Archive for December, 2020

A (Possible) Communication Plan for Data Platform Events

Wall of Text, Incoming!

The last few years, I have been one of the lucky volunteers to handle outbound communications with speakers and attendees for our event, dataMinds Connect. I am a stickler for communication, so I try to have our team put a lot of effort into this.
When all was said and done after the events, it has been wonderful to receive compliments about it.

I’ve also had a few people reach out to us, to ask for our ‘communication plan’. It has never been more than a few bullet points jotted down into a shared OneNote, so I decided that now is as good as time as any to write it out a bit more detailed.
Do keep in mind that this is a theoretical plan, and we would have a very boring community if everything always went according to plan 😃. For obvious reasons, I’ve left out some of the more private details specific to our event.

With PASS dissolving soon, I think there will be more events that need to figure out what to do. With this, I hope to reach other organisers in our Data Platform space, and have it be of some value to them. Likely, a lot of this can be reused for Tech event outside our Data Platform space, but I have no practical experience do back up that statement.

You will never see/hear us claim that is ‘the golden way’ of doing things, and that everyone should follow our example. This is a compilation of some of the things we have done in the past, and reiterated on over the years, specific to our events. And yes, we have had mistakes in the past, that needed to be improved on, that is just how things go.

It is more than likely, that you are will need to tailor specific parts of this to you own requirements, or add some things for your own event.

But as always, if you have some questions or remarks, do not hesitate to reach out.

Who are the stakeholders?

To me, there are 4 main groups of stakeholders for our outbound communication, and 1 group with ‘others’. Each one of these groups has their own need for information, with a timing attached to it as to when they need to receive this.

Main groups :

“Other” group, really depends on what event you’re running :

  • Venue
  • Catering
  • Suppliers
  • Other organisations
  • ..

What do we send to whom?

I won’t lie, for dataMinds Connect we work together with an external partner (Sidekick), to help us write the communications to attendees, and do some of the graphical/visual stuff for us. I think there’s a big difference in communicating in an informative way to speakers, volunteers, and partners, as to trying to convince attendees to join your (paid) event. For that specific reason, we get people to help us.

Throughout the years, I’ve found that sending communications to all the groups, except attendees, works best if you send them short bullet points with actions needed, or something they have to read. Then, if they want more details, they can always read the more descriptive version below.
I’m aware that I have a tendency for Walls of Text (this post is Exhibit ZZZ514), which often leads to parts being neglected or not read at all.

Mind you, just because your message is clear and concise, this does not mean everyone will read (and respond to it). Cat herding is a large part of organising events, so you need to prepare yourself for it

How do we contact these groups?

For us, we’re using a mixed approach. All communications with attendees happen through MailChimp, with specific segments for the audiences we’re targeting, as we’ve built up an extensive attendee mailing list in our 14 years of existence.
When communicating with volunteers, partners and/or speakers, it happens through plain old e-mails, sent from our personal dataMinds accounts.

When do we need to send them the relevant information?

Again, this really varies for the event you’re planning, if it’s online/in-person, ..
I still base myself on in-person events mostly, as that is what I hope to return to over the course of the next year.

When I’m referring to dates, I’ll refer to them as “T-x”. You don’t have to agree with the timings, these are just the numbers I have in my head. Whether we actually achieve those dates, I’ll graciously leave in the middle. 😃
For example:

  • T-20 means 20 days prior to the first day of your event.
  • T+5 means 5 days post the last day of your event

At a glance

For your convenience, I put everything into a single table to get an overview. You can use the subjects with links to navigate to that specific segment.

Target Group Subject When
Speakers Call for Speakers Open T-210
Speakers Reminder : Call for Speaker open T-115
Speakers Session Selection T-100
Speakers Reminder : Session Selection T-90
Speakers Speaker Update 1 T-60
Speakers Precon Speakers – Room requirements T-30
Speakers Speaker Update 2 T-10
Speakers Thank you T+1
Speakers Reminder : Session Materials T+5
Speakers Session Feedback T+10
Partners Call for Partners Open (+ Call for Speakers) T-210
Partners Reminder : Call for Partner open T-120
Partners Partner Update 1 T-60
Partners Partner Update 2 T-10
Partners Thank you & Raffle Winners T+1
Volunteers Call for Volunteers Open T-30
Volunteers Practical info T-10
Volunteers Thank you T+1
Attendees Announcement (Date + CfS) T-210
Attendees Schedule T-80
Attendees Highlight (Tracks, Newcomers, Speakers, Keynote, ..) T-80..-7
Attendees Final Update T-2
Attendees Thank you T+1
Attendees Session Materials T+5

Speaker Communications

Call for Speakers

Before you launch your Call for Speakers, there are a few things you should consider. In general, it’s a lot easier to get information from people, when they’re submitting to your event, rather than when they’re selected and they need to respond back in an e-mail to you.

Some of the things to consider, for online and/or in-person events

  • Do sessions need to be recorded up front?
    • Will these be made available for public use, or attendees only?
    • Will these be made available at a cost, or for free?
    • Who has ownership of these recordings?
  • Will you be recording sessions, and how are they going to be distributed after?
    • Will these be made available for public use, or attendees only?
    • Will these be made available at a cost, or for free?
    • Who has ownership of these recordings?
  • What time zone/location are they located in (mostly applies to online events)
  • Are you handing out optional Speaker Shirts (Shirt Size, Unisex/Male/Female model, do they want one Yes/No, ..)
  • Are they a new speaker, or want some help on preparing their session?
  • Are they a seasoned speaker, and willing to help out new speakers?
  • Add a notes field, where speakers can input anything they feel is important

The list will need to altered, depending on the specifics of your event. In any case, try to think about as many of these things as possible, to get all the information you need, as soon as you can.

Our Call for Speakers for an in-person event usually ends about a bit more than 3 months prior to the event. Specifically, to allow speakers to plan their travel when ticket prices aren’t through the roof yet. For a virtual event, you can move back the selection date about a month and a half. That is still a long time yes, but there are some speakers out there that submit new sessions, and starting tweaking them as soon as they get selected.

Call for Speakers opened (T-210)

When your Call for Speakers is ready to be released into the wild, that’s when you send out a short e-mail to your speaker list to inform them about it. My expectation is that we won’t be seeing in-person events in the next 4 – 5 months, but I’ll still discuss the options for in-person and online events.

We typically include :

  • Date(s) of the Event
  • Link to the Call for Speakers
  • Date when the Call for Speakers is Closing
  • If this will be an online or in-person event
  • If you’re open to precons or not
  • Session Types and Length
  • Brief explanation of the different tracks (definitions vary, hence this is a good idea)
  • Content we’re looking for
  • Do sessions need to be prerecorded?
    • Will these be made available for public use, or attendees only?
    • Will these be made available at a cost, or for free?
    • Who has ownership of these recordings?
  • Will sessions be recorded during the event, and how will they be distributed after?
    • Will these be made available for public use, or attendees only?
    • Will these be made available at a cost, or for free?
    • Who has ownership of these recordings?
  • Ask for the speakers to amplify the reach
  • A clear reference to our Code of Conduct
  • If it’s an in-person event, list out some events in the same time span and region. Speakers coming from across the pond will always try to combine a few events. Mainly for this reason, I’m really happy with the way we communicate with the Data Saturday Holland folks.

Additionally, there’s new community initiatives popping up, like the Call for Data Speakers by Daniel Hutmacher. Sessionize is a popular option for Call for Speakers, and they’ve recently introduced a discovery system for speakers and events.
These are quick no-brainers to get some extra reach on your Call for Speakers.

With about two weeks left on the Call for Speakers, it might be a good thing to specifically target a few speakers that have submitted/presented before, but have yet to do so on this Call for Speakers.

Session Selection (T-100)

When your Call for Speakers is closed, it’s really important to send out selection feedback as soon as possible, to respect the time other people put into it. In the past, we’ve had our selection meetings 3-5 days after the Call for Speakers was closed. Everyone prepares in their own way, but I try to have gone through all the abstracts, and define my personal lists of sessions I’d like to select.

When sending out the selection feedback, thank the people for the time they’ve taken to submit, and that they can always request feedback on the specifics of your decision. And please, whatever you do, send out a message to every speaker that submitted, so they know their session was not accepted.

Speakers that get selected will get more information in the following Speaker Updates. How many you send, and when varies mostly on the input you need, and what you need to inform your speakers about. We tend to keep it to two, unless there’s other input we need to send out.

It does make sense to inform speakers if you’re planning on hosting a pre/post event extracurricular activity (ie. Speaker Dinner, Guided Trip/Tour, ..), to accommodate their planning.
Most likely, you will have to chase down a few speakers to get confirmation that they will present at your event.

Especially for online events, it really pays off to send out a personalised calendar invite to your speakers, with the information for their session. Yes, it does take some time, but it drastically reduces communication mishaps due to timezones, dates, overlaps in their own schedule, ..

Speaker Update 1 (T-60)

Your event is still a long way off, but it does pay off to inform well ahead of time. If you’ve informed about the important topics in your Call for Speakers briefing, this is mostly a repeat.

  • Will you ask speakers to share information about housekeeping rules, sponsors, .., before starting their talk?
    • A common construction is a limited set of slides, but there are viable alternatives
  • Are there other specifics speakers need to keep in mind?
  • What platform are you using, in case of an online event?
  • Remind the speakers to make their session materials as accessible as possible
  • Remind the speakers of your Code of Conduct
  • What extra curricular activities are you hosting?
  • Some updates about attendees, venue, ..

Precon Speakers – Rider (T-30)

When having precon sessions planned, it’s interesting to ask your precon speakers for any specifics they need/want to have their room set up. Some speakers like a classroom, or U-style for the tables/chairs, some would like flipcharts and whiteboard markers to be their. Some would to have an ice cold beer delivered to them at 3PM in the afternoon. Whatever it is that helps your precon speakers present their session in an optimal way, is good to discuss this with them up front, so your venue is aware of this.

Final Speaker Update (T-10)

This is your final update for your speakers, and now it’s mostly reiterating what they’ve been told a few times

  • When/Where they’re expected to arrive
  • What extra curricular activities you may have planned
  • Details on the online platform or physical rooms they’ll be using
  • Reminder of the slide deck template you may or may not have, and to make content as accessible as possible
  • Reminder of your Code of Conduct
  • Ask to use their social reach to amplify your event
  • Ask to provide session materials ahead of the event, or directly after their session.
    • Having a dedicated place for this, that’s communicated up front really helps.

Thank you + Reminder for Session Materials (T+1)

The day after your event, it’s time to explicitly thank your speakers for their participation in your event. You’ve probably already done this directly after their session, but it won’t hurt to do it again.

  • Ask for their feedback on other sessions, your event, ..
  • Inform on the timeline of recordings (if any), session feedback, ..
  • Remind speakers to send session materials, if they’ve not done so already
  • Some general statistics about your attendees
  • Inform on a possible next event, and Call for Speakers

Session Feedback (T+10)

To close off communications to your speakers, send out a brief update on the session feedback received for their session, and how many attendees were in their session.

Optionally, you can include the link to the collected session materials. Speakers will most likely have attended other sessions as well.

Partner Communications

Call for Partners opened (T-210)

You’re contacting partners in order to secure funding for your event. Typically, this needs be budgeted on their end before they can commit to anything. Having a recurring event makes this a bit easier, as you’ll have recurring partners too. Finding new partners will be a lot easier if it’s well ahead of your event.

Your main point of update will be your event prospectus (or partner file), to inform potential partners on the options that are available, at which costs.

And yes, you’ll most likely have to send out a few reminders to get people to respond.

Partner Update 1 (T-60)

Similar to the Speaker Updates, you’ll want to inform your partners about any specifics on your event platform, (online) expo hall, attendee raflle, and any particular things you may have. Partners will need time to prepare something on their end, and it’s possible your event is not the only one they’re participating in.

For example, we gave our partners the option to display a ‘commercial’ video during the breaks in our online event. A video like this has to be prepared or fine tuned.

Outlining once more how partners will be able to interact with attendees, how they gain attendee contact details with respect for GDPR, these are all specifics they need to be aware of, well ahead of the event. Usually, it’s also a good idea to have partners inform you of the raffle prizes they’re planning on handing out.

Partner Update 2  – Final Update(T-10)

This is your final update for partners, where you give them all the practical details needed for the event itself.

  • When can they access the venue to set up?
  • When do they have to be out of the venue?
  • Who can staff their booth, and thus needs a ticket/account to get in.
  • What are the hours the expo hall is open?
  • ..

Thank you & Raffle Winners (T+1)

Partners provide you with funding for your event, as you likely cannot cover everything with attendee tickets alone. Meaning, they play a very big role in the longevity of your event. Explicitly thank your partners, and send over the contact details of attendees that opted in, and their raffle prize winner as soon as you can after the event.

This will help your partners close off the administration on their end sooner as well, and they’ll be ever so grateful for it.

Volunteer Communications

Call for Volunteers opened (T-30)

Most likely, you’ll need volunteers for a wide range of tasks in your event. Be it moderating online sessions, staffing the reception booth at your in-person event, room monitoring, .. There’s always plenty of things that need to be done, and more hands definitely makes this a lighter task.

When opening up a Call of Volunteers, you can decide to go the private route by contacting people you know, or you can set up a public call. Both have their pros and cons, but I feel a combination of both works best. You have your ‘regulars’, that know their way around, and some fresh blood coming in as well.

Describe the different tasks you have, how many people you need, and when they need to be executed. This way, people can sign up for the tasks that interest them.

Practical Information (T-10)

Brief your volunteers with :

  • A clear expectation of their tasks
  • A timetable of who’s expected when/where
  • Who they can contact in case of questions/remarks/issues/..
  • Some general information (where’s the speaker room, session rooms, expo hall, ..)

I once saw the volunteer briefing Data Saturday Holland sends out to their volunteers, and I was quite impressed with that.

Thank you (T+1)

Your volunteers have put in their personal time, to help make your event a success. The least you can do, is send them a heartfelt thank you.

Attendee Communications

Event Announcement + CfS opened (T-210)

Inform your prior attendees, and/or mailing list that your event will take place, and that the Call for Speakers has been opened up. It’s always nice to have some of your local attendees step up to the Call for Speakers, so they’ll definitely benefit from being informed early on.

Schedule Announcement + Registration opened(T-80)

To officially open your registrations, it pairs nicely with the announcement of your event schedule, or some names for precon sessions. Most people only decide to attend a specific event when they know who will be presenting. Thus, having this information available as soon as possible, can definitely benefit you.

Especially when you have a paid event, some attendees have to ask permission and/or funding from their employer. This can take some time, so it pays off to give them all the time you can.

Highlights (T-80 to T-7)

Depending on the specifics of your event, you’ll want to spark interest in some of the things you have to offer. Convincing people to attend your event usually takes a few tries. For your event, it helps to define some things you want to highlight, and then create a schedule for this.

Some examples:

  • Your (closing) keynote speaker
  • A specific track you introduced
  • New speakers you’re introducing
  • Spotlighting your different session tracks
  • Spotlighting some of your precon sessions

Written down very simplistic, and exactly the reason why we have someone help us. Some examples here and here.

Final Update (T-2)

As we updated our partners, speakers and volunteers of the final practical details, the attendees should get similar information.

This is where you inform your attendees about:

  • How they can reach your (online) event venue
  • Parking, public transportation, some things to keep in mind
  • Any specific details on what they need to before attending your event
  • When the venue opens, and closes
  • Remind the attendees of your Code of Conduct, and who they can contact with anything related to this.
    • It’s helpful to not only have males as a point of contact

Thank you (T+1)

Specifically thank your attendees for attending, and inform them of what they can expect in the coming time.

  • When/Where will session recordings be made available
  • When/Where will session materials be made available
  • Allow attendees to give general feedback on your event, schedule, communications, ..
  • Remind attendees to provide session feedback through the medium you’ve selected

Session Materials (T+5)

It’s possible not all the session materials have been uploaded so far, but it is important to allow attendees to review the materials they’ve seen at your event. By sending out a part of the materials you have, attendees can already start their process. Then mention that more content will be added as we move along.

To conclude

A long article, I know .. Yet, I hope it can prove of use to anyone putting on a Data Platform in the near future.
Good luck on your endeavours!

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So long, 2020!

Looking back ..

I’ll just put it out there .. 2020 was a weird year for mostly anyone, and we’re collectively rooting for 2021 to pick up the slack. Looking back, I realise that I have hardly got reasons to complain, and I count my blessings for it. What started out as a year filled with plans and ideas turned out, a little different..

The extracurricular goals I set out for myself boiled down to this :

10 -15 in-person sessions presented, with at least 8 outside of Belgium

I landed at 5 sessions presented in-person, with the last one being at our own SQL Saturday Belgium. Out of those 5, with the only talk I held abroad was at the Scottish Summit in Glasgow. I had good fun with all of these talks, and will always prefer the in-person ones. When they’re allowed again..

However! With most of the events, user groups and conferences going virtual, it’s been easier than ever to submit anywhere in the world. I ended up at a total of 15 online talks held, spread out across Europe and North America. I probably could’ve done more sessions, but I had to put limits on myself, to keep my other activities from suffering from this.

My speaking activities for 2020

My speaking activities for 2020







Complete the DP-.. certification series for Azure Data Engineering

In short. I failed, badly .. Having read too many of those stories where proctored exams turn out to be a huge time sink, with nothing to show for it, I always tried to plan my exams in the test centre at our company HQ in Belgium. I had to cancel and move it around a few times, due to our country swinging from 1 lockdown to the other.

Right now, I have both DP-200 (Implementing an Azure Data Solution) & DP-201 (Designing an Azure Data Solution) planned for January 4th as a proctored exam. Here’s to hoping I don’t have to go sit in the restroom to take it .. Depending on how these go, I might get some more exams planned.

On the other hand, I did manage to sneak in both DA-100 (Analyzing Data with Power BI), and PL-900 (Power Platform Fundamentals) in the summer break, so I did get a few certifications this year.

Pick up blogging again, averaging 1 post a month

Seeing as this is the first blog post I actually publish this year, let’s just conclude that I didn’t get this one. I kept putting it off for various reasons, and never really got into the writing mood. I’m usually the one that writes the Mailchimp newsletters for dataMinds, and I kept it at that.

I’ve got some ideas and rough drafts noted, mostly as supporting materials for my talks. We’ll see if I get in the zone in 2021 😊.

Keep aiming for the same high standard in our dataMinds User Group activities (especially when it’s online)

Personally, I’ like to think that our dataMinds Team nailed this one. We set out the year planning for 10 user group evenings, 1 SQL Saturday, and dataMinds Connect. What we achieved as a team, is something I’m absolutely proud of!

Up until March, we were perfectly on track. We had user group sessions planned until April, with a good mix of speakers and topics. SQL Saturday Belgium was perfectly on target for attendees and speakers. A few days after, Belgium went into total lockdown..

Online User Group Sessions

At first, we were hesitant to do virtual user group sessions, as you pretty much saw a new user group or conference spawn up every week, and now they were all hitting parts of the same target audience. Combine that with our little experience with streaming, OBS, .. We decided not to go virtual for the time being.

Come April, we noticed that our own Belgian audience wasn’t really picking up on most of the international online activities, and we decided to give it a try. I’ll never be a YouTube star, and really need to learn there’s more than 1 way to mute yourself, but it actually worked out rather well. Since then, dataMinds had 12 online user group evenings with 21 different speakers. Attendance from our local attendees has been similar, with new faces popping up every time, but due to anyone online being able to jump in, attendance has actually been a lot higher for us. Most likely, we’re going to keep running online events only until the summer break in Belgium. As always, we’re assessing the situation with the information we have, and going from there ..

Our dataMinds sessions for 2020

Our dataMinds sessions for 2020







dataMinds Connect

Our pinnacle event, dataMinds Connect, would also have to change drastically, as spending 2 days cooped up with 500 people in Mechelen would not be possible, nor advised. Early on in April, we decided to move to an online event and start planning for that. In hindsight, that has been an excellent decision for us. Since we had no restrictions on physical rooms, and their respective sizes, we decided to bring in some extra tracks for more session variation. We had already planned for the Expert Track in the in-person event, so we added Go To Cloud as the second extra track.

dataMinds Connect 2020 was wild for us, as we had no idea what we were getting into, and there were little to no references at the time being. We ran it a low budget, and free to attend. In the end, we stopped registrations at 1800, and saw a little over 1300 people effectively show up during the day. With 48 sessions and 53 speakers during the day, and our closing keynote by Rohan Kumar, we can look back at a successful event, and we’re darned proud of it.

Storm myself through the exam for my next kyu grade in Shinkyokushin Karate

2020 would have been the year that I was going to prepare myself to take on my next kyu grade. These exams usually take a very long time, and are designed to drain you physically and mentally, to see how well you can still react to things. But, as our training time has pretty much been slashed due to lockdowns, my exam got moved away until 2021. A pity, but it does give me more time to prepare.

Anything else to note about 2020?

Absolutely! 2020 was the year in which I was awarded the Data Platform MVP Award, and was able to attend the virtual MVP Summit 2 weeks after. I can honestly say I didn’t expect to receive that illustrious e-mail on Sunday March 1st 2020. That day was the final lap of some of the worst planning I’ve done to date, and it definitely did get me through that last day.

To illustrate.. I had a boys weekend (we all know how that goes ..), from which I directly went to a week of being technical crew for a camp with 90 teens (16-17 year old). Driving up to Mechelen on one of the evenings to go present a session at the Thomas More College. Leaving early on Friday to drive to Schiphol (150km), so I could go present at the Scottish Summit. Getting up at 2AM, to get the 5:20 AM flight to Schiphol, to then drive to La Louvière (270km). To then spend the afternoon judging kids running the same kata, over and over again. Then drive home again (130km). To conclude, 9 days with too little sleep, and a lot of fun. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so solid as that night 😂

What followed was the virtual MVP Summit, which was a bit of an eye opener for me. Throughout the year, I’ve had more opportunities to connect, share, and learn. The MVP Program has already allowed me the soak up a bunch of interesting knowledge, and meet some international people. For that, I’ll be ever so grateful.

2020 has been the year I had a lot of ‘firsts’ in my speaking career. I presented at the Community Summit, SQLBits, PASS Summit, SQLDay Poland, DBCC International, a few SQLSaturdays (Belgium, Göteborg, Montreal, Atlanta BI, Slovenia), and a few other events. Yes, they were all online, yet I still liked presenting (or recording) for all of them.
That said, I can’t wait to actually go back there in-person, as it really suits my style a lot better.

2020 has been the year where I met a lot of new people during activities I would not have been doing otherwise. Every week, there’s livestreams and YouTube channels happening with content that helps keep me up to date. To name a few, Guy in a Cube, Two Alex’s, Advancing Analytics, SSBI Polar, Geeks on Screens with Coffee, ..

My Danish friend, Just Thorning Blindbaek, started organising the Power BI Quiz (YouTube Playlist) on a regular basis and I’ve actually learned a lot whilst doing these quizzes. I’ll never forget how terrible I performed on Will Thompson’s Power BI Desktop quiz, and still haven’t figured out how I narrowly won Season 2.

Before I forget ..
2020 has also been a year where I had the chance to work with some lovely new clients, who definitely put me up to a few very exciting challenges to figure out. I love that EUREKA! moment when figuring something out after spending a good amount of time analysing it!

What about 2021?

I’ve not defined any ‘set in stone’ goals for the next year, as it’s pretty hard to tell what will happen right now. More or less, it’s a continuation of the soft goals I had for 2020.

However, .. I would love to get my hands on more with some Python and PowerShell. I’ll have to figure out how I can include that some more in my activities.

As for dataMinds, we’re rooting for an in-person dataMinds Connect on October 11th & 12th. If that’s not possible, we want to take our decision early on. We’re also trying out something new instead of SQL Saturday Belgium, called dataMinds Saturday. For this first edition, we’ve decided to limit the speakers to people residing in the BeNeLux. This way, we hope to nudge some people in an ‘aggressively friendly’ way to get into speaking. As a local user group, fostering local talent is still one of our primary goals.

In any case, from me to you, all the best wishes for 2021. I hope it’ll be a year we can all look back on with joy.

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