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!