How We Ran SQL Saturday Jacksonville In 2022
Updated: Feb 1
2022 is the first year post PASS and the SQLSaturday.com website containing the tools created by PASS for SQL Saturdays. So, I wanted to compile some notes on what tools we used, what we liked, and what we didn’t like about each one to help the next organizer with their event.
This is a bit overdue and long, but I wanted to be sure I included everything in this post. If you have any comments or suggestions, don't hesitate to reach out. We are always looking for ways to improve our event.
For a bit of background, Jacksonville SQL Saturday in 2017, 2018, and 2019 was the 3rd largest SQL Saturday in the United States. Jacksonville hosted the (#3) SQL Saturday in 2008 and is having our 15th annual event next year (#1041) in 2023. This year (2022), I believe we were the largest SQL Saturday event. We had 406 registrations, 252 attendees, 100 submitted sessions from 55 scheduled sessions, 21 volunteers, 2 sponsor sessions, and a WIT panel during the lunch hour.
Below are the post sections if you want to jump to a particular section, but I will start with one of the most beneficial items of running an event like this: setting up your group as a non-profit organization.
Non-profit - Sales Tax Exempt
The most valuable part of running a conference event is that our user group JSSUG is non-profit and has its State Sales Tax Exemption. As an organizer, I recommend setting up your user group that runs the event as a non-profit. I followed Andy Warren’s blog post (https://sqlandy.com/2017/10/14/more-notes-on-non-profit-status/) for our group. Then in addition, I filed for my state Sales Tax Exemption which, over the last several SQL Saturday events we have run, has saved us thousands of dollars and continues for every monthly meeting without paying any sales tax for any purchase.
Keep a copy of your state tax-exempt status to provide it as needed. Some companies like Staples, Office Depot, Amazon, and Walmart require separate registrations to obtain an account number or associate with an existing account. Smaller stores, restaurants, and online retailers take the number or email copy of the form.
For perspective, for the one SQL Saturday event in 2022, we saved over $1,450.00 due to being tax-exempt.
We cannot run a SQL Saturday event without Volunteers! It would be impossible! We cannot thank our volunteers enough, who give up their time on Friday and Saturday to assist with the setup, hosting, and tearing down of the event.
When registering for SQL Saturday, we ask if the attendee wishes to volunteer. If they say 'yes', we contact the new ones weekly to confirm.
We exported the 'Attendees' from Eventbrite to Excel/CSV to look at the new volunteers each week.
Closer to the event, we send out a schedule and ask them to select what and where they wish to volunteer and then continue to fill in the gaps the closer we get.
At the event, we kept the schedule posted at the registration/information table for all volunteers.
We invite the volunteers to our Speaker Party as part of our thank you to them. This year, we also gave the volunteers a gift and their Volunteer t-shirt.
Typically, we can obtain a date from our venue, UNF, in the first week of January. But unfortunately, this year, we didn’t get our date until the middle of February, which put us a bit behind in our prep and planning. Thankfully we can use our UNF for no cost, and UNF has been our partner for all 14 years we have held SQL Saturday events in Jacksonville.
We have already started planning for next year, our 15th anniversary, and have some sweet surprises in store.
Without our amazing community speakers, we would not have an event. Microsoft, thanks to Buck Woody, brought 8 speakers to our event!
We used Sessionize event for our speaker call, and as we went along continued to modify it.
We also used the session builder and the session mobile site via a QR code posted on every classroom door.
I want to point out a few things to include from the beginning.
Sessions - Event
Be sure to complete a good description with all details and an email address.
Be sure to include your event URL (SQLSaturday.com/event or datasaturdays.com/event)
Event - CFS (Call for Speakers)
Make your CFS (call for speakers) address simple so you can remember and post it. For example, we used SQLSatJacksonville1022. However, in hindsight, we should have used SQLSatJax1022.
Upload a logo for your event
Sessions - Submission Form
Submission Form - Session Fields
Add a field for presentation file upload as optional.
Add a field for demo zip file upload as optional.
Submission Form - Speaker Fields
Require speaker photo
Optional, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog, and Company Website
Add new field, required, ‘You agree to the Code of conduct'. Only one option, ‘Yes’, and then put the link to ‘https://sqlsaturday.com/coc’ or your events COC.
Submission Form - Advanced Settings
Be sure to include you and anyone from your team helping manage sessions for email notifications.
Check the ‘Show list of all submissions publicly’ so anyone looking to attend can see who has submitted already to garner interest in your event.
Call For Speakers
Keep the celebrity link handy to provide to anyone last minute or after your CFS closes to allow them to submit a session without opening up the entire event. This link came in handy when we had cancellations or last-minute submissions for speakers who had promised to submit but didn’t have sessions created in time, travel approved, etc.
Attendee Registration Platform
I started looking around at several registration platforms for attendees, but I didn’t find one with everything we needed. In addition, we were not sure how many sponsors we would be able to secure this year or how many attendees would show up, so we decided early on to charge for lunch, which we had never done before.
Meetup is our primary user group platform, and with our non-profit profit status, PayPal as our payment processor is a low-cost option. But the drawbacks were that we don’t have access to the member’s email address unless they bought lunch through PayPal, and then we would have to somehow match their username/name to their email address which would not be easy.
Eventbrite is free if you don’t charge, and you can see the attendee’s email and create any other data point to collect. However, if you want to charge for lunch, even if the conference is free, they have their processing fees, which are lower if you are a non-profit ($0.38), but they also tack on a hefty convenience fee of $2.12 per transaction!
We included the fees with lunch to the attendee due to the unknowns making the cost $15.00. (Beverage costs were not included.)
We placed our pre-cons on Meetup and Eventbrite for our pre-cons to maximize visibility and potential for registrations. However, due to the higher fees, the total cost was higher for a pre-con on Eventbrite than on Meetup.
With Eventbrite, we could also include a Code Of Conduct selection, which we wouldn’t have been able to do with Meetup.
We tried to include as much information as possible on the main page. We added whitespace to the logo at the top to fit as best as possible.
The information about the event and pre-cons, SQL Clinic, WIT, and Sponsors. Each item was created in its section.
We added their logo and URL into a section when sponsors signed up. Then after the sponsor deadline, we consolidated and listed all sponsors with their URLs and a screenshot of all images used by the speakers in their sessions.
We also put a link and their level of sponsorship on the page below.
After looking at the various options and testing, I created one ticket for those who wanted to purchase lunch and those who didn’t.
Because we had to put in the bulk order for lunch, we had the end time for lunch tickets Tuesday before at 1 PM.
I want to show you a few details of what we set up for the tickets.
The first ticket is the lunch ticket, and we included all fees and the cost of lunch in one price. We set the end time on Tuesday before so our vendor Panera had enough time to put all the lunches together.
The second ticket is the no-lunch ticket, which ended halfway through Saturday. We, on average, have about 70 walk-ins, so to allow for that, we leave registration open until noon.
We comp our speakers, sponsors, and students who reach out to us through our venue school. We do this through the 'Promo codes' on the tickets.
Under the Tickets section, click on Promo codes, click Add Promo code, enter a unique code, select the discount amount, select the start and end time, and select the ticket(s) it will work on.
When someone uses the promo code, it is entered on the first ticket screen above the tickets in the promo code box, and click 'Apply'.
Once the code is applied, the total goes to $0.00, and the attendee can checkout.
Tickets - Order Form
The order form for the tickets we have customized quite a bit. As shown in the image below, we have added 11 additional questions for each attendee.
Box Lunch - Dropdown, single selection of all of our lunch options.
Are You Interested in Volunteering? - Single choice yes/no.
Twitter Handle - For promotion.
Shirt Style - If we can obtain men's and women's cut-style t-shirts, this helps us determine the overall order count.
Shirt Size - This helps us in determining order counts.
Zip Code - helps us determine where our attendees live to better advertise and determine how far our attendees travel to our event.
Do you agree to the Code Of Conduct and Anti-Harassment Policy? - This is a single choice 'Yes'.
Will you be attending the After Party after SQL Saturday? - Yes/No
How did you hear about this current event? Single choice dropdown. Local JSSUG User Group Attended Previous Year Email Advertisement Twitter LinkedIn Facebook Billboard Advertisement Recruiter SQLSaturday.com Word Of Mouth Friend Other
Is this your first SQL Saturday? - Yes/No
Since we had an optional lunch ticket and we provide lunch for our pre-cons, we had to configure the form to show the lunch options for only those tickets.
Go to Order Options, Order Form, select Box Lunch, and Edit the question. Then go and select under the Optional settings to show this question for specific tickets, then select all tickets except for the no lunch ticket.
We try to line up our vendors as far out as possible to ensure there are no surprises and we don't have to line up alternatives.
Janitorial services ensure that paper towels, soap, toilet paper, and trash are taken care of during the day without hiccups.
A Police Officer is to be on-site the entire day. This helps for several reasons, including that they have keys to all rooms we have booked.
Panera Bread Catering - We have filed our tax exemption status with them, and they provide breakfast and box lunch for our pre-cons and lunch for SQL Saturday.
Kilwins is our afternoon ice cream vendor, and we have learned to schedule 2 servers to ensure we can get through all attendees in the 30-minute and 15-minute breaks we have for the afternoon.
Tables/Chairs - If we cannot obtain enough tables and chairs from the venue, we work with an event company and schedule delivery or pick up and drop off any additional tables and chairs needed for Saturday.
Custom Ink - is who we order all our t-shirts for attendees and volunteers and speaker shirts. Including the school's logo on the shirt sometimes takes extra time to get the designs 'approved' by the school for printing.
Dunkin Donuts - is who we use for Saturday morning. Typically 12-15 dozen and two 5-gallon coffee dispensers with creamer and sugar.
Office Depot/Staples - We typically get these done locally at Office Depot or Staples. Setting up a sales tax-exempt account is key for saving money at these locations. Depending on your print job type, they are typically next-day/24-hour turnaround.
Speaker Party - We used Angies Subs as our speaker party location, and I reached out to them 2-3 months before to ensure we could use the venue on the day and time we wanted to.
After Party - This year, we had a few complications as two other large parties were booked at our normal venue during the time we wanted. I reached out to more than five other venues, and no one wanted to work with us, so I ended up talking to the manager at Buffalo Wild Wings, who informed us we couldn't 'reserve' the side deck, but it's typically not full, and if we called saying we had a large party coming about 1 hour, or so before, they would try and seat everyone inside for us. Thankfully, this worked, and we had and filled the entire outside screened-in deck for our after-party event.
My goal at our event is to drive as much traffic to our sponsors/vendors as possible. We specifically attempt to drive each person to each booth at least six times during the day, and there are possibilities of more.
The higher level of the sponsor, the closer to the center/registration/information table you will be. Below is a map of the locations for this year's event.
Our sponsor contact, who we communicated with up until the event, typically is not at the event, so before we opened the doors, I held a sponsor meeting to go through the Speed Passes and some of the sponsorship material and what is also available to sponsor at future events.
We offer various levels of sponsorship and marquee sponsorships (thanks to Oregon SQL Saturday) for several years now, which allows sponsors to have more advertising value by not only being on attendee's t-shirts and social media but on the speaker's shirts, everyone's lanyards, notebooks, pens, speaker party, after party, lunch sessions and more.
I decided to devote a separate post on this due to the detail. To read about what we did for Speed Passes, please go read about that here: https://www.jefftaylor.io/post/speedpass
For our pre-cons, we went through Panera Catering and were assigned a rep who we communicated with and coordinated with the Catering location and a store location. We had a small variety continental breakfast with pastries and bagels for Friday, then selectable box lunches through Eventbrite for lunch. I typically like to schedule all of the food delivered 45 minutes before I need it in case issues are finding the venue or getting everything inside and set up for serving.
For Saturday Lunch, to get through our normally 460+ attendees, we have found over the years that having a grab-and-go box lunch is the fastest to hand out and then direct everyone to the sponsor and WIT sessions during the lunch hour. You can also select your box lunch during registration, and if you were a volunteer, speaker, or vendor, you would have received a code for a free lunch this year. Typically we always provide free lunches, but this year was different, and I wasn't sure how many we needed.
If we have any lunches left over, we typically donate them to a local mission for the homeless. Setting this up by having someone ready to take the extra ones there or having a representative from the local mission stop by to pick them up is also good to have set up ahead of time.
This is a staple for our SQL Saturday. I'm not sure when or who started it, but it is a very sought-after sponsorship opportunity and is loved by all our attendees. We have used a food truck in the past, but the fastest way to service 460+ attendees is by using Kilwins and having two servers. We also allow the sponsors who have sponsored Ice Cream to collect all tickets.
This year we also printed a poster for the advertisement of the sponsor. Of course, my son did not object to being my model for the poster. The cup of chocolate ice cream had to be eaten, after all.
For printing our ice cream banner, speaker/volunteer party banner, session evals, and event evals, we used Office Depot/Office Max. For direction signs and Speed Passes, I printed them from my laser jet printer. For our directional signs for the venue, we use our previously printed signs. In previous years we have required each attendee to print and cut their speed passes, and the 'threat' of 'if you don't print your speed passes, you won't have your ice cream ticket' has worked wonders.
For next year, I'm working on a new speed pass system that will be a simpler and consolidated solution for all attendees and sponsors.
One Page Advertisement
For several years, we have created a 'one-page' advertisement to be emailed or posted for SQL Saturday. This has become a great advertising tool. We use https://www.canva.com/ to create and export it as a high-resolution image or PDF.
We always request our sponsors to reach out to those in the area who might attend, plus our normal email, user group, and social media push, but we tried something new this year, we wanted to reach those who may not be related to our user group or sponsors. We reached out to Clear Channel and talked to them about what we did; they love it! Due to the fact we were a non-profit, we fell under the 'PSA' option to advertise.
So, we created an advertisement that would be displayed on several billboards, and it worked! We had new attendees who saw our billboard advertisement and attended!
Here is what our ad looked like, and then a webcam capture of them on the billboards.
If you have gotten this far, thank you for reading this blog post. I hope it is helpful. If I remember anything else, I will add it. Running an event like this can be daunting, even with a nice toolset like we used to have. I hope your next event goes great!
If you have any ideas or comments, please add them below!