Recently I have been encouraging some first time speakers to submit a session for SQL Saturday Mineesota #332. The usual first question is, “What should I talk about?” That’s not what this post is about. I may put something together on that later, but this is going to be a step by step instruction manual for how to submit a session. With screen shots and everything.
I have only been presenting for a couple of years and I have already forgotten how nervous I was about even the small things; like submitting a session. If you have never done it before you don’t know what to expect and if you are like me you want to know what is required from you and what is going to happen when you hit that Submit Your Session! button. And I realize that everyone is going to be able to figure this stuff out on your own, but now you don’t have to. You can put more thinking into what your topic should be and finding a funny picture for slide #23. Your Welcome.
- Step 1 – Log In.
Once you go to the Call for Speakers page the first thing you will have to do is log in. If you have ever registered for a SQL Saturday then you have a login. If you have somehow managed to make it this far without attending a SQL Saturday then you can click on the not registered? link and it will redirect you to SQLPASS.org so you can create an account. If you are creating a new account don’t use a throw away email address because this is the address where the “You have been selected to speak.” email will be sent.
Also there is the usual “I forgot” my password and/or username because I have 39 other usernames and password I have to remember and I haven’t started using LastPass yet.
- Step 2 – Enter Your Proposed Session.
Entering the submission is a single page form. Don’t stress too much over filling out everything exactly right because once you hit the Submit button you will be able to go in and Edit stuff.
If you have submitted sessions before to any SQL Saturday event then you will be able to select sessions from the drop down box and it will auto populate the rest of the fields. Be careful with this option because the form and the options change over time and if you don’t have a value for a new field it will just load the default. I almost missed out on a speaker shirt because of this once. My guess is if you have previous submissions from other SQL Saturdays you didn’t find this blog post, but if you are first time submitter there is a good chance you will want to submit a couple of topics to increase the chance of getting on the schedule. After you enter your first one you can use your previous session as a template and just change the title and Session Description without having to enter all of the other fields again.
It doesn’t say on the form, but you get 100 letters for the title. The text box won’t let you type more than 100 characters so you don’t have to worry about submitting a title that is too long. You can name the title anything you want, but keep in mind that this is the only part that most people who come to SQL Saturday will read. The people choosing your session will read the entire abstract, but if the title doesn’t tell attendees exactly what you are talking about then you may not get the right audience (or any audience). It’s tempting to be clever with the title and I am probably more guilty of this than most people, but I’ve learned to use a short sentence telling everyone what aspect of SQL Server I will be talking about. If you have room you can add a clever subtitle, but make sure you tell people what it is about. I did a session recently titled Forward the Federations which was about the Federations feature in Azure SQL Database, which I thought was clever. but it was pretty useless unless you knew what a federation was. I realized after the schedule was out I should have called the session Sharding Data in Azure SQL Database Using Federations. I had a very small group show up that day, of course an argument could be made that having the word Azure in my title would drive people away.
The Session Description is what people are talking about when they ask for your abstract. You get 1000 characters for your session description and users will see this in the schedule and they might actually read it if your title sounded interesting. The volunteers selecting the speakers will definitely read this and while the competition is not as fierce as the national events for SQL it still needs to live up to the same standards. Most SQL Saturdays won’t be able to accept all the people who want to speak. The abstract should give a brief overview of your topic and explain what the attendees will get out of the session. It doesn’t have to be very long; I don’t think I have ever used all 1000 characters, but it does need to be free of grammar and spelling errors (cue the comments about my typos in this blog post). The best way to get an idea for how to write up an abstract is to go and read all of the sessions that have been submitted or just look at last year’s schedule.
At the time of this blog post there are five options for Session Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Lightning Talk, and Non-Technical. In the past I have stressed over this; sometimes trying to decide what level to assign the session can be hard, but in the end it is your best guess. As you do more speaking you’ll get a better feel for your material and also be able to adjust the level of your material as you present. You do want to put some thought into this because if you rate the session as Beginner and you get too deep into the topic you will lose your audience. At the same time if you rate something as advanced you don’t want to bore people with the basics. I usually go with the rule that if it isn’t obviously Beginner material or obvious Advanced then I put it down as Intermediate. It isn’t a science. Not all SQL Saturday’s have lightning talks and honestly I didn’t realize this was an option until I started typing up this blog post. I like the idea of it and I am going to start encouraging people who don’t want to do a full topic to submit a lightning talk. We’ll need to get at least 4 or 5 lightning talks to make it a viable session, but I would definitely go to that session. Non-technical is for sessions that are not technical (career development, etc.).
Session Time preference defaults to No Preference, but you can also select Morning Session Preferred or Afternoon Session Preferred. I personally like speaking in the morning and I believe the best spot is the second session of the day. You don’t have to stress about being on time, people are still awake and learning, and after your presentation you can enjoy the rest of the SQL Saturday. I think the idea for this was for people who need to leave early or show up late because they don’t have the entire Saturday free or are coming from out of town. If you have a real need to present at a certain time I would indicate it here, but I would also follow-up with event organizers to let them know you aren’t just stating a preference, but actually can’t stay past noon.
You don’t actually enter your email address it will populate when you login and you can’t alter it. Whatever email address you use for your PASS login is the one where you will get all of your communication from SQL Saturday.
Phone number is optional, but you should enter your cell number here so that the event coordinators can ahold of you. Just in case you oversleep and are supposed to be speaking at the first session we can provide a wake up call.
For this section you get to write a little bit about the topic you know better than anyone else, yourself. You get 500 characters and just a couple of lines is fine. It is usual to include things relevant to SQL Server, but I also mention I am a wannabe gourmet chef in mine. Much like the abstract not too many people are going to read the bio. I will say that if you have any speaking experience that hasn’t been in the local SQL community this is a good place to note it. Some conferences have a place to list past speaking experience, but the SQL Saturday form does not. It will help out in speaker selection. The nice part about the bio is that once you write it you don’t have to update it very often. It is oddly one of the things you can’t update after submitting though so double check before you click on submit.
These next three are all optional, but this information will show up on your speaker bio page on the SQL Saturday website. If you have a blog or Twitter account this makes it easy for people who attended your session to
stalk you ask follow-up questions. I usually throw up a slide with this information on it during the presentation, but people will find it here more easily.
The form ends with five check boxes. The first three are asking if you are either a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), a Microsoft Certified Master (a certification that has now been retired, but once earned it is held for life), or an employee of Microsoft. This in theory helps with speaker selection, but mostly it is just nice to know. If you are vegetarian check that here. Your lunch will be provided if you are selected to speak. And if you are available to volunteer please check that as well. If you are speaking for the first time no one expects you to volunteer also. If you do volunteer the organizers will usually make sure you only have volunteer duties on the half of the day when you are NOT presenting.
- Step 3 – Submit Your Session!
There is a CAPTCHA box to fill in just to make sure no one floods the site with spurious SQL Server presentations. Then click on the submit. When you submit a session you are also automatically registered for the SQL Saturday.
If you need to make changes after you submit to the title or session description then click on the [view profile] link in the upper right where you logged in. If you scroll down far enough you’ll find a section called Manage Submitted Sessions.
That is it. I hope this helps someone or at the very least demystifies the process for some people.