Is #SQLPASS helping their speakers?

I love the SQL Community because it usually is a great environment to connect, share and learn. With that said, I am noticing that we can do a much better job with helping the people who share, learn how to share better.  For every single, Grant Fritchey, Thomas LaRock, Andy Leonard, Brent Ozar, Mike Walsh, Allen White (I could keep going..) there are several DBA’s who speak in the community who don’t get the feedback they need to get to the next level. The SQL PASS community does a great job of providing opportunities for people to speak but we fail as a group at giving speakers the proper feedback that is needed to help them succeed.

Being a speaker and regional mentor I have attended many user group meetings and SQL Saturday’s in the past few years. I have seen a lot of great changes in the community.  Recently, I motivated some friends into giving their first presentation at the local SQL Saturday. I was able to attend their sessions so I could directly give feedback. It makes me wonder how many speakers only get the feedback provided on the evaluation forms? How is it possible to use the limited information on these forms to make a presentation better? That is if you’re lucky enough to be presenting at an user group who uses speaker evaluation forms. I admit I was guilty of this while running the WVPASS User Group.  From firsthand knowledge I know running a user group can require a lot of time and dedication so I completely see how this important feedback is missed when there are several other important pieces to the user group leader puzzle.

My call to action (this is where the rant ends). What is the answer? I wish I knew, but I defiantly can provide some suggestions. It would be nice to have a consistent evaluation process during a SQL Saturday and other PASS events including virtual chapters and user group meetings. I would like to see questions that are open ended that provide constructive feedback to help speakers improve as they grow instead of hoping attendees provide feedback on the back of a form.  I think it would be nice to give attendees  an simple online tool that allows them to provide feedback during the session.  Once again, these are just suggestions. Maybe there all wrong as they are just ideas on how the process can be improved through my experience as a chapter leader, speaker, SQL Saturday organizer and regional mentor.

In closing, I look forward to hopefully finding the answer with some friends in my #sqlfamily.  Every year at the PASS  Member Summit there is a meeting where the community can meet and ask questions to the Board of Directors. This year, I plan to attend and ask, “As a volunteer, how can I be involved in improving our current system in place to provide speakers with better feedback to help them improve their public speaking skills and get them to the next level?”

  • What is something you think would just make it dead simple to provide user feedback ? A mobile app with event -> speaker list (pre loaded if you RSVP) ? A free website? Something as simple as a ‘Did you like it?’ + ‘Why or why not:’ instead of the typical 5 or so rate 1-5 questions.

    I think the hardest part is likely overcoming some level of entitlement from both sides.

  • Hi Rob,

    You bring up a great question. First, I will try to give my opinion on a basic change that wouldn’t require a lot of work for attendees, speakers and leaders. We could start out by changing the questions provided for SQL Saturday evaluations and make them available for all PASS events. For example, the current evaluation asks two questions to be rated. Expectations? Overall quality of presentation? In my humble opinion, these questions don’t provide value for a speaker unless the attendee leaves comments explaining their evaluation. I would like to replace them with open-ended questions like the following. What did you like about this presentation? What can the presenter do to improve this presentation? I think a sentence or two would provide much more value for a speaker than being rated by scales that are different for each attendee.

    I agree 100% that one of the biggest challenges will be overcoming some level of entitlement. Hopefully, we can find a solution that benefits everyone. We also have more use cases that should be considered. We should make sure we include attendees, speakers, leaders (SQL Saturday, UG etc..) volunteers, and PASS. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am also missing a few use cases. Anyway, I think this step should be worked out before we decided what tool should be provided to solve the problem. It could be as simple as a form and/or web form with the questions listed in the first paragraph or a custom built solution. I defiantly don’t want us building another which is just building an electronic version of what we already have.

    If anyone is reading this, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

  • Karla Landrum

    There is a more recently added option for SQLSaturday speaker evals, which came from the courtesy of a blog post of Buck Woodys (he gave me permission to use it for these events). It has been liked a lot by the speakers who’ve gotten to use it. The old speaker eval is still available in the admin site, but of course event organizers are free to choose which one they want to use, if either. Personally now that we have this better option, I think the bigger issue is just getting organizers to actually provide any sort of feedback form. We of course can’t force them to, and never would, but it’s reported to me more often than I’d like that some events aren’t doing these, even after repeatedly recommending that they do.

    At PASS, we’ve recently collected the surveys from all the events, Rally, Sats, Summit, 24HOP, etc, and a group of people are working on putting together what would be most useful for speakers, in hopes that it will be one form universally used for all PASS events. We’ll see what comes of that. But for SQLSaturdays, IMO, it should always remain the organizers choice to use what they wish to.


  • MarkGStacey

    At our UG, feedback is personal and by talking to the speaker – very friendly, very much meant to help, but not just a form.

    I think this works better than any form or eval

  • I definitely agree that something more robust for the speaker evals is needed. We just need to keep in mind the balance between speaker value and effort required by attendees in providing the feedback. It can sometimes be difficult to get attendees to fill out even the simple “Circle a number” evals. We just need to keep that in mind since attendees may not bother to fill out the more robust evaluations that would provide the most benefit to speakers. We can overcome some of that by making a good case that their efforts in writing meaningful evaluations will lead to better presentations for them, but that won’t sway everyone. That said, I am on board if you are looking for people to help improve the current situation.

  • John, I believe you touched on a topic that has been haunting for some time. While I can understand the premise say at PASS as you move from session to session with the 1-5 organization – I don’t agree with how the evals are handled at other events such as SQL Saturday’s, Regional Events etc. I am of the opinion that something perhaps online would be beneficial. However, in saying that I think some of the responsibility has to fall back on the attendees as well. I believe you get out of it what you put into it – if you provide feedback then the presenter will take that and either hone the skill set, take it into consideration, or move on from it.

    The app idea is also appealing.

    I would be curious what the result is from the question posed at PASS

    Very good topic to discuss

    Kind Regards,

  • More than a little gobsmacked to be in the same list as those excellent speakers, but thanks.

    The one suggestion I’d make is that we encourage new speakers to ask an experienced speaker to attend their session. I’ve had several great speakers ask me to sit in their session just in order to provide feedback. I’m pretty sure that’s how those great speakers became great speakers (by the way, several of you will be getting invites this year because I want to improve too). Having someone sit in specifically to give you some direct feedback on how well you’re doing and possible ways to improve.

    If necessary, maybe a low tech solution such as a whiteboard sign up in the speakers room. Speakers who want feedback write it down. Speakers that have the time & inclination sign up. Just a thought? We don’t always need an app.