Organizing a SQL Saturday – Part 3 – The Venue


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.

Where is this going to happen?

You’ve got your team; now you need to find a somewhere to host your event. If you are lucky, you already had a place via your user group, or before you even started thinking about pulling an event together. Odds are, though, you have been inspired to put on an event, and you need to find somewhere. Keep in mind the eventual size of your event. When a lot of events, such as SQL Saturday, start out they are smaller and are fine in a smaller location. If your event becomes a recurring one you may find yourself quickly outgrowing your venue and having to find a new one.

What options are there?

There are a few different places you can host an event. Let’s go through a few and the pros and cons I feel each have:

Conference Center


  • Lots of space that can be arranged just about any way you can imagine.
  • Planners that can help co-ordinate everything for you as far as the venue goes
  • Central location. Usually, conference centers are in places with easy access and lots of parking.


  • Very expensive. You pay for everything. From the space to food, to projectors and screens being setup and turned on.
  • Conference centers tend to have unionized labor so it gets tricky figuring out what you can do and what you have to pay someone else to do.
  • Limited catering options – usually stuck with what they offer and at the price they want which is way more than if you could bring in a caterer. They know they have you by the *ahem* and there isn’t much you can do about it.
  • There may be parking, but it may have a fee and then it becomes and additional expense for you or your attendees.


Local school, college or university


  • It’s a school; Learning is what they are designed for.
  • Updated presentation tech. Most educational facilities like to keep up to date if they can.
  • Empty on weekends. If you are hosting a weekend event such as a SQL Saturday, space will tend to be empty.
  • Low to no cost. Depending on who you know and if the vent helps the school you may be able to get the space for little to no cost.


  • Outdated tech. Yeah, that bake sale may not have been enough to get new projectors. It is a reality and maybe if you have your event somewhere like this you can arrange a small donation to help with any extra funds from the event.
  • Cramped. Not always, but depending on where you are hallways can get crowded and even the rooms.
  • Stuffy. This may sound odd, but if you are hosting your event on the weekend that facilities, like heat or air conditioning, may not be available. Be sure to check before locking into the location.
  • Need to know people. Some schools require an employee to reserve the space and coordinate things for the event in-house. This may not be a problem, but could be if you don’t know anyone on staff or can’t get a connection made.


Local technical company


  • Latest tech. We are fortunate enough to be able to use the local Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) for our event in DC. In fact, they are just finishing up a complete renovation so our event will be one of the first in a brand new facility with all new high definition projectors and automated systems.
  • Empty on weekends. Just like schools, the business may be empty on the weekend.
  • Low to no cost. Depending on who you know and if the event helps the company you may be able to get the space for little to no cost. Perhaps a complimentary sponsorship table could help too.


  • Small rooms. You may be limited to conference rooms that were designed to hold only a few people, not dozens. If you have a small event, this isn’t an issue. As the event grows though you may find yourself quickly getting too large for space.
  • Need employee as part of the event team. Not always, but usually you need an employee to make the reservations of the rooms, and co-ordinate the event in-house.


Other Venues

What are your suggestions?

I’ve seen some events done in theaters, both stage and movie, and some in art gallery locations with some rooms and stages set up in display areas. I have even attended some on Cruise ships, which surprisingly have conference rooms and presentation equipment! I have even been working on pulling an event together that occurs outside in tents in scenic areas. Having a different venue can make an event unique and memorable.

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