Poll Results: Are You Going Back to In-Person Events?

Last week, I asked if y’all had been to in-person regional events before, and whether you were going back.

I wanted to know because Data Saturdays and SQL Saturdays are starting to happen again, but … attendance seems way down from pre-COVID numbers. I wondered, are people just not going to return to conferences for another year?

I ran a poll here on the blog:

And ran another poll on LinkedIn:

The results tells me:

  • Most readers have been to events before
  • Most of those past attendees do plan to return, but 1/4-1/3 of them don’t
  • Of the readers who’ve never been to an event before, half of them don’t plan on going

So, why aren’t people going back now that the big wave of the pandemic has passed? I don’t think it’s just one thing – I think there are a lot of good reasons:

People are still cautious. Some folks have health issues, immunity risks, etc., and that’s all perfectly valid. (Someone’s going to want to say, “People have kids now,” but that’s not a new issue. News flash: people had kids before the pandemic, too. Ask your mom, and tell her I said hi.)

People got used to online & hybrid events. Perhaps they’re comfy at home, and they don’t want to leave the comforts of home anymore in order to learn. They might have also gotten used to using other ways to network and learn, like social media and recorded training.

People got burned out on online & hybrid events. I feel this one firsthand: I got used to those events, but then over time, I sat through a whole lot of really terrible Zoom calls. Me personally, I’d rather take one of those Fear Factor eating challenges than sit through another non-interactive Zoom call. I’d rather get my learning via other methods.

Companies stopped budgeting for in-person events. Several of my clients have told me, “Our staff told us they could work just as well from home as they do in the office. Okay, great – but then you can’t claim in-person conferences are better than remote, so now your in-person conference budget is over.”

People stopped budgeting for them too. With the roller-coaster economy, widely publicized layoffs, and higher interest rates, some attendees who used to pay for conferences out of their own pocket are no longer doing so.

Senior people moved on to other technologies. Whenever I ask questions like this on social media, inevitably I get replies from people I met at SQL Saturdays a decade ago. They say, “I’m just not working with SQL Server anymore – I’ve moved on to X.” Sometimes those technologies are non-database, sometimes they’re so new that there aren’t conferences covering ’em yet, sometimes it’s management.

Junior people don’t know about conferences. If you’re a data professional with only 3-4 years of experience, you never got the chance to attend a conference, and you’re probably not asking for the opportunity or money. Plus, you haven’t seen these events on your social media feed for the last few years, so either you don’t know about them at all, or you don’t have evidence about their benefits.

Speakers don’t travel as much anymore. There used to be a huge crew of speakers who would jump at the chance to drive or take a cheap flight to present anywhere that would accept ’em. That lifestyle has dropped dramatically, and when I see regional events, it’s a new crew of speakers. That has an interesting side effect: I’ve talked to both speakers and attendees who say, “I don’t wanna go to a conference if my old friends aren’t speaking.”

Speakers don’t evangelize the events as much anymore. A lot of the new generation of local/regional speakers don’t have a large following on their blog, mailing list, YouTube, or social media. As a result, promotion of these events is left to the local organizers, who don’t have a large following either. That means it’s tougher to drive signups.

I’ve written a lot above about why I think some people aren’t going, but just so we’re clear: I’m still really bullish on in-person networking. I think if you make a plan and put work into it, it can be really positive for your career. That’s not to say it’s the only way to get career growth – it’s certainly not – but I’m a believer in them as part of an overall strategy. Having said that, I’ve cut back too. I’m only going to 3 more events in 2023: Data Saturday Gothenburg, Data Saturday Oslo, and SQL Saturday Boston. Hope to catch up with you at one of those!

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14 Comments. Leave new

  • Cathrine Wilhelmsen
    June 12, 2023 1:36 pm

    I’m SO looking forward to seeing you in Oslo! Yay!

  • I would love to attend an in person event, but unfortunately my company does not offer anything like that. Im stuck with your youtube recordings!

  • Frank Henninger
    June 12, 2023 4:52 pm

    I used to look forward to all the SQL Saturday events around me. But since the demise of PASS, they are all gone. Based in Central Illinois I had a ton of choices: Chicago, Indianapolis, Madison, Iowa City & St Louis. But none of them came back or have replacements that I can find.

  • I’ve been to a couple of the local SQL User Group meetings, but I run into the same problem I had previously – scheduling conflicts. The Summit was a rare event for me due to the cost. SQL Saturdays were great to get to, but often had a lot of conflicts as well. I’ll still try to get to events as I can and as they make sense. We do have a great user group in DFW with some great speakers – it’s just a matter of getting out there when I don’t have something else that I also have to attend at the same time.

    • There was a fun point in time before the pandemic where we even had plenty of scheduling conflict challenges with SQL Saturdays themselves! I remember how there were quarrels between regions about whose events were allowed to run on which days. Looking back, that was an amazing time.

  • Mark Freeman
    June 13, 2023 9:16 pm

    For me it is solely a health risk issue. I’d love to get back to Summit and SQL Saturdays. Covid levels are so low that I’d be going to my local SQL Saturday (Columbus, OH) if it wasn’t for a schedule conflict. But I won’t risk getting stuck on the tarmac somewhere with the ventilation system turned off for a few hours. My employer recently wanted to fly me to Europe (our HQ) for two weeks and I had to decline. I’m high risk so I’m stuck having to be much more careful than is now reasonable for most people. It sucks.

    • Mala Mahadevan
      June 14, 2023 11:33 am

      I am the same. I do plenty of going around locally but no air travel for another year. And all the reasons Brent has found and summarized for older people – we’ve done too many, no budget, old friends not showing up.

  • Are you coming also to Data Saturday in Data Saturday Holland 2023?

  • SQL Surfer '66
    June 30, 2023 9:30 am

    I’m so waiting for going to Data Saturday Gothenburg. And you’re also coming. WOW. AWSOME. I haven’t seen you in person since SQL Rally Nordic like ten years ago. It was the first time I heard of you. You had me at “Execution plans suck (data from right to left)”. I’ve followed you since.


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