Speaking at a national event is a privilege, not a right. Attendees spent a large amount of money to come to a big event. The event organizers need to ensure that every presentation and every presenter are worth the attendees’ time and money. But how can we gauge quality when hundreds or thousands of abstracts get submitted every year? Simple – gradually:
Before speaking at a regional event, you must have local experience first. In terms of PASS, this means that I would require that speakers do presentations at local chapters before they can be accepted at a SQLSaturday. I’m not saying the exact same presentation should be given at both events, but they at least need to present in both places. Speaking in front of 100 people is very different than speaking in front of 10 people – you have to gauge audience interest differently, control hecklers differently, and project your voice & personality differently. The techniques I use with a handful of people don’t scale to a packed room.
This point is especially near and dear to my heart because I keep getting desperate pleas from user group leaders who need local speakers. I get the feeling that some speakers are just parachuting into big events rather than putting in their time polishing and preparing their work at the local level first. Local chapter leaders need our help.
Before speaking at a national event, you must have regional experience first. This dovetails perfectly with PASS’s recent acquisition of SQLSaturdays, and it does two things. First, it ensures that speakers can perform in front of big crowds, and second, it helps SQLSaturdays maintain a good speaker list.
Ideally, if you get lots of negative feedback at a smaller event, your submissions aren’t favored at national events. This takes a lot of work, but in a perfect world, I’d have a single feedback system (maybe SpeakerRate.com) that centralizes ratings. If you can’t average, say, 4.0 (on a 5-point scale), you don’t get into the Summit.
This topic is very important to me because I remember being very let down at my first PASS Summit. I remember sitting through some presentations and saying, “Jeez, how the heck did this person get approved to speak? Sure, the material is interesting, but damn, they can’t speak. They have no stage presence, they’ve clearly never rehearsed this material, and they don’t know how to answer audience questions.”
Running a national event means making sure your attendees get the most bang for the buck. Vetting speakers like this will help ensure that attendees keep coming back for more.