Conferences are Expensive!

Rushabh Mehta, current Executive Vice President for Finance and Technology for PASS, gave a quiz today to see if any of the volunteers had any idea how expensive it is to put on a conference like the PASS Community Summit.  I'll have to admit that I was way off-base with my guesses.  For example, how much do you think those little bottles of water cost?  Yeah, they're "free" to you, or more accurately, included in the price of admission, but they cost PASS something.  When Rushabh first asked, I was thinking in terms of production costs and wholesale, so I'm thinking it can't be more than 15 cents.  Others in the room were more tuned-in, realizing that PASS pays retail, and were guessing between $1.00 and $2.00.  The real answer... $4.50!  Yeah, I know you can go buy your own, larger, bottle at the store for 99 cents, but you have to remember that when you rent convention space, part of the deal is that you will use their concessionaire (you can't just go to Costco and bring in your own stuff).  And they charge convention prices (kinda like stadium pricing... $8.00 for a hot dog).

So now that you know the pattern, here's another one to try... Included in your registration are two tickets that can be exchanged for beverages at one of the reception events.  How much do you think a single beverage ticket costs PASS when it is redeemed?  How about $8.50?  OK, we're on a roll now, so how much do you think it costs to provide food and beverages for the week (basically breakfast and lunch for about 2500 delegates)?  Would you believe $650,000?  Ouch!  Add in multiple tens of thousands of dollars for the WiFi connectivity (and support staff) throughout the conference center, Audio/Visual equipment and staffing, and several other key ingredients, and now you know where most of the money that comes in to PASS goes to pay for the conference itself.  Conferences are expensive.

As long as I'm throwing numbers around, here are a few more for this year's Summit.  As mentioned previously, there are about 2,500 individuals registered to attend the conference this year.  That is the largest summit ever, and a significant growth over last year's event, even in this tough economic climate.

And finally, there were around 500 session abstracts submitted for the 70ish available speaking slots.  Lots of competition.  So if you are a speaker who was selected this year, you should feel good about yourself.  You made the cut!  Congratulations!

PASS 2008: D-1

Spent the day today in the PASS Volunteer Training session.  It covered a variety of things from the History of PASS (started in 1999 in Chicago) to updates from each member of the Board of Directors about what is happening in their areas.  For those who do not know, each member of the Board has a specific area of responsibility.  For example, Graz is the VP of Marketing this year so he was involved in working with the folks from Microsoft to get PASS and the Summit prominent mention on the SQL home page.  Lynda Rab is the Director of Program Development, so she oversaw the Program Committee that I was on.

There are lots of great things happening within PASS right now and in the near future.  A significant portion of the day was spent talking about the financial condition of PASS and the proposed budget.  I am not at liberty to disclose details of that right now, but it is my understanding that all of this information will be made available on the PASS web site so any and all members can see where the money goes.  One thing to keep in mind is that PASS is not just one annual conference.  PASS really is a professional association, and so it has to abide by certain rules of fiscal responsibility (such as keeping money in reserve accounts) that do not necessarily apply to strict conferencing companies.  The goal of PASS is to provide substantial added value beyond the annual conference, and you can begin to see this getting started with tools and resources on the new web site as I mentioned in my previous post.

PASS is also looking for ways to be of more service and value to local user groups.  But even if you're not active in your local group, I encourage you to join PASS through the web site and take advantage of the resources there.

Of course, no blog post of mine about the beginning of the Summit would be complete without mention of the swag (or schwag, if you prefer).  This year, PASS is going green, so rather than handing out yet another laptop bag, they gave out PASS-branded reusable bags (think reusable grocery bag).  The Summit shirt, a short-sleeve, polo-style microfiber shirt is nice.  And, of course, there is a coupon good for a free copy of SQL Server 2008, redeemable at the Microsoft zone in the exhibit hall (limited supply, first-come, first-served they say).  And, of course, you can't forget the Seattle Super Saver Value Guide (who would turn down discounts on food?).

All-in-all, I'd call it a pretty good day.

Checkout the PASS Web Site

Have you seen the PASS web site lately?  I'll have to admit that before today I had not looked at it in a long time.  To be honest, I was not all that impressed with it in the past.  But NOW.... WOW!  MUCH Improved!

As of this writing, it is still in "Beta" which I guess is the new, hip way to say "under construction".  I've noticed that the official Dilbert web site has been in Beta for months.  Wonder when they're going to consider it "Live".  But I digress.  If I understood correctly in the Volunteer session today, the PASS web site will be officially released out of beta this Thursday.  But you can check out lots of cool things right now.

For example, there are a handful of technical articles already posted in the Learning Center.  There is the PASS Blog, and there is also a directory of other SQL related blogs.  But perhaps best of all, also in the Learning Center, are all of the recorded sessions from the 2005 and 2006 Community Summits.  Sessions from 2007 are coming in January.  Remember, all of this is now FREE.  PASS Membership is now FREE.  Way Cool!  Back in 2006, I had to buy my DVDs of the recorded sessions (I think they were something like $199 if you ordered them while still at the Summit) and now its all free as a benefit to members.  And membership is free.  That used to be around $100, too.

PASS is really making an effort to provide value beyond the annual conference, and I applaud every step they have taken.


Twitter Test

If it's good enough for Joe...  I just setup my own Twitter account to give this a test run.  Looks like a good option for quick comments from the PASS conference that may later lead to broader blog entries.  Anyone else playing along?

Last Minute Presentation Tips

By now (we hope) you have fine-tuned your slides and demos, and are feeling very comfortable and confident in the material you are going to present at PASS this week.  There are a lot of things that go into preparing for a live presentation, and there are a lot of bad examples out there.  One of my favorite blogs on presentation skills is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  Absolutely fabulous tips for any type of presentation (technical or otherwise).  But it's probably too late to radically overhaul your slides and incorporate all of his recommendations, so here are a few simple, last-minute tips to make this one better and get you started in the right direction for your next one.

  1. Do NOT read your slides to the audience.  They are already busy trying to read your slides for themselves and having you just repeat what is already there on the screen makes you an unimportant part of the presentation.  Instead, simplify the text on your slides and then fill in the gaps for people.  Be the source, and provide background information as well as expanding on the simple points in your slides.
  2. Unless your presentation is all about the features and benefits of Intellisense or SQL Prompt, do not type during your demo.  Typing while everyone is watching you is harder than it sounds, and the audience quickly begins to feel like you are wasting their time.  Have your code pre-written (and tested!).  Then you can highlight key parts and explain the magic of your code rather than spend your time trying to re-type the syntax you finally got working last night.
  3. Act excited about your topic.  You picked it, so you should be excited about it...or at least interested.  You don't have to be doing a cheer or trying to hype the crowd, but don't talk like you're bored to death, either.  Maybe this is the 95th time you've given this talk, but it's the first time we have heard it, so try to keep it sounding fresh and interesting.
  4. Increase your fonts.  There is a huge difference between you sitting 18 inches from your monitor and the guy or gal sitting 100 feet away from the screen.  Even with a large projection screen, bring your fonts up to something in the range of 36 so that it is EASY for everyone to read.  In SQL Server Management Studio, go to Tools, Options, Fonts & Colors...  Remember to set the size for the Text Editor and the Grid Results and Text Results.  If you are demonstrating some other specific feature, such as Query Plans, remember to adjust the font for that feature as well.
  5. Respect the Clock.  You were allotted a set amount of time for your presentation.  The entire schedule of events is designed to give people enough time to get from session to session, but also to give the most bang for the buck.  I understand that you are excited about your topic (see point 3 above) and that it is the most important thing that anyone will ever hear at the entire conference...but respect the clock.  It is rude to run your session overtime, holding hostage the members of your audience.  Sure, some people will get up and leave, but some are actually interested in everything you are trying to squeeze in, and others are just too shy to walk out.  You're messing with their schedules and their ability to get a good seat in the next session they want to attend.  And you're messing with the schedule of the next speaker scheduled in your room.  So wrap-up on time.  Or better yet, wrap-up early so there is plenty of time for people to ask questions.  Which brings us to...
  6. Similar to the writer's credo to Omit Needless Words, you should use fewer slides.  You probably don't really need all those slides you've put in your deck.  You're not going to read them to the audience (see point #1) and if your audience is busy trying to read all that stuff, they aren't listening to you.  This isn't a book.  And it should not be a slideument.  Purge some slides and create yourself some breathing room to ensure you end on time, and even better, have time for a little Q&A.

There's still time to make your whole presentation better by implementing just a couple of these.  And your audience will thank you for it.  Especially if you're speaking at the end of the day.  So let's help each other out, that's what a conference like this is all about, and make this the best one we've ever had!

FREE Parking

Although, officially, the posted parking rates said 0-1 Hour: $5.00, apparently the Washington State Trade and Convention Center has some minimum amount of time that you can park there for free.  I don't know what the time limit is, but I just ran up there on my lunch break to pick up my PASS registration materials and when I came out to the machine to pay it told me that no payment was necessary.  I was probably in and out within 15 minutes (no line in the middle of the day on pre-con Monday, yippee!).  So, if you find yourself in a hurry to pick up your registration, keep this option in mind.