After big conferences, I like to share my session evaluations to talk about what worked and what didn’t. Let’s see how we did this year.
PASS’s evaluation form this year had 6 questions with a 5-point ranking (I love that):
So how’d we do?
Pre-Con: Expert Performance Tuning for SQL Server 2016 & 2017
This was an all-day session I co-presented with Erik Darling. 362 attendees, 152 surveys filled out – great completion rate, thanks attendees!
- Rate the value of the session content. 4.37 out of 5
- How useful and relevant is the session content to your job/career? 4.37
- How well did the session’s track, audience, title, abstract, and level align with what was presented? 4.31
- Rate the speaker’s knowledge of the subject matter. 4.83
- Rate the overall presentation and delivery of the session content. 4.20
- Rate the balance of educational content versus that of sales, marketing, and promotional subject matter. 4.32
Ouch. If you’re not a frequent speaker, those numbers might sound good, but they’re actually not so hot in the grand scheme of things. So what went wrong? Let’s check out the comments:
Event logistics comments: (room temperature, size, capacity, sound, etc.):
- Sound – feedback present during 1st half. Video monitors cut out all day.
- The screens keep loosing picture quite often
- minor issue with screen, otherwise good
- Issue occurred with video screens going in and out.
- The projector kept flickering off briefly throughout the session.
- Beamer disconnects continuously
- Picture problems, flickering screens
- No real complaints here. A little tight on space but a sell out will do that.
- The projection screens repeatedly flashed to a blue screen.
- The presenters were distracted at times because of technical issues with the room technology
- Better than monday
- The projectors frequently cut in and out during the presentation
- The screen flicker and microphones made it challenging.
Ugh – and I’m not even showing all of them, there were dozens more of these. The AV was extremely frustrating, and I heard similar issues from other presenters.
For the “Session or speaker comments,” I’m going to group these together by theme:
As a reminder, here’s the abstract:
Expert Performance Tuning for SQL Server 2016 & 2017
Your job is making SQL Server go faster, but you haven’t been to a performance tuning class since 2016 came out. You’ve heard things have gotten way better with 2016 and 2017, but you haven’t had the chance to dig into the new plan cache tools, DMVs, adaptive joins, and wait stats updates.
In one fun-filled day, Brent Ozar and Erik Darling will future-proof your tuning skills. You’ll learn our most in-depth techniques to tune SQL Server leveraging DMVs, query plans, sp_BlitzCache, and sp_BlitzFirst. You’ll find your server’s bottleneck, identify the right queries to tune, and understand why they’re killing your server. If you bring a laptop with SQL Server 2016 and 120GB free space, you can follow along with us in the Stack Overflow database, too.
This is not an introductory class: you should have 2-3 years of experience with SQL Server, reading execution plans, and working on making your queries go faster.
When Erik & I wrote the abstract, we wanted to make it clear this was not a 100-level session: it was specifically for experts. We were going to cover a lot of complex stuff, fast.
Content & pacing comments:
There were dozens more than this on the same themes, just trying to pick a representative sample:
- content was a bit too in depth and so many demos that it was hard to follow
- Very informative. Liked the format of going through the different dmvs. Also the detailed discussion regarding nested loops and hash match.
- This was a session for people with an understanding of SQL Server. There was a lot of ground covered. At times Eric’s enthusiasm caused him to rush his delivery and it wasn’t always possible to find the information on the screen before the content was changed. That made it a little challenging to keep up. Fortunately both Eric and Brent have provided excellent resources. It is a LOT of information. What is obvious to presenters who know the material only too well from working with it, is NOT obvious to attendees who are seeing a great deal of it for the first time. Pacing is important to ensure we can all follow along.
- Brent and Erik did a great job
- Nice interactive session. Eric sometimes goes at blazing speeds.
- Do not advertise that there are benefits to ‘installing SQL Server 2016 and following along the examples’… the way the pre-con was presented made it impossible to learn from a hands on approach and was treated to a blitzkrieg of demos (an example of too much content for the time allocated).
- Erik is fast. A bit too fast. I found out at lunch that I wasn’t the only one who was having trouble keeping. Especially when flipping between screens, results, execution plans, etc.
- Overall I am very happy with the demos and materials prepared and shared for the course.
- A lot was covered so while it was good things moved quickly at times clicking on items to show the crowd happened too fast because the time to hear what was said to look on screen was too short. Couldn’t keep up with seeing what was being said. Session was well worth the money!
When Erik & I talked about this afterwards, we agreed that we went way too fast, and went too far in depth for a 1-day class where the public can sign up with no prerequisites. It’s really tough to balance this – everybody says they want expert-level material, and they want a lot of topics covered in a day, but there’s going to be a lot of people who overestimate their expertise level when choosing a pre-con.
For the SQL Bits delivery, we’re using a lot of these comments to help reshape some of the delivery. We’ll scale back on the level of detail, and introduce the topics more gradually.
The funniest part is that after the pre-con finished, Erik & I brainstormed on next year’s pre-con and thought we’d do an entire day on advanced parameter sniffing causes & solutions. However, several of the comments said we spent too much time on parameter sniffing, hahaha. It’s one of our favorite topics, and we could probably even spend a week on it. We may have to revisit that plan.
- Brent and Erik’s presentation was packed full of useful tools and concepts. The inclusion of the slack channel for questions, comment, and side thoughts was an awesome idea.
- Slack was a cool add-on for conversations.
- The slack channel was an awesome idea. Really helped with quick fire questions.
Yay, that worked.
I’m always really conscious of this and start the session by saying look, we don’t want your money: this session is about teaching you to use the same free open source tools we use every day. (They’re even mentioned by name in the abstract, and I had to go to bat with PASS to make sure of that – I wanted attendees to make sure they understood that we use tools.)
There weren’t a lot of comments on this, but as a presenter/blogger, I think it’s important to mention that they’re out there, because this is a reality when working with company-sponsored open source projects:
- Way too much on the custom procedures from the company. While I think they are wonderful, I can’t use them in my environment so more content on how to help myself would have been much better. Maybe cut that down to 1/2 hour and add more information using standard sql content. Nuggets of wisdom were a little hidden in the extraneous information. Had I known I may have chosen another precon.
- Brent — I know your not supposed to toot your own horn (too much). But I say a.) they free and b.) they are some of best (if not the best) scripts for trouble shooting I know of. So TOOT AWAY.
I’m a firm believer that in the year 2017, you shouldn’t be writing your own DMV queries from scratch. I’m determined to drag folks into the open source community to learn to share their work and leverage the shared work of others. We’re not going to be like those other database platforms where the DBAs try to hide their work so no one else can take advantage of it. We’re a community – let’s share like one.
So I know I’m going to get dinged, and I’m okay with that.
- Brent and Erik are both incredible speakers with outstanding sense of humor. They really make an all day session fly by.
- The humor injected into the presentation was great for helping keep the audience enganged during what could otherwise be a very dry topic.
- Session content is solid, but the constant need for cheap laughs kinda wears you off during the course of the day.
- Love the sense of humor
- Both speakers were exceptionally knowledgeable and made the topic very entertaining and engrossing. And I’m not just saying that because I earned Query Bucks.
- There were tasteless image references to drugs, a man holding a syringe, ‘boy it is gross’, a dog sniffing illustration. I expect more professionalism in presentation and materials. Perhaps you can get away with it if the class was free, but 360x$495 a person adds up to serious professional grade show. Step up to the plate to make it worth what paid for and get the messages on point, instead of distracted by tasteless images.
I’m happy with the balance of comments there.
In summary, I’m happy with the ratings overall. Here’s what we’re tweaking for Bits:
- Reduce the number of topics covered, and introduce each topic more gradually
- Shorten modules up from 90 minutes to 45 minutes, giving people more breaks
- Alternate presenters back & forth between me & Erik to liven things up
- Publish a link to a small version of the Stack database ahead of time so people can get their laptops ready in advance, and see if they’re actually fast enough to follow along with the demos
- Reduce the number of cheap laughs, and switch to much more expensive laughs (I’m thinking jokes about Oracle and SAP)
General Session: “But It Worked In Development!” – 3 Hard Performance Problems
485 attendees, 131 survey responses:
- Rate the value of the session content. 4.85 out of 5
- How useful and relevant is the session content to your job/career? 4.78
- How well did the session’s track, audience, title, abstract, and level align with what was presented? 4.85
- Rate the speaker’s knowledge of the subject matter. 4.95
- Rate the overall presentation and delivery of the session content. 4.94
- Rate the balance of educational content versus that of sales, marketing, and promotional subject matter. 4.77
Woohoo! Love those numbers.
Event logistics comments: (room temperature, size, capacity, sound, etc.):
- The room was sized right and comfortable.
- the room was packed!! Don’t blame the PASS organizer however, since it was held on the largest room and it was still full house. It truly speaks how good his sessions are.
- Room was probably not large enough for Brent’s massive following.
- No issues, Brent could have filled the keynote hall
- Wish it had tables.
- Sound system was’t that great for main speaker.
- room was full but the sound was good.
- Sound was a little lower then optimal and it was hard to hear at times.
With ~500 folks, you’re gonna have to have a huge room, and that means some people are going to have great video/audio, but late-comers at the back won’t. (Tables are out of the question if you need to fit that many people in a room, unfortunately.)
No projector issues though! This was the exact same room Erik & I were in on Tuesday, and it sounded like the AV techs finally had the event fixed up by the last day of the conference when I spoke.
Comments about having Pinal onstage to ask questions:
I tried a new trick this year of bringing Pinal Dave up on stage with me to be an audience member, asking questions. Here’s what attendees wrote:
- Great idea having Pinal Dave as an audience representative.
- Excellent. I loved loved loved what Pinal brought to the session.
- I liked the idea of having one person giving questions, great management of a large audience.
- Watching Brent talk is like going to a DBA theme park… DBAland! Tons of fun. Pinal Dave was the perfect straight man, they make a good team.
- The tone of this session was great – light, fun, practical, informative. Didn’t think having Pinal up on stage worked. Would rather have questions come up more organically. I realize the crowd size can make that difficult but it just felt artificial to me.
- I like the way he invite collegue for faq.
- Excellent! I have been challenged with some of these issues, so this was very helpful. Also, having Pinal was an added bonus – Thanks!
- Brent is always a knowledgeable and entertaining speaker. Pinal’s appearance was a great addition.
- Great format, great sense of humor, and great concept in a large room like that, having a representative question asker on stage with you!
- Brent is always entertaining to listen to. Really liked that more unique issues were addressed. With big room, great idea having a cohort to ask questions
- Interesting twist having a qualified independent person on stage asking questions. I really liked it here but may not work for other types of presentations. Thanks!
- I thought the questions from Pinal were really helpful
- Liked the addition of Pinal Dave to help ask questions that people in the audience would ask. It helped make it a little more conversational and made it more interesting to listen to. Very entertaining! But i also liked how it was still focused to just 3 main points instead of trying to cram too much info in.
There was exactly one negative comment about the technique. That’s awesome! Thanks again, Pinal – you did a great job.
I wrote this session with only a few slides to explain concepts – the rest was done in one big long demo script. I try to write my demos the same way I talk, explaining the concepts in the T-SQL as I go so that people can follow along later as they run the queries.
Then, at the start of the session, I explain that the demo is open source, and here’s where you can go download it from. That way if you miss stuff, you can revisit it later. Here’s what folks wrote – not a lot of stuff, but I’m not surprised because they tend to just bookmark it and come back to it later:
- Lots of information to absorb in 1 session but appropriate for the target level. I would love to show the demo to my team as a lunch & learn but I can’t use BitTorrent at the office to download sample database. Is it possible you could make a compressed backup file available of a database with just the Users table? In the meantime I’ll probably try to create my own table to simulate the example so I can do the demo.
- I felt this was too basic to be 400.
- As always great job! I really like how you comment in your demo scripts.
- Liked the presentation followed inside the SQL script with comments – made it easier to follow.
Cool. I was worried that the pacing might be too fast, but it seemed to work here.
- Well, it’s easy to identify good points about any session Brent does, but not really find any issues to improve. The material was relevant and easy to take in and see how I can use it right away at work. And the session was fun. But Brent always teaches first and the laughs are just a bonus.
- Keep it up- jokes make it work optimally.
- Enjoyed the jokes and humour during the presentation.
- Brent is always entertaining…makes it worthwhile even if its not going to be life altering information
- Simply the best. Cannot even think of any improvement. Thanks!
Usually I don’t find your jokes funny, but today you were really on. Great content and presentation.
- Best speaker and demo
- Full of energy! Worked very hard and did an excellent job at explaining the subject matter.
- Excellent job at relating technical information in a more comprehensive manner.
- Complex stuff explained with humour.
- By far the best session in pass summit 2017
- Very useful and impressive demo
- Best speaker EVER
- This was simply the best session I attended throughout the whole week. Brent Ozar is truly the best speaker as well as best performance tuner today. His lecture delivery as well as sense of humor are absolutely the best. Please bring him back next year!!
- Best session of the conference! I couldn’t imagine anything done different, it’s exactly what you hope for in a presentation.
- Brent should be a PASS icon. It would be a shame not to have him here as so many people like his presentation. It’s hard to come after Kendra but Brent’s humor and wit along with Pinal Dave made it great.
- The good: The best session I attended at this conference. The combination of deep, and very useful to my job, technical dive … but presented with such great humor, plus bringing Pinal on stage. Brilliant. Learning SQL with LOL. Maybe an acronym brewing there. And Brent highlighted other SQL community member’s open source work too (Adam Machanic and Eric D). Unselfish, and sharing, promoting other’s work, as key parts of the demo. Totally what PASS community should be about.
Well, looks good. I’m a happy camper.
Wow – what a great read. Thanks for sharing.
“It’s hard to come after Kendra but Brent’s humor and wit along with Pinal Dave made it great.”
Yeah, I meant to apologize about the smell I left in the room, I can see how that made things difficult.
(How’s that for a cheap joke?)
Wish I could have seen your session, look forward to watching it on the recordings!
HAHAHA, nicely done!
It is difficult to be honest and transparent sometimes. Brent, you have been always source of inspiration for many. This blog post has many learning nuggets for many of us who are building their career in the public speaking. No matter how many times we have presented, there are always something which forces us to learn and innovate.
I was definitely nervous and over concern that If I am asking the right questions. However, the best part was that I had never seen the slide deck ever. I had no idea what was going to be presented. After few minutes. I decided to be myself and instead of thinking like others, decided to ask the question which I would have asked during the presentation.
I think, as Brent truly trusted, it really worked out. I think no matter who we are, when we truly become student, we immerse ourselves in learning and become the part of the large conscience. There is no way one can put the feelings and experience of standing on the stage with Brent and representing the audience’s mind.
Brent – a lot to learn for everyone from this post and thanks for sharing the feedback.
I think I am going to be better individuals following many of the advice in the post!
Hi Brent – I am going to your all day session at SQLBits – please don’t dumb it down too much, you have made it clear that it is for experienced DBAs and bits have other sessions for new people. We can always go and look at the notes if we miss something. Also if you have shorter sessions (45 mins) perhaps just let people stand up for a bit rather than a full break where folk leave the room and then take time get back into the flow, let them get a cup of tea and check out their facestagram accounts in the main breaks. This is my one time in the year when I can learn stuff so hit me with it hard. Steve
Steve – I hear ya, but that’s not what the attendee feedback said, so I gotta be careful.
About the stand-up-stretch break – what I’ve found is that once you let people stand up, it takes a good 5-10 minutes to corral them back into their seats regardless. Any break ends up being a 15-minute break, realistically.
Brent – i agree with Steve, the sqlbits precon should be 400 (love the rare 500 ones) and your video bundle makes it easy to get some of the missing details later. Can‘t wait for London.
Thomas – see you there!
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