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Speaking at PASS Summit—You Can Too!

As a SQL Server professional, speaking at PASS Summit is the highlight of my year. It’s an opportunity to share my knowledge and perspective with an amazing audience of other SQL Server pros who are seeking to deepen their knowledge of the SQL Server platform.

PASS Summit also offers me the rare opportunity to listen to a wide range of speakers—from known community experts to community speakers just getting started—all eager to share their experience and know-how.

Program Committee members have the tough job of vetting speakers and sessions to get the right mix. They review a large pool of speakers to ensure that you have access to a broad range of experiences. They also spend a lot of energy identifying new speakers for Summit—people who have displayed potential to be great speakers. Program Committee members then work with the new speakers to ensure they gain the experience and skills to deliver outstanding sessions.

I recall being a first-time speaker at PASS Summit 2002 in Denver. I was largely unknown in the community at that time. Although I had created and delivered training internally in my organization and at client sites, I had never spoken at a professional conference before. Trey Johnson, a PASS Board member and in charge of the Summit program at the time, was working on a project with me and simply asked, "Why don't you speak at PASS?"

Hmmm… Why would they accept me? No one knows me. I am not an author and never answered questions in forums. I am not an MVP—just your average consultant who loves his work. More important, what do I know that someone would be interested in?

I had been working a lot with user-defined functions, a new feature in SQL Server 2000, and teaching folks at my client site how to use them properly. So Trey suggested that I submit that topic. I ended up submitting two session abstracts: one on UDFs and one on using Web services. Well, my session on UDFs got accepted, and I spent countless hours creating, rehearsing, and re-rehearsing my presentation and demos to get them perfect—just in case someone did decide to show up.
It turned out that I had a room full of folks eager to learn about UDFs! It was very exciting—and to be honest, nerve-wracking. Following that fantastic experience, I decided to try and speak every year that I could. I have since presented at a number of other conferences, including SQL Connections and Tech Ed, but none of those compare with the thrill of speaking at PASS Summit, where audience members often include folks from the Microsoft product team who are interested in seeing how the community is using the products that they work so hard to build.

If you haven’t presented at Summit before but have speaking experience, I strongly encourage you to submit abstracts for PASS Summit 2010 in Seattle. Find a topic that you are comfortable with and submit that. Don’t get disappointed if you are rejected the first time. The process of submitting is valuable in itself. PASS also offers a number of other speaking opportunities that can allow you to hone your speaking skills and build your name as a speaker. They include local PASS chapters, virtual PASS chapters, online events such as 24 Hours of PASS, and SQL Saturday events.

The Program Committee has compiled a list of valuable speaker tips and resources that you should look at before submitting. And you might want to check out the current submitted sessions page to see what other speakers are proposing—or not proposing. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing you in Seattle this fall!

—Rushabh Mehta,
PASS President


PASS Summit Call for Speakers Now Open

Or, “Enter Now for Your Chance to Win!”

Hey, I bet you've heard that the PASS Call for Speakers is now open.

No matter what your skill level as a public speaker, I would encourage you to submit an abstract. Even if you think you're not good enough or don't have enough speaking experience, go ahead and submit an abstract. It may be your lucky day and your abstract will be selected; at worst, it will be practice in the art of composing a good abstract.

Why will this be good experience? After looking through thousands of abstract submissions for years, I've decided that composing a good abstract is an art. It requires equal parts black magic and pixie dust to make a good abstract, and even when you have that, it takes a bit of luck to get it accepted at a national conference.

In order to help potential speakers understand why their abstracts weren't selected, last year I asked the review teams to tag each unaccepted abstract with a reason that it couldn't be accepted. As you might expect, this created quite a bit of extra work for the teams. But for new speakers, there should be good value in knowing whether the reason for no selection was the competition, a poor abstract, lack of interest in the topic, or some other reason noted. The system isn't perfect by any means because we don't have the means to provide a detailed reason for no selection, but hopefully it's useful.

One final reason I think everyone reading this should submit an abstract: If during the submission process you select the «speaker bureau» check box, your info will be used by other PASS events needing speakers, so you will have more potential exposure that will help you get the experience needed to speak at the Summit.

Important pages I would use if I were submitting an abstract to ANY SQL-related event:

– Allen Kinsel

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PASS Volunteer Awesomeness

The SQL Server community never ceases to amaze me.  The number of people that are willing to take time out from their jobs and families to volunteer is especially impressive.

I’ve had the good  fortune to be able to volunteer for the Program Committe this year.  My job is to pull together special projects and whatever other slave work Allen thinks up for me.   I’ve had a number of volunteers that have put great work into our current project.  This project has multiple steps and has required a ton of coordination between the volunteers – but it is all coming together.   It’s something that’s been needed for awhile  and now it’s going to be a reality.   I’d name names, but I know that I’d forget someone.   So thank you to everyone that’s helped out.

It’s not just me, though.  My husband, Tim Edwards,  in the process of re-starting the Performance VC.  He had mentioned the need for volunteers through our blog, Twitter and Blythe (Blog/Twitter) put out a call for volunteers on the PASS blog.  He’s been overwhelmed at the number of people that have asked to help out.

For all of you that volunteer for PASS – kudos to you!  For those of you that are thinking of volunteering, but haven’t yet,  get ahold of Tim or me or go here for additional volunteer opportunities.

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SQL Server 2008 R2 Launch: US Tour Kicks Off May 4th 2010 in DC!

More than 18 months ago when many of us first heard about SQL Server 2008 R2 it sounded like it might be just a big service pack or just adding some bolt-ons so that some SharePoint/Office 2010 features could work with SQL Server – maybe not unlike SQL Server 2005 SP2 that let us first run Reporting Services in Integrated Mode with SharePoint 2007.  But as we have crept closer to the release of R2, started to work with the Betas and CTPs we discovered it represents some significant new features (Application and Multi-server Management, StreamInsight, PowerPivot for Excel/SharePoint 2010, Report Builder 3.0, Reporting Services shared components and advanced data visualizations) as well as more-than-service-pack version maturity and stability… And now that R2 has released we can participate in Launch hoopla similar to full-version releases. 

Microsoft has partnered with PASS to assemble an impressive R2 Launch Tour, you can find the full roster here:

I personally had the opportunity to participate in the R2 Launch event collocated with TechDays 2010 in Lisbon April 20-22, I was part of the April 21 keynote where it was announced that SQL Server 2008 R2 had been released to manufacturing (RTM) and I announced the formation of the first Portuguese PASS Chapter: SQLPort.  In a similar vein, on Tuesday May 4, I attended the first US R2 Launch Event hosted in the nation’s capital: Washington, DC! 

The DC event had a noticeable air to it: a mixture of energy and the sense of arrival.  Event excitement (attendees, speakers, event team) coupled with the sheer enjoyment of presenting a new product release.  It was a bit of a reunion for those of us that have been on past launch circuits (i.e. Fever and Planes) as well as those of us working hard leading up to the R2 release… the halls were lined with the familiar faces of Microsoft and community stakeholders assuring they witness this kickoff event. 

Each Launch event is hosted by a local PASS chapter, the Northern Virginia SQL Server Users Group ( hosted the DC event and Chapter Leader Jim Rotan welcomed the attendees and introduced the keynote speaker, Stefan Ropers.   Stefan covered Microsoft’s Data Platform Vision along with an introduction to SQL Server 2008 R2.  Herain Oberoi followed with deeper introductions to the three “pillars” of R2: Trusted & Scalable Platform, Managed Self-Service BI, and IT & Developer Efficiency.  The rest of the day was made up of breakout session separated into tracks—each with three sessions—for DBA, BI and ITDM (IT Decision Maker); unique to the DC event, there was also a forth Federal Government-targeted track.  The DBA track included sessions on Business Continuity (SQL2008R2, Win2008, Hyper-V Live Migration), R2 Multi-server Management, and SQL Server 2008 R2 Parallel Data Warehouse.  The BI track covered PowerPivot for Excel/SharePoint 2010, Reporting Services and Report Builder 3.0, and Master Data Management.  The ITDM sessions were: SQL Azure, Oracle to SQL Server 2008 R2 Migration, and BI Consolidation.  Overall the event started and ended well, interest and feedback from the attendees was positive and as I ducked in and out of various sessions throughout the day I saw that most everyone stayed for the entire event. 

If you can locate an event within striking distance (use schedule link above), I would recommend you make plans to attend an R2 Launch, there is enough high-quality varied content offered that you should be able to make a full day for yourself regardless of if you have only just learned of SQL Server 2008 R2 or if you have been working with it since beta cycles. 

After revving up with Launch you can access ongoing R2 education through many PASS channels:


Douglas McDowell
PASS Director of Chapters


Call for Speakers Q&A with Jeremiah Peschka

What Are You Passionate About?

With the PASS Summit 2010 Call for Speakers now open, discussions are heating up around what makes for a good abstract—one that communicates the value of your session idea succinctly yet in enough detail, one that catches a Program Committee member’s eye with its value or uniqueness, and one that ultimately gets you that coveted speaking position at the largest gathering of SQL Server professionals in the world. Program Director Jeremiah Peschka’s advice? Submit sessions about topics you know and love.

Q: The Call for Speakers officially launches the annual Summit program preparations, but the Program Committee has been working hard since last Summit to get ready for this moment. What has the committee been talking about and getting in place to ensure a successful abstract-submission process for the community and one that you hope generates top-quality sessions?
A: We received over 500 submissions last year. The Program Committee volunteers narrowed that down to 168 available time slots in under a month. That's a lot of work being done by a few dedicated volunteers. Over the course of the past year, we've taken a close look at our processes and how we can improve them. One thing that has been on everyone's mind is how we can make the process smooth and painless for the speakers.

We surveyed the members about the speakers they want to hear and the sessions they want to attend. And we sponsored Chuck Heinzelman's webinar last week about submitting a winning abstract and speaking at Summit. We've also contracted with a new vendor to host an enhanced abstract submission website. Those are just a few of the things we’ve been working on to help improve the Summit experience for attendees and speakers.

Q: Before we dig into any tips you have for potential speakers this year, are there any changes in the abstract-submission process we should know about?
A: We're excited about the new abstract submission site and how it is going to streamline our processes and make the abstract submission and selection process easier. The new website will make it easier for both community and Microsoft speakers to submit sessions. In the past, there has been a different process for each group, and that meant more work on both sides. Using the same website will make things much easier. Our partner also has provided us with abstract review functionality. Previously, the review process was done manually through spreadsheets and email, which made the process labor intensive and difficult to sync up. Now that we're using a single solution to collect and review abstracts, the process will be much smoother and much faster.

Q: As you noted, a few weeks ago, the Program Committee received results from your Summit content survey. What are key pieces of information potential speakers can take away from the results?
A: A lot of people want to see experienced speakers talking about real-world problems. People are also incredibly interested in hearing about best practices. To me, this says that SQL Server and BI pros want to know what mistakes other people have made and how they can avoid making the same mistakes.

Q: What were your favorite tips from Chuck Heinzelman’s “Creating a Winning Abstract” webinar?
A: Chuck had a lot of great advice for speakers—a lot of it was advice that I figured out the hard way. One of my favorite pieces of advice was that speakers should tell a story. We're all full-time DBAs, developers, and BI professionals. Our presentations come from our real-world experience, and we should remember that when we submit session abstracts. (If you couldn’t attend the webcast, you can find it here.)

Q: In planning the Summit program, you target a mix of experienced Summit speakers and new speakers, 100/200-level and 300-level presentations, community and Microsoft speakers. What recipe is the Program group using this year?
A: Each member of the Program Committee has guidelines for scoring submissions. They have the freedom to select sessions that resonate with them. We try to make sure that everyone is given an equal chance to present. We typically end up with about 20% of the speakers being first-time Summit speakers. We also understand that real-world experience is important, and approximately 70% of our presentations are given by community volunteers. The other 30% are given by the Microsoft SQL Server teams—the development team, CSS, SQLCAT. These folks have seen some of the most difficult cases around and have insight into many features that aren't widely in use yet, such as many of the features in SQL Server 2008 R2. We count on Microsoft to provide many of these presentations.

Q: From the survey results and evaluations from last year, what are the hottest topic areas? How about topics or types of sessions that consistently have very little pull?
A: People aren't willing to see vendor-driven presentations. That's not to say that an employee from a vendor shouldn't present on a topic, but they shouldn't create presentations around a vendor's product portfolio. I don't think that's ever been a problem at the Summit, but I do think that it's something that people don't want to see.

Outside of that, I think people are just interested in learning. I've attended incredibly crowded sessions as well as sessions with only 10 people in them, and I've gotten something out of both kinds of session. It's amazing that no matter how niche the subject, or how obscure you think your work is, there are at least 10 other people doing the same thing and who want help.

Q: Of course, if every abstract was for real-world performance-tuning tips and tricks, the conference would be pretty one-dimensional. What advice do you have for choosing a topic and framing your abstract for your best chance at selection?
A: The best advice I have for potential speakers is to submit abstracts about topics that you're passionate about and that involve things you do every day. Not every session has to be an in-depth guide to Extended Events or wait stats. People need to know about a variety of things—introductory topics, solving real-world problems, a deep dive into understanding how a certain feature works or how you can make it work for you. The important thing is that people should submit sessions on topics they're comfortable with and excited about.

Q: What are some common session-submission mistakes you see that hurt people’s chances at selection for the conference?
A: Bad grammar. Speakers need to remember that this is their only chance to get their session approved and their only chance to get that abstract right. The abstract that they submit is going to be the same abstract that appears in the Summit Program Guide.

Q: Any certain kind of sessions you’d like to see more of this year? Do you generally have enough entries across all the tracks, or would you like to see more for particular ones?
A: As I mentioned earlier, last year we received over 500 submissions to fill around 160 time slots. Despite that, I'd love to see more abstracts across the board. In fact, I want to see a submission from every person reading this right now—many of whom I know have never submitted a session before. But I know they have something valuable to teach their peers. These are the people who have spent years learning SQL Server and now make everything look easy. But they had to learn along the way, and it would be great if they could share their lessons and their knowledge with other SQL Server professionals.

Don't forget: If your abstract is selected, your Summit registration is free!


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