SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Paul Schaeflein wrote this yesterday: http://www.schaeflein.net/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=11.  First off Paul is awesome so do not think of this blog post as an attack it is just my opinion.

So first off I was there at the first SharePoint Saturday and I knew it was happening well before it happened.  I have been an attendee, volunteer, speaker, and sponsor.  I have thrown thousands of dollars and effort into these events.  I am sold on the idea.  Michael Lotter once told me that the whole point of SharePoint Saturday was to help out new speakers and to cultivate the local community.  I agree with Michael, but I also agree the events are also for the attendees largely.  Yes we are selling the events to the speakers and sponsors to show them worth, but inevitably you have to think about who gains the most in the end – the attendees.  The speakers and sponsors may be gaining something in the end, but it’s never been fully about them in my opinion.

I agree with Paul the same speakers are speaking over and over again.  To this point last year we tried something different.  We decided to look at who was new as one of the points for picking speakers.  We did pick a couple new speakers the problem is the new speakers are not submitting.  We are not getting a substantial amount of new speaker submissions.  I have tried to motivate and to cultivate new speakers, but it’s hard since not everyone wants to stand up in front of a crowd.  If anyone has any thoughts or ideas on how to bring these people out let me know. 

I disagree with Paul in that we should just pick local speakers.  For the attendees sake an expert might not be available in a specific area and here is where I think picking non local speakers is a good idea.  I have always thought the user group was a good area to focus on local speakers and the SharePoint Saturdays could be more of a free for all, because it is much easier sometimes to travel on a weekend rather than a week day.  I might be wrong and you might disagree, but this is my opinion.  We do not really put value on local vs. non-local at the New York City event.  We pick speakers based on topics and how they fit for attendees.  Last year in 2011 we tried to be more cohesive.  I think that is what more SharePoint Saturdays in the larger markets should try to do.  One of the things I never liked is that people were picked initially based on who they were and then on topic afterwards.  I personally would rather see them picked based on topic then who they were if you have duplicates. 

Some of the other problems occur when you have to balance sponsors into the equation.  You have to treat your speakers and sponsors well or they will not want to come to your event.  Yes the attendees are important, but speakers and sponsors are equally important.  I commend those people who are throwing out tons of money just to come to these events to give people free training for a day.  I also commend the sponsors for dropping huge dollar amounts.   You have to find some form of balance between giving your attendees what they want, making your speakers feel appreciated, and giving your sponsors something that is worth it to keep coming to events.  Every single time I help out with an event we have a discussion on how to make it better and we try to first give the attendees what they want, then the sponsors and speakers.  We try to add something for each of them every year so that they feel like they want to come back.  Sometimes I feel horrible, because I like to make people happy and I don’t always end up doing that for everyone. 

There is a lot of controversy these days because SharePoint Saturday has spread out wide and far.  One event turned into hundreds of events spanning the course of 3-4 years.  Not everyone can travel and not everyone can help out in the capacity they want.  Not everyone is happy with the setup of each event, however the attendees always seem happy.  I will tell you why it’s worth it to attend, volunteer, sponsor, or speak at one of these events.  The attendees will come up to you and thank you.  They always enjoy free training and sessions from experts in the community.  They sometimes come up and thank the sponsors, the organizers, the speakers, the volunteers, and such.  That is what I think is the most worthwhile factor.

You wonder why am I still doing this 50 or 60 events in and I’ll tell you why.  I grew up poor I didn’t have all the advantages that everyone had.  I had help from family members and friends and such.  So I bought into SharePoint Saturday early on as a pure community effort.  I used to help out at food pantries and other charitable endeavors when I was much younger.  I also had a hard time accepting that I was never going to be a doctor in Africa helping the Peace Corps.  So SharePoint Saturday is my way of giving back to the community.  I have gained lifelong friends and peace of mind that I helped someone learn something that they would not gain otherwise.  You have to also realize the economy prevents a lot of people from attending the major conferences, so local SharePoint Saturdays are helping out people who would otherwise have no other easy means to learn about the technology.  So to end my huge rant I think we are doing a good job overall.  I think that we could improve upon what we have, but sometimes you have to realize it’s a free event and I think we are doing a fine job with what we have.  We are not going to please everyone with every single event and the overall structure is great in my opinion for what started as nothing and turned into a major explosion.  Hopefully this made sense to someone.  I hope you all have a good day.  Also, please think before you post a comment, because I moderate all comments.

Technorati Tags:

Print | posted on Thursday, January 12, 2012 10:04 AM

Feedback

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Doug Hemminger at 1/12/2012 11:45 AM
Gravatar I couldn't agree with you more Becky. I wrote a comment on Paul's blog post and I will repeat it here:

"I can never fault anyone for not wanting to speak at a SharePoint Saturday event. There is no obligation and no one should feel pressured.

I have been to several SharePoint Saturdays and loved them all. They are fantastic.

The organizers are heroes to me. The time, effort and personal expense is staggering considering that there is no guaranteed payback.

Jumped the Shark? I dunno. I sure did like the ones I have been to. But then again, maybe they were better before I started going to some of them.

It's a worthy discussion, but I think it's a pretty easy argument that they are valuable to lots of people who attend. I can't be sure of the value that speakers and organizers get out of it, but I sure do appreciate it"

One thing I will share is that a friend of mine went to his first SharePoint Saturday in the Chicago suburbs with me last year. He is fairly new to SharePoint but has a lot of passion for the technology. He absolutely LOVED the event. He got so much value out of it that it's hard to put into words. Will he ever turn around a be a speaker...maybe, when he gets to that point. These are one of the types of people these events are geared for. When we ask if the events are worthwhile anymore, it's hard for me to even understand where that comes from. They are definitely worthwhile to me and the people who I see attending the events.

Doug Hemminger

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Kerri Abraham at 1/12/2012 1:11 PM
Gravatar Enjoyed your post Becky. I would imagine that many don't speak because of lack of confidence. It becomes easier to see what unique point of view you add to the community the more often you contribute, either through writing or participating at events. However prior to that contribution community members may suspect they have little to add - which I believe it completely false. I wouldn't write in the beginning because I didn't think I had anything to say...but with a bit of pushing (thanks Mark Miller!) I found I had a much bigger voice than even I knew was there.

Consider the viewpoint that the community is not made of experts, but of those in the pursuit of excellence. You need only to join in the pursuit to be a part of it. So find your voice, speak out, you might surprise yourself at what is lurking inside!

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by tigertoy at 1/12/2012 1:43 PM
Gravatar What about the paid conferences? Do the speakers who do double duty, present topics only available to paid events to keep the content fresh and exclusive? And also to protect the integrity of the conference.
How do you feel about a speaker who does paid events, then do a free event? Would you give them preference and effectively knock-out an unknown in favor?
I think the local events should use local speakers. If you want to listen to a national speaker, you should goto a paid conference. And a paid conference should only use national, well-experienced speakers to get your money's worth.
When selecting speakers, do you read the abstract without the speaker's name? That seems fair in selecting local speakers.

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Ruven Gotz at 1/12/2012 2:41 PM
Gravatar I think that Becky brings up the most important point that answers any 'jumped the shark-ers': It's all about what the attendees get out of it. Frankly, they don't care if the speakers are local or not, or whether they've spoken at three, thirty or zero other events. They are there, giving up a day off, to learn. If they get value then SPS has served its purpose.

We mustn't ignore complaints and issues: For this to continue to succeed we need happy speakers and sponsors, we need new blood and we need to evolve and grow. But all the 'inside baseball' issues fall to the wayside if the people who show up to learn something feel that they got value for their sacrificed personal/family time.

Ruven

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Tony Rockwell at 1/12/2012 4:40 PM
Gravatar You are right on target Becky...MY belief is that the whole reason for the existence of SharePoint Saturday is to give back to the community. It IS about the attendees and it has to be a free learning event otherwise it isn't giving back to the community.

Sponsors who can look past the traditional roi for the event should see that the benefit comes from not only name recognition, the number of sales contacts or increased sales, but from the Good Will generated. It is a soft benefit, but a powerful one for sponsors and speakers alike.

Speakers are awesome for volunteering to take their time to share with the community. These events obviously can't happen without both sponsors and speakers, but it is still an event for the attendees. Speakers gain experience & respect by presenting, that should be their reward beyond knowing that they are giving back to their community.

I commend Paul for noting that speakers can apply for travel reimbursement thru INETA, that may help some regional speakers who may not otherwise be able to commit to the event.

Final note on local speakers. I think I fall in between you and Paul on this. To me it is important to have local or local region speakers. It is good for the community to grow and encourage talent and skills in SharePoint. At the same time known speakers sharing their expertise is extremely valuable, so we need experts to speak as well. So for me a balance of local, regional and experts should be included when possible. Ideally there are enough submissions that they can be chosen by topic first and then geography. Ahh, the perfect SPS balance sounds sweet!

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Mark at 1/12/2012 4:43 PM
Gravatar So, as someone that lives in the middle of nowhere Arkansas I strongly disagree with any notion of selecting only local speakers.

I like the way SPSNYC did it, read the abstracts with no names attached. If you want to speak then write a compelling abstract. If you can't write an abstract that grabs attention, what makes you think you can keep the attention of an entire room of people for 75 minutes?

It IS about the attendees and community and adding value. Should we have an SPS event that is nothing but new speakers and sub-par material? You would find that SharePont Saturdays would soon vanish because of lack of value.

That being said, new speakers should submit and strive to submit something they are passionate about. That passion will come through in the abstract, and you'll get selected.

You will not find a more inviting culture as a speaker than at a SharePoint Saturday. Just don't dismiss *ME* right off the bat because I'm not local.. I'm local to no one... :/

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Tom Resing at 1/12/2012 9:30 PM
Gravatar "who gains the most in the end – the attendees" Amen, sister! Have you really been to 50? I believe it because you've been at most of the 8 I've been to (just not to the Texas events.)

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Christian Buckley at 1/12/2012 10:19 PM
Gravatar You get out of it what you want to get out of it.

Attendees, you're getting fed, free training, a free t-shirt and other swag, maybe an Xbox or two. I always tell people who attend my sessions, if you don't like what you hear, feel free to get up and try something else. Or ask questions. We are there for the attendees.

Speakers, you're there to share, to pay it forward, to network, and to gain experience. We had an argument a year ago about whether these events should raise enough funds to pay for an "event" for the speakers. I was against it. That's not the point. It's a community event, and if you're looking for payment or gifts, you're looking in the wrong place.

Sponsors, you're there to share your message to those who want to listen, and also to network. Having sponsored a couple dozen SPS events now, I've signed partnerships and done deals based on partner relationships made with other vendors.

To be honest, the only complaints I've ever heard are more in line with "no more pizza" and "the auditorium was too cold." Most people understand that these are free events, staffed by volunteers, paid for by sponsors who largely understand it is more about supporting the community than doing a deal.

One last thought -- I think people need to give the organizing committees a bit more credit in the thought process that goes into speaker selection. In all the SPS events I've helped organize, we have always given weight to local and new speakers. But as others have pointed out, its not always possible to provide good, comprehensive content that way.

Oh, and you may not want to select Rackley as a speaker after you see this: twitpic.com/86kza0

# re: SharePoint Saturdays Some Thoughts– A Follow Up

Left by Kevin S. Goff at 1/14/2012 12:35 AM
Gravatar Hey, Becky,

I agree with you 100%. IMO, you've done a great job in the community. I know that putting together an event, managing sponsors, etc. is a tireless and thankless job. I applaud your efforts to help spread the word on technology to those who can't afford conferences. And I'm glad to be a part of things like SharePoint Saturday, SQL Saturday, CodeCamp events, etc. I get something out of it as well - I always get good questions and good suggestions that ultimately help me as a developer, an instructor/speaker, and a writer. To me, community events have always been a "win-win". As for the local speaker issue, I realize this is a difficult topic. I think the way you handle it is fine. I talked to several people who attended SharePoint Saturday in NYC last July and they thought the mix of topics and speakers was very good. So from my perspective, I'd say keep doing exactly what you've been doing.

KG

Your comment:





 

Copyright © MOSSLover

Design by Bartosz Brzezinski

Design by Phil Haack Based On A Design By Bartosz Brzezinski