendee will remember. Nowadays with various allergies, options, and tight budgets this is no easy task. Don’t forget that there is not only lunch but coffee in the morning and drinks and snacks. It may even include a speaker and volunteer appreciation dinner the night before everything starts, and an after party too!

Swag Organizer

Everyone wants swag (Stuff We All Get). Attendees will swarm the sponsor with cool swag. People just like getting stuff for free. Beyond what sponsors bring as swag, it is nice to have a memento of the event in the form of some tangible object. Is it required? No. Is it nice? Yes. A raffle at the end of the day is normal at a lot of SQL Saturdays, so this is the person that will gather the items from sponsors and the event stash to get to the raffle.

Schedule Organizer

The schedule of an event is one of the hardest tasks in my opinion. For SQL Saturday DC we have 5 – 7 tracks of 5 sessions each. The result is 25 – 35 sessions to fill the day. So far each year we have received over 150 sessions submitted during our call for speakers. It is never easy to make sure content is good, and there is just enough overlap of quality and new speakers and variety of topics to make the attendees enjoy the event. Inevitably speakers will get upset they were not picked, even to the point some swear they are blacklisted (that is a real thing in the conference world) due to personal vendettas. It is not a role to be taken lightly and is certainly worth having the rest of the team help with reviews and opinions as to what topics and speakers to include or exclude.

Is this the be all end all list? Of course not! These are just my opinions on the major roles the lead team of an event needs to have.
Does it mean the event has to have a team of that many people? Nope. We run SQL Saturday on a core team of about 4-5 people. I have tried larger teams, and I’ve have tried smaller. That is just the number that works for us.

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