How I Made the #SQLPASS Top 10 Sessions

This is the third year in a row that I’ve made the Top 10 Sessions at the PASS Summit list.  I’m really humbled and honored, and I can only think of one way to respond: with a Top 10 list of my own.  Here’s the Top 5 Reasons I Made the #SQLPASS Top 10 Sessions List:

5. I examined the feedback questions, n0t just the answers.

Each year, PASS uses the same set of feedback questions to gather information:

  • How would you rate the speaker’s presentation skills?
  • How would you rate the speaker’s knowledge of the subject?
  • How would you rate the accuracy of the session title, description, and experience level to the actual session?
  • How would you rate the quality of the presentation materials?
  • Did you learn what you expected to learn?

In my experience as a presenter, the most important two are the ones I bolded above, and believe it or not, the presentation doesn’t really matter on those.  What matters is how you write your abstract.

Writing a good abstract isn’t about getting everybody into the room – it’s about getting exactly the right people into the room while keeping the wrong people out.  If you can just get the right people into the room and describe your session as accurately as possible, you’ve won more than half of the battle.  If the abstract doesn’t match the session, attendees will downvote you on the other questions simply because they’re pissed at you for wasting an hour of their precious conference time.

4. I added a Steve Jobs moment.

Steve Jobs was famous for his spellbinding keynotes, and he often saved his very best stuff for last.  After impressing everybody for an hour or two, he would finish up by saying, “But there’s one more thing,” and then he’d pull the curtains back on some amazing new device.

For my Blitz v2 session, I started by covering the improvements I’d made in my original Blitz script.  For 10-15 minutes, I walked the audience through running it manually, line by line, and interpreting the findings.  (Those 10-15 minutes felt like an absolute eternity, because I knew what was coming next.)

Then I asked, “How many of you like this script?  How many of you want to go back to the office and run it?”  I got a decent show of hands, but nowhere near half of the audience, and that’s when the real fun began.

“You don’t like it,” I said.  “And I don’t blame you, because running this script is work.  But check this out.”  I fired off my new sp_Blitz, which does all the work and gives you a prioritized list of tasks, and then asked, “Now, how many of you like THAT script?”  I’ll never forget how the audience reacted, and I’ll be striving to repeat that for the rest of my life.

3. I was genuinely excited about the session.

All better-looking than average.

Loving PASS Summit attendees

Many of the feedback comments included words like enthusiastic, lively, fun, eager, and motivating.  Those are contagious feelings: when you’re passionate about your topic, when you just can’t wait to share your knowledge with the audience, they catch on.

I’ve heard plenty of speakers say, “How can you bother with a 100-level session?  That stuff is so boring.”  They’re right – if you don’t reinvent the topic, it’s some pretty dry stuff.  But if you can come up with a completely new way to talk about basic best practices and help people get their jobs done, it’s exhilarating.  Many of the top 10 sessions weren’t new topics at all – just new methods of explaining the subjects.

2. I put my resources online before my session started.

Of course, it’s not enough to just be a cheerleader – you have to give them something that they can be excited about.  That something isn’t just your slides on the screen or in a DVD they can look at months from now: you have to put it in their hands right away.

At the very start of my session, I told the attendees that they could download everything I’d be talking about at  They could play with my code not tomorrow, not soon, not when I got around to uploading it, but right now as the session was going on.  They could follow along with me on their own laptop.  Several comments centered on the immediate usability of the session, and one of them even said, “I want to go back to my motel room, VPN to my workplace, RDP to my desktop, and launch Management Studio to run the scripts NOW.”

1. You cared enough to vote.

I couldn’t write this if you didn’t care enough to take the time, fill out your session evaluations, and tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong.  All of us speakers really appreciate your feedback because it’s the only way we can get better.

Thank you so much for a wonderful holiday gift.

4 Comments. Leave new

Excellent feedback. The one which is really interesting is – having resources online before the session starts.

I have seen so many who promise to share resources and does not do. However, before going to your session, I am always confident that I will get session resources location before your sessions ends.

Thanks again,


Great blog Brent. I can definitely echo the point about the abstract. It is so important to get the right people in the room. On that point, I generally make sure that the tech level is very clear from the abstract. If not, you get comments like: “I didn’t understand the content”. This is sometimes just me explaining it badly, but sometimes that person should not have been in the room and my abstract has failed.


Thanks guys!


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