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.