I’ve been extremely lucky to have my sessions selected for speaking at PASS Summits for 4 of the last 5 years. One year all my topics (data modeling and database design) were deemed to be “off-topic” for the Summit crowd. The good news I still got to speak because each of the two founding organizations (Microsoft and CA) let me use one of their slots or co-presented with me on the topics of database architectures and designs.
One of the outcomes of speakers using their community slots to do sales from the podium is that this event now has a rule that your slide deck can have only one mention of your name and our company. Yes, because people were being overly focused on what they could get out of the crowd instead of sharing knowledge with attendees, the rest of the speakers and attendees have to feel pain.
I’m proposing that we allow speakers to put a form of their About Me slide at both the beginning and the end of a slide deck. Yup. Just one more slide.
The first About Me slide is to establish a the speaker’s credibility on the subject, plus to disclose any potential conflicts of interest the speaker might have. Speaker works for a vendor? Check. Speaker wrote a book on this? Check. Speaker is a data architect and not a DBA? Check.
Note that having a potential conflict of interest on a topic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a disclosure, not a confession. In the past, when InfoAdvisors partnered with vendors, that would be on my About Me slide for presentations about data modeling, because I had partner agreements with most of the data modeling tool vendors. We don’t have partner agreement any longer, but we do work with data modeling tool vendors.
When I speak in vendor-hosted slots, I’m careful to explain to attendees that they are in a paid speaking session and I disclose why I’m there and whether or not I was compensated to be there. In the Summit year I spoke in vendor slots, I wasn’t compensated other than to get a spot via means other than the program committee.
The second About Me slide, at the end of the deck, plays the role of "Okay, I just talked with you for an hour about something I’m passionate about. If you’d like to talk more about it, or if you have problems with my demos, or if you have a question you want to ask me, here’s how to reach me.
For me, this isn’t just the norm for all events, it’s etiquette as well.
Some speakers in the community have said “but all the attendees know who we are”. No, no they don’t. Celebrity is a bit overrated here.
Regulation is Born from Bad Behaviours
I think it’s odd our community has a rule that keeps us from doing the second slide. I know the rule came from speakers who were overly sales-y in their talks. That’s what makes me sad about the other discussions I blogged about yesterday. Bad behaviour by sales-focused speakers ruins the experience for attendees at the event and for years after.
Bad behaviour by sales-focused speakers ruins the experience for attendees at the event and for years after.
If we started collecting data from attendees about how promotional speakers were in their sessions, that would be a much better indicator of whether or not sales was happening from the podium. At EDW for the last several years, the attendee survey asks people:
“Was the speaker too "commercial?" i.e. did he/she seem to be selling their own product / services / book / etc.?”
It’s a simple Yes/No question. The measure is reported back to the speaker and the event organizers. The overall conference evaluation asks for the attendees to list the speakers who were overly sales focused during the event. I think that’s a great question to ask the community. This data is much more likely than the ban on mentioning your name more than once in an hour to indicate whether or not the speaker is there to sell you his or her stuff.
One of the reasons decks have to be submitted for review at Summit is so that dozens of volunteers can scour the slides for mentions of the speaker’s name or company. That isn’t really a value add for attendees, yet we do it because people have been overly focused on selling their products or services instead of the community. We’ve incurred a huge cost (in volunteer hours) to enforce this and some other less important things AND added months to gap between slide preparations and presentation time. This leads to pain for both the speakers and the audience.
Speakers break this rule all the time. Some get called out, some don’t. We basically have a rule that is unevenly enforced and silly. It’s time to change this rule.
It has been five years I’ve been asking for our community to change this rule. I believe I’ve followed it every time I’ve presented at Summit. There may be a time when the last slide from having given the presentation before has stayed in the deck, but I really want to follow the rules. So now after 5 years of emails and chats, I’ve blogged about my idea for win-win solution in hopes that other community folks will say “yes, I think that’s a good idea”.
Make it Right
We should be asking attendees of sessions and in the overall conference evaluation if a speaker spent too much time selling his blog, his books, his services or his products. We should allow two slides about the speaker in a slide deck. These two changes to our rules will benefit attendees and speakers. These changes are win-win.
There have been some blog posts floating around about a new PASS Summit policy. Most of the posts have been either misleading or ill-informed about why this new rule came about. Last year there was a sh*tshow of bad marketing and sales practices:
- Two vendors did a bulk drop of branded promotional items in the Community Zone. They literally turned an area intended to be about chapters, networking, and #SQLFamily into a their own company litter box.
- A vendor lefts stacks of promotional items on booths of sponsors in the exhibit areas. Yes, a vendor who did not pay to sponsor the event used the booths that other vendors paid for to attempt to distribute their marketing materials.
- I heard of other things happening from sponsors, but did not witness them. They were right along the lines of those two things above.
So PASS has come out with a new rule about exchanging stuff at the PASS Summit. They are now going to attempt to limit exchanges to business cards only. I think this is way too specific of a rule definition, but unlike the other bloggers, instead of making this a post about how awful the board is, I’m going to offer up win-win-win alternatives below.
Some of the comments on these posts have been made in an attempt to soften the “guerrilla marketing” bad behaviours I mentioned. They claim that the board wants to limit small, personal exchanges of gifts like ribbons and stickers, both very common conference exchanges. In the space community, these also include mission patches and pins. I don’t believe the board wants that, but they have certainly put that in writing.
First, the rule right now only applies to speakers. I’m not sure if it applies to attendees, but I’d want any such rules to apply to everyone at the event.
Feral Cats and What’s That Smell?
The issue isn’t about personal exchanges of gifts. The issue, as all of us know here but are pretending we don’t, is the literal carpet bombing of commercial collateral, including promotional, branded swag in community areas, empty session rooms, empty tables, restrooms, hallways, charging areas, etc. I do not support the claims that this type of feral-cat like spraying of vendor materials is “Community over Sponsors” behaviours. It’s about sales over members. Don’t kid yourself. Consultants are vendors. InfoAdvisors is a vendor. I’m a vendor at these events because I work for a vendor.
Consultants are vendors. InfoAdvisors is a vendor. I’m a vendor at these events because I work for a vendor.
All that spraying smells. It’s only community if your business belongs in a back alley. It’s only community if you think of attendees as “prospective invoices”. It’s all litter box marketing.
That isn’t about gifts. It’s not about community.
And what has happened is that the “arms race” mentioned in one post has now become such an embarrassment to the community that our professional association has had to step in and make a rule.
Update: One vendors claims that the sponsors asked him to drop swag on their tables. “it just looks like litter boxing” (paraphrased). The two events I witnessed involved the sponsors throwing the swag in the garbage and asking “WTH was that?” I’m going to guess that “being invited to give out swag at the booths” is a giant misunderstanding. Ha ha. : ).
The New Rule Isn’t Right
I agree that the limiting to business cards is a unacceptable way to draw the line on this “I don’t see you all as community but as potential invoices” behaviours. But the real fault is on the people who need to have the event as a “sell-first, avoid you later” event.
Saying they can’t afford to have a booth isn’t accurate. It’s affordable. Many smaller vendors have booths at SQL Saturdays and at the big show. It’s very affordable, especially if you share with other vendors. Which is a great way to have a booth because who wants to man/woman/kitten a booth for the entire conference?
Should you have to have a booth to exchange stickers or ribbons? No. But when sponsors get other people’s swag dropped on their booths, or when the community zone becomes a porta-potty for marketing materials, we’ve lost our path. No matter what someone tells you, that’s not community. It’s seeing our event not as a Connect. Share. Learn. event. It’s about seeing our event as a Speak and Sell event.
Blame for the new rule goes 100% to the folks who did these things. Okay, maybe I’ll blame the board 10% for coming with a new rule that isn’t quite a win-win-win solution.
This Ain’t the Tea Party
If you think telling sponsors “we’ll take your money, but others can turn the community zone into their own “rogue exhibit hall” is good conferences sales point, I suggest we just give away exhibit booths and charge everyone the real price it costs to put this on. I’m guessing that registration will cost about the same as a 7-day cruise. Or it will be like a local user group meeting, with fewer people. Austerity might be your political stance. Telling people to just change jobs if their employer won’t pay $7k for them to attend Summit is a nonstarter.
The fact of the matter is that community events the size of Summit (thousands) can’t happen without sponsors. Ensuring that sponsors get what they pay for is not “putting sponsors over the needs of attendees”. It’s about running an event that is affordable and sustainable. Sure, it’s a balance. But pretending that somehow non-sponsoring vendors should be allowed to use sponsor resources for their own needs is naïve at best. At worst, it’s painting the situation as being something it is not.
Data. Get Your Data Right.
It’s misleading to say that these rules happened because PASS wants to cater to sponsors over community. A few overly-greedy, it’s-all-about-money people have caused this. Focus your ammo on the right malicious “users” of PASS.
What I Want the Rule to Be
I’ve talked to board members and PASS staff. This is what I want the rule to be. I think it’s a win-win-win for attendees, consultant and sponsors.
Personal, one-on-one exchanges of low-cost items like the ones below should be allowed and even encouraged.
I don’t care if those things have your name, your favourite tagline, your picture, your cat-owner’s photo, or your logo. They key here is one-on-one, personal exchanges of low-value, often fun, things. I also don’t want to have a detailed list. People love to have a check box set of rules, but that just leads to people finding loopholes. Heck, I love sharing space swag at non-space events. Especially collectibles that are older than most of the attendees.
Update: What do I mean by exchanges? I mean giving out these low-cost items in trade for the other person’s similar item or for some other value. One year at EDW I asked people to tell me they “loved their data” to get a ribbon. Hearing people say that was a small but important value to me. I may have done that at Summit one year as well. The key is these are still one-on-one exchanges. And none of them happened from the podium. Selling while presenting should be a paid session.
Ribbons, stickers, stamps are all part of the geek community and I want that to continue to be a part of Summit.
Bulk distributions of marketing materials, flyers, branded materials should require some sort of sponsorship level. As should the distribution of more expensive swag, cars, real tattoos, kittens, and $20 bills.
Distribution of items on sponsor booths without their permission should not be allowed. Bulk distribution on the exhibit floor without being a sponsor or in the Community Zone should not be allowed.
The Community Zone Should Be a Sales-free Zone
The Community Zone should be sales-free, as far as I’m concerned. It’s the violation of this rule that I think should cause people not to be invited back to the event. Attendees should have one area where they aren’t treated like invoices. Having to put this into a rule makes me sad. People should just understand this is how life works.
Maybe we need a $500 sponsorship level for those vendors whose business is doing so poorly they can’t afford a booth. Or for independent consultants. Again, this is for people and organizations that want to do mass distribution of marketing materials and collateral, not personal exchanges.
A professional association should indeed help all members be great at what they do. Whether they are consultants, software vendors, contractors, full- or part-time employees, retired, whatever. But that doesn’t mean that a professional association event must provide a sales opportunity in every part of the event.
This proposal is a win-win-win because attendees can keep doing what we’ve always done. Vendors can still do their sales things, but appropriately. Vendor sponsors can keep getting value out of their sponsorship dollars without some on other vendor being a feral cat and bragging how “sponsoring a booth is stupid when you can just do guerrilla marketing.” Our sponsors are part of our community, too. In fact, organizations can be members of PASS if the sign up.
The world does have bigger problems. But the posts that have been coming out have not been giving the full picture, nor have they offered up a balanced solution. I think it’s good that this year several people came forward to complain to the board that the stuff people have been doing has crossed a line. It may not really be an “arms race”. But is has been escalating. Houston, we’ve had a problem. It stinks. It’s time to fix it. Let’s all work together to get it right, before the urine smell kills the whole event. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them.
This is some of the feedback I got for speaking up.
I’ve never attended a SQL Saturday Ottawa yet (there’s always been a scheduling conflict). I was not in Ottawa that day. I was at a NASA Armstrong Teacher Educator event.
This is how nasty this whole discussion as become. A vendor took a bunch of my tweets over the last year, some about these behaviours, some about my dislike of the things that Mr. Trump says, and some about God knows what else and made a video saying I’m mean. Then this video became a facebook post on the vendor’s own Facebook wall.
A few people spoke up and this commenter deleted his comment after a while. The vendor did not delete it. The commenter did. Remember this when you are thinking about win-win-win solutions. This is what’s at stake. This why bad behaviour leads to more bad behaviour. I’ll still keep blogging about it. And people will still comment on ME instead of the issue.Its what is broken with our community. Talk about bad behaviours, not people.
Dear Conference Attendee:
I started out writing this as an apology. But it’s not. I’m sorry that it isn’t. Months ago, I was required to submit my slides to your conference organizers for reasons:
- there may be a review committee that reviews the content for offensive and unacceptable words, images or demos – and, yes, I’m sad that this is even needed.
- there may be a review committee that checks to see if I mentioned my own name more than once in the entire deck, even at the end of the deck where I want to tell you can reach out to ask me more if you want to. Yes, this is a real thing.
- there may be a review committee that measures font sizes and types to see if they exactly match that of the official conference template, which will be ugly, unreadable, and bullet-point driven, but required for all speakers to use. Yes, font measuring is a real thing.
- there may be a review committee that counts the number of words on a slide and deletes the “extra” words. Yes, this really happened to me.
- there may be a review committee that fixes all the trademark names.
- the organizers might have been burnt too many times by speakers who weren’t ready with a slide deck the day of the event—and yes, I am sad this is even needed.
- the organizers might need to print the handouts of the slides months in advance – so they tell me.
Some of those are great reasons, some of them awful. But they are reasons the organizers require slide decks to be submitted months in advance of the event.
But in those months between the time I submitted the deck and I show up to present, the world has changed. I say that one day in cloud time is equal to one month in boxed software time. So 2 months in cloud tech is like a 5 years delay in talking about traditional software and hardware releases.
The products, services and features I am presenting about will have changed. Their names might have changed. They may have been bought by another company. They may have had a new release. They might have new features. They might have deprecated features. They may have changed their license agreements. They might have gone bankrupt. They might have disappeared. They might have changed their architectures. Anything and everything might have happened in the months between my deck being uploaded somewhere until the time those pieces of paper are handed out to you upon registration.
I Change, Too
In the weeks between my submitting the slide deck and actually giving the presentation, I think of a great way of presenting a concept. Or I think of a new thing I want to point out. Or I experience a failure along the way that I want to share. Don’t get me started on fixing typos or other inaccuracies. Yes, I know that I shouldn’t make mistakes. But I do.
Maybe I hear about something I didn’t know about when I did the deck. Maybe I realized that something that was true when I developed the deck is no longer exactly true. The point is, I am constantly thinking abut making my presentations better.
But What About…?
I know some of you are saying “What paper handouts?” Yes, some conferences still give you printouts on dead trees, especially for half and full-day seminars. I know you are thinking “Can’t you just send them updated slide decks?” Yes, I can. Sometimes that works, most times it does not. Sometimes we speakers are penalized for doing so.
But this happens even with digital decks. I can send revised slides and sometimes someone on the other end will update the deck produced for download. Sometimes they will not. We speakers mostly have no control over that.
I’ve also heard about people who completely redo a presentation so that the slides from before aren’t even recognizable. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a few new slides, some changed ones, maybe some replaced ones. I want to be able to do that in the 2-3 months between submission time and class time. I want to make it better for you, the attendee.
I’ve also been asked “Why don’t you just print out new handouts for the attendees?” and “Why don’t you email out the updated slides before the event”. I have done that for my formal training classes (of course). But for organized events, I may not have the authority to do that. At some events the distribution of all materials is forbidden. I also don’t have access to attendee email addresses to distribute them, either.
What I Do to Minimize the Impact of Changes
When I have enhanced my slide deck in those months, I do the following:
- Provide the whole current deck on my website for download
- Provide the whole new deck on a thumb drive for you to “download” at the event
- Provide the organizers with the updated deck
- Encourage everyone to learn how to leverage the mark up features of the apps they have on their tablet and laptops. These are a true timesaver for me.
- Describe, while presenting, why there is a new or different slide.
Yes, I know you want the paper copy for taking notes and marking up the deck. I’m not happy, either, that these decks had to be provided from a 2-3 months ago reality. I know many of you will be unhappy. You will mark down my speaker score because I included new slides to show new functionality (this happened to me two years ago at an event). I know you will leave an evaluation rating and comment that my slides should have matched the handout. I want you to do that if that’s what is important to you.
But I’m not going to apologize for the paper handouts being out of date. It’s a physics problem. My only way to fix this is to be able to bend time so that I can see the world as it will be 60-90 days in the future. Trust me: if I could do that, I would be presenting at a much different event.
So cut speakers some slack. You really do want them to enhance their slides, fix mistakes, update for new information and maybe even make them prettier in the months before the event. If you have other ideas about how I can make the impact of change easier on you, let me know.
Good speakers want you to learn, have fun doing it AND have something to take home with you to remember what you learned. Help us help make that happen for you.
My friend Joey D’Antoni ( @jdanton | blog ) and I will be giving a workshop at NoSQLNow! about new database and datastore technologies like Hadoop, Neo4j, Cassandra, Vertica, Document DB, and others. This will be a fast-paced, demo-heavy, practical sessions for data professionals. We’ll talk about where a modern data architecture would best use these technologies and why it’s not an either/or question for relational solutions in a successful enterprise. And, as always, our goal is to make the time we spend fun and interactive. This session will be a great starting point for some other session on Monday that go into data modeling for NoSQL as well as for all the other in-depth, database-specific talks the rest of the week.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
We’ve been busy keeping relational data consistent, high quality, and available. But over the last few years, new database and datastore technologies have come to the enterprise with different data stories. Do we need all our data to be consistent everywhere? What does data quality mean for analytics? Will we need relational database?
Learn how traditional and new database technologies fit in a modern data architecture. We will talk about the underlying concepts and terminology such as CAP, ACID and BASE and how they form the basis of evaluating each of the categories of databases. Learn about graph, Hadoop, relational, key value, document, columnar, and column family databases and how and when they should be considered. We’ll show you demos of each.
Finally, we will wrap up with 7+ tips for working with new hybrid data architectures: tools, techniques and standards.
Use code “DATACHICK” to save:
$100 off for Tutorials Only + Seminar Only Registration and $200 off for Full Event, Conference+Tutorials, Conference +Seminar, and Conference Only Registration.
Super early registration ends 29 January, so take advantage of both discounts now (yes, they stack!).
Last year I participated in the first Data Field Day in San Jose. I’m honoured to be a delegate for the tenth Tech Field Day which follows the same format. On 3-5 February I’ll be in Austin, Texas visiting with vendors in the software, hardware and virtualization world. There will be twelve of us participating, along with our fearless host, Stephen Foskett ( @SFoskett ).
We will be visiting these vendors during TFD10:
At each vendor visit there will be livestreaming during their presentation and we will discuss their products and services, ask questions. You can follow that stream above. Delegates are known for their brutal honesty, their insight and even some fun observations.
You can also follow along on Twitter hashtag of #TFD10. You can also post your own questions for these session using that hashtag.
What I love about field days is the the mix of delegates with a wide background in business, tech, innovation, entrepreneurship and data. This breadth means that we, as a team, look at the technology and business with a variety of viewpoints. And you get to watch it all live.
BTW, the next Data Field Day is scheduled for 8-10 June. If you have products or services you’d like to present to a team of independent data experts, contact me.
I hope you can follow along. It’s a great chance to see real world tech innovation discussions.
It’s a new year and I’ve given Thomas LaRock (@@sqlrockstar | blog ) a few months to recover and ramp up his training since our last Throwdown. The trophies from all my wins are really cluttering my office and I feel back that Tom has not yet had a chance to claim victory. So we will battling again in just a few days.
I’ll be dishing out the knowledge along with a handkerchief for Tom to wipe up his tears at SQL Saturday #461 Austin, TX on 30 January 2016. This full day community-driven event features real database professionals giving free presentations on SQL Server and Data Platform topics. All you need to do is register (again, it’s free) before all the tickets are gone.
Database Design Throwdown
Duration: 60 minutes
Track: Application & Database Development
Everyone agrees that great database performance starts with a great database design. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees which design options are best. Data architects and DBAs have debated database design best practices for decades. Systems built to handle current workloads are unable to maintain performance as workloads increase.Attend this new and improved session and join the debate about the pros and cons of database design decisions. This debate includes topics such as logical design, data types, primary keys, indexes, refactoring, code-first generators, and even the cloud. Learn about the contentious issues that most affect your end users and how to avoid them.
One of the other great benefits of attending these events is that you get to network with other data professionals who are working on project just like yours…or ones you will likely work on at some point.
Join us an other data pros to talk about data, databases and projects. And make sure you give a #datahug to Tom after the Throwdown. He’s gonna need it.
…and you should join me.
On 2 February I’ll be speaking at TECHUnplugged Austin, Texas. This event, which has free registration, focuses on how technology innovation is changing business and IT.
TECHunplugged is a full day conference focused on cloud computing and IT infrastructure.
Its innovative formula combines three essential parts of the industry for an exceptional exchange of information, insights and education:
The ultimate goal of TECHUnplugged Conference is to bring quality information to IT decision makers by bringing them together with independent influencers and industry vendors, to engage, debate and be informed through open discussions on topics such as IT infrastructure, virtualization, cloud computing and storage.
I’m going to be talking about how data has changed over the years and how data quality issues can become obstacles to business innovation.
If you are in IT and would like to attend, use the registration form below. If you use my special code, you’ll be entered to win a special prize of an Amazon Echo (I SO LOVE MINE!) at the event.
My promotional code is:
Yes, all lowercase.
I hope to see you in Austin. Maybe we can have tacos.
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