After conference attendee feedback comes in, I like to blog about it to talk about what worked and what didn’t.
Here’s the abstract PASS selected this year:
Developers – Who Needs a DBA?
You store data in SQL Server, but you don’t have enough work to keep a full-time DBA busy. In just one hour, you’ll learn the basics of performance troubleshooting and index tuning. Brent Ozar, recovering developer, will teach you the basic care and feeding of a Microsoft SQL Server 2005, 2008, 2012, or 2014 instance and give you scripts to keep you out of trouble.
I keep trying new forms of training, and this year I tried telling a story. I wanted a hero and a supporting cast, so I bought cartoon characters from Shutterstock to use as Dan the Developer, his manager, and an “expert” DBA.
I bought lots of poses of them, and used them throughout the deck. They weren’t just clip art: they were an integral part of telling the story from the projector, and even from the stage. See, I’d also been reading a lot about how to use physical space onstage. I tried to do Dan’s lines from one part of the stage, then gave the manager and DBA points of view from another part of the stage, always with the appropriate character always on the same side of the slide and stage.
The story focused on training Dan how to use a few simple techniques and tools to make his database server as fast and reliable as he can – but only in his spare time of a few hours per week.
Survey says: the attendee ratings
- Session Presentation – 4.95 – I was exactly one checkbox from one attendee away from a perfect score. Woohoo!
- Speaker Rating – 5.0
- Session Focus – 2.9 out of 3
- Environment – 4.8 out of 5 (gauges the room setup, size, temp, etc)
Wow. I’m totally humbled – these are the best scores I’ve ever gotten, just a few checkboxes away from a perfect score sweep across the board.
I’m most proud of the Session Focus score.
Not because I did well, dear reader, but because you did. Here was the question:
Think fast – was the session focused, yes or no? Now answer.
First off, it’s just confusing – I was worried that people would see “Session Focus” and think, “Why yes, the session was focused,” and mark Yes. However, that’s actually a negative answer on this question.
Dan sees the 6 steps for the first time.
Second, I walked a really delicate line in this session.
I know Dan really well because he represents a lot of the people I work with every day. My coworkers and I spend a lot of time building free tools for Dan to make his life easier, and this session included references to those tools.
This was a huuuuuge risk.
Over the past year or two, PASS has become very anti-blog, anti-branding. For example, here’s part of the 24 Hours of PASS contract:
“Your contact information, company logo and any applicable copyright notices may ONLY be included on the Presenter’s bio slide in your presentation. You may not refer to your company’s products or services or products and/or services provided by any companies with which you have a business relationship. By signing this document, you acknowledge and agree that the purpose of your 24 Hours of PASS session is to provide educational content and not to be used as a sales or marketing platform.”
Uh oh – depending on how you read this, you could consider sp_BlitzCache®, sp_BlitzIndex®, and sp_AskBrent® as part of our company’s products. After all, notice how I had to stick those registered trademarks on there. We don’t charge anything to use our stuff for yourself, but we have to protect our work or else folks will use it in ways we don’t like. (Typical example: we often get requests to bundle our code into someone else’s products so they can say “Powered by sp_Blitz®.”)
I always wonder if people “get” what Jeremiah, Kendra, Jes, Doug, and I try to do at Brent Ozar Unlimited. We give away more free videos, tools, blog posts, webcasts, newsletters, and entertainment than any other business in the SQL Server community, full stop. If I was an attendee, I’d want to learn about these tools from the very people who write ‘em – after all, I want Adam Machanic to teach me about sp_WhoIsActive, and I want Ola Hallengren to teach me about his backup scripts. Are those guys “selling” me anything? Well, maybe – Adam sells training, Ola has ads.
That’s why I’m so incredibly proud of the 2.9 score – you, dear reader, got it.
“The story telling was excellent. The session presented clear steps to help the accidental DBA keep their SQL Servers performing well. Would recommend.” – Woohoo! Perfectly sums up what I was trying to do.
“Brent refused to mention himself in the third person even though he has every right to.” - I wanted to make doggone sure I didn’t do too much self-promotion, so when attendees asked questions, I tried very hard not to mention my own blog posts. I felt like I’d already done enough of that just by linking to our tools. At one point, I actually said out loud, “Oh, man, I’ve got the perfect blog post about that, but I really don’t want to promote myself here. Lemme think about other folks in the community who’ve written similar stuff…ah, how about…”
The “expert” DBA character tries to scare Dan off
“Want proof? The room was littered with DBAs even though they do this stuff on a daily basis. Brent tried to take out the DBA trash but they refused to leave. That’s the mark of a great speaker.” – I’m trying to write crystal-clear session titles so that people know just from the title whether or not they should attend. This one – Developers: Who Needs a DBA? – seemed really clear, but maybe 1/4-1/3 of the audience was still DBAs. I don’t blame them because I pick sessions by speaker too. We had a similar challenge at SQL Intersection when we ran a post-con called “Developer’s Guide to Tuning Somebody Else’s SQL Server,” and the vast majority of attendees were DBAs who needed to tune their own servers. When we asked why they attended, most said they would just attend anything we presented. We laughed pretty hard about that one, so now I’m back to the drawing board for topics. If I’ve got a lot of DBAs who want to see me present no matter what, then I suppose I’d better do more DBA-focused material to keep training ‘em.
“Excellent planning leaving plenty of time at the end to go through questions which allows the whole room to learn from the questions and presenters answer. This is great as otherwise there are a bunch of people who have questions and a short time” – I had the last slot of the day. Going into the session, I kept agonizing about whether or not I should include 15 minutes worth of demos. Right at go-time, I decided the slides worked well enough on their own without demos, and I would rather let people go 15 minutes early at the end of the day. As it happened, we got a full 15-20 minutes of Q&A, so the timing worked perfectly. The only reason I’m mentioning this is that I know other presenters got dinged for finishing 15 minutes early and doing 15 minutes of Q&A – it’s just the luck of the draw.
“I missed this session, but have seen it before and am a fan of Brent. I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching after the conference.” – and another – “I’m sure Brent was awesome as usual” – Ooo, no no no, don’t do that. Don’t rate sessions you didn’t attend in person. I could have completely bombed the delivery, and this upvote would suck for people who nailed their delivery and want to get into the Top 10.
“Room could have been bigger” – the capacity was 352, and 120 people showed up, so the room was actually pretty oversized. The week before Summit, I actually asked for a smaller room because I knew my turnout would be relatively low. I originally had a bigger ballroom, and Erin Stellato had the 352-person room, but she had a great execution plans session. I knew she needed the bigger ballroom for her turnout – after all, my session was aimed at developers, and this is a SQL Server conference. PASS made the switcheroo, and I think everybody won there.
“Creaky stage” – I saw this in most of the rooms. I noticed it as a speaker, and I wondered if attendees would. I had a tough decision to make – should I stay in one place and avoid the creaks, or move around and do the storytelling technique that I’d practiced? I’m still not sure.
“It could have used more lasers, fog machines and holograms. Next year I fully expect a WWE intro.” – Dang it, now I need a wrestling name.
I also did a lightning talk this year, and I’ll blog about that separately. The ratings weren’t done on a per-speaker basis (understandable given the tough logistics) but there were still some clear lessons I need to share about how to do a successful lightning talk.
If you enjoyed this post, here’s some of my past reflections on how I did, and how I’ve worked to get better: