Archive for category Other

March Madness! The Return of the Conferences (SQLBits and Global Power BI Summit)

I’m stoked! With just a few weeks left to go, I’m blessed to get to go outside again, and visit London. Throughout March 8th – 12th, I will attend SQLBits, and even present two sessions myself. Happening in that same week, is the Global Power BI Summit, as an online event. Here, I will be presenting two sessions, and hosting a table talk with wonderful people. Personally, I’m really excited for this, as it means I get to engage with our community, have chats with customers, and reminisce about things with friends I have not seen in a loooooong time. Both of these events aim at a broad spectrum of attendees, and offer an incredible range of speakers and topics. Driven by a community background, this is about sharing the passion for our data platform ecosystem, and helping each other achieve more.

SQLBits (March 8th – March 12th 2022, @ ExCel London & Online )

Learn more about SQLBits

Learn more about SQLBits

At SQLBits, you can find me wandering the hall(I’m not that hard to spot 😉), having a conversation at the Microsoft Booth, or attending one of the many great sessions. All of these with a 90% probability I have a coffee in hand. I’m particularly pleased a healthy number of non-tech sessions made it on the schedule. I always like attending sessions of this nature, as they teach me things that are harder to figure out on your own. For instance, I can quickly Bing something on a certain DAX construct, but listening to someone share their personal story on mental health would be much harder to replace by crawling through your favorite search engine.

Registration for SQLBits is still open, and you can still grab your spot! Are you not feeling a 100% comfortable to make the trip? SQLBits is being hosted as a hybrid event, and you can attend from the comfort of your own home, at a seriously reducted price. Find out all the details on their registration page.

That said, there are tons of techy stuff on the board I am looking forward to as well, even beyond my Power BI comfort zone. And I’ll be honest, the return of the “hallway” track is what is making me all giddy for early March. There is something about that conversation in the hallway where you get that absolute honesty and cutting edge discussions that does it for me.

If you want to come attend one of my sessions, these are your options:

  • Thursday March 10th at 4:40PM UTC I will share some of the things I have learned on asking questions, and helping those that I want to help me. Everyone can ask simple questions, but there are a few aha’s and gotchas if you want to take it further
  • Saturday March 12th at 9:30 UTC I get to spread the joy about Power BI dataflows❤️. This is an introductory session about Power BI dataflows, answering a few questions about why I think they could be a good fit for you.

I may make a cameo here and there in other sessions, but that is just something you will have to find out on the spot…

 Global Power BI Summit (March 7th to 11th 2022 @ Online)

Learn more about Power BI Summit

Learn more about Power BI Summit

This year we will see the 2nd edition of the Global Power BI Summit, that goes all in about Power BI. This is held as an online only conference, and repeats sessions multiple times to accomodate for different time zones across the globe. You can find an amazing range of topics and presenters on the line-up, and a really good online experience for a conference. I’ll probably try to attend a few sessions here and there, and also present a few things myself. You can find out all about the details on their website and registration page

At Power BI Summit, these are the sessions I will be involved in:

  • On Tuesday March 8th at 10:30 AM UTC +1 (and a repeat at 10:30 PM UTC+1) it will be all about Power BI Premium Gen 2. This has shifted into General Availability, and the deadline for migration is inching closer. I’ll handle some of the common questions I have seen, and share some practical insights you can take back with you.
  • On Wednesday March 9th at 10:30 AM UTC+1 (and a repeat at 10:30 PM UTC+1) I will share my tips and tricks to keep up with Administering and Governing your Power BI Tenant. Expect some practical tips of things I have picked up in the past, and will make your life as an (accidental) admin easier.
  • Then, On Friday March 11th at 10:30 AM UTC+1 I’ll join the panel of a Table Talk with Thomas Martens, Štěpán Rešl, and Nicky van Vroenhoven where we await all your questions and input on Power BI Administration, Governance, and Data Culture. There is also a repeat at 10:30PM UTC+1, but I will not take part in this one due to an activity conflict at SQLBits 😊.

 See you there?!

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Writing Session Abstracts (Data Minutes)

Data Minutes #2 took place on January 21st 2022

On Friday January 21st 2022, I had the absolute joy and pleasure to present a lightning talk at Data Minutes, ran by William Durkin and Ben Weissman. 10-minute timeslots assigned to a large number of speakers, where I used mine to share my thoughts on writing a session abstract for conferences, user groups, or other types of events. I mostly kept our Data Platform / Power BI (community) conferences in mind, as these are the type of engagements I am most experienced in. Basing myself off my prior activities as an attendee, a speaker, a program committee member, and a conference organizer, I thought back on things I liked when looking at session abstracts. If you are interested in watching the recording, you can find it at the Data Minutes YouTube channel (link), and find the slides over on my GitHub page (link)

Disclaimer

In the end, this is a single person writing down thoughts on what works for them. As a result, there are a bias and subjective thoughts involved, and my advice is to take these as nuggets to mold into your own set of handles. Every conference, user group, .. has their own set of subtleties, and will have different things they require and prefer. Meaning, this is not your “easy-mode, get accepted anywhere” solution. You are still the one responsible for providing quality work, and doing the research.

Just 1 more thing before we start.

Before you’re starting to write your abstract, there are a few things you may want to consider. For me, the most important thing to ask yourself is this:

Why do you want to present your session? What are your goals?

Are you simply happy to share your experience? Do you want to have standing room only in your sessions? Are you looking to promote yourself, your product, your organization? There are no wrong answers on this question, as whatever works best for you is what drives your ambition.

The one thing that took me some time to realize, is that you are not trying to draw in as many people as possible to your session, but you’re trying to keep out those people that don’t fit well with your target audience. It’s an odd statement, I know. But in the end, you want to have the people that attend your session to be satisfied with what they have seen, attend other sessions presented by you, or maybe even do business with you. People that misunderstood your intent and message, have a higher risk of being discouraged, and they might not want to attend another session by you again. If you are in it for the long haul, you’ll definitely want to see people attend multiple times, as the attendee pool is not all that large as you might think.

Then, I want you to think about where you are applying to speak, and research the subtleties of that activity. Most organizers put a lot of effort into describing their target audience, and the types of sessions that have worked for them in the past. In essence, they are handing you the building blocks for you to engage with their audience on a silver platter. Is this a more formal conference? Are they looking for 30-minute sessions only? Is this specifically aimed at launching new speakers? Read up on the details organizers provide you, and do some research about prior editions (if applicable). Odds are likely you will find some really useful information you can turn to your advantage to increase the odds of being selected.

Why bother?

Writing these abstracts isn’t just a trivial task you get out of the way because you have to do it. Most of us don’t have the reputation or relations to dictate where we want to speak, we have to prove our proposed topic will be useful to include. After having written the abstract, multiple groups of people benefit from this, to use in their decision-making process. The abstract is a tool in your belt for you to sell yourself to them, and get a chance to share your thoughts on a topic. For me, those stakeholders are:

  1. An organizer, and/or member of the program committee
  2. A potential member of your audience
  3. Yourself

You are pitching yourself to organizers and committee members, as they usually make the decisions who gets planned on their conference schedule, and what sessions are compatible with their goals. You are pitching yourself to members of the audience, as they will assess if the session is right for them, and they will learn something new or have a good time. Unfortunately, some audience members don’t read anything, and end up voicing their discontent (/rant). At some conferences, it is even the audience members voting for which sessions end up being planned.

Most importantly, you are pitching the session abstract to yourself, as this is your first formal moment to think about the scope of the session, content you want to cover, which personas you would like to have attend your session, .. This is where the intent gets a form of reality, and you have to deliver something before next steps can be taken.

Things you’ll want to define

Okay, we’ll start going into the actual abstract, just after you answer these 4 simple (not really) questions.

Target Audience? Are you planning on going very technical, discuss business scenarios, ..? Do you want to give useful tips to new starters, or provoke the seasoned veterans to think hard about a specific subject? Usually, you can distil a target audience if you ask yourself questions about the message you want to send. The target audience for your session has to match with the target audience at the place of your speaking engagement to obtain the best results, especially if you want your attendees to have interest in attending your sessions again.

Session Level / Complexity? In the Data Platform realm, sessions are typically measured using a numeric value in the range of 100 to 500, but these ranges can vary often. They are designed to represent session complexity in an increasing scale. A level 100 session will typically be an introductory session, where a level 500 (or higher) session will be at the expert level. For the sake of providing you with a practical example, I’ll use the session levels we use for dataMinds Connect. 100 (Introductory and Overview), 200 (Intermediate), 300 (Advanced), 400 (Expert), 500 (Guru), and 9000+ (Over Nine Thousand). I’ve witnessed a lot of discussion about levels in the past, and am well aware that this is not exact science. Being as transparent as possible about learning objectives will help you set the session level.

While this number seems trivial, it is a very important tool for you to provide information about your session. Not every audience member reads an entire abstract, but they will base themself off a session title and session level. It is in your best interest to consider the level of your session. For instance, organizers and committees may be specifically looking for an Introductory session on a certain topic, or a session that is diving very deep in some internal stuff of the product. The majority of sessions get submitted in the 100 – 200 range, which means you want your session abstract and topic to stand out.

Prerequisites? Do you expect a session attendee to have prior knowledge about SQL? Do they need to able to understand how joins work? Or how Query Plans can be read? Is it an absolute must to understand Filter Context in DAX? If you are planning on building on a certain topic, and are making assumptions about the knowledge of your attendee(s), it makes sense to make that known. Again, it is about creating that bond between yourself and the attendees, and having them attend your sessions again in the future.

Learning objectives? When everything is said and done, what do you think are the key topics an attendee could have learned? If you consider something to be a key topic in your session, you will most likely want your attendees to pick this up as a learning point from attending your session.

Common Structure

In the majority of conferences I’ve engaged with, a session abstract consists of 4 key segments. In some larger events, there are more segments added, especially when program leaflets are being handed out to attendees. Our community is looking like it is standardizing on Sessionize, which provides these as standard. To limit myself to what I’ve encountered in most cases, these are the key segments:

  • Title: 1 sentence, used in schedule, website, leaflets, ..
  • Abstract (Body): Synopsis of your session, typically 3 – 5 paragraphs
  • Notes: Private to you and organizers/program committee
  • Bio: Personal presentation
  • Blurb (Short version): Limited number of characters allowed (ranging from 140 – 200), to explain session outline, and to be used for a more detailed schedule. This is more of an exception to what I have encountered, but it is representative enough to include.

Title (Short, Sweet, Fantastic).
Personally, I prefer these to be short and catchy. Briefly describing the problem that will be (attempted to be) solved, or describing the scenario at hand. At maximum, I’ll make them 10 words long. This is my bias as an organizer showing, as long titles impact formatting on pretty much everything we design for a conference. This means schedule, website, intro slides, posters, .. But also, as an attendee you might be turned off if this is a very long sentence, for something that could probably be explained in a few words.

Abstract (The Meat ‘n Potatoes).
As a rule of thumb, you will want to avoid stating the exact same thing as in your title, or put in a ‘to do’. As I explained before, the abstract is your pitch and you want to it to be thorough and useful for those reading it. For writing the actual abstract, we are going to reuse the results of the questions you have answered before, as these are things we definitely want to use.

To start, it makes sense to describe the problem we’re trying to solve, the business scenario we’re facing, or describing the situation. Then, we want to include the audience, prerequisites and learning objectives we defined before. This should result in about 3 – 5 paragraphs, which I think is the good balance between having enough text to explain the specifics, and being too long causing no one to read it. But again, this is a personal preference.

When writing the abstract, I try to look out for usage of good grammar and spelling, especially about product names, or industry related terms (I will defer from starting a riot about AlwaysOn at this point). Yes, people make mistakes and we are all allowed to do so. But if a quick quality check can fix these problems, it will cause a lot of people to make a prejudice that may not be true.

Depending on the conference you are submitting to (do the research!), you can find a balance between formal writing, and sneaking in some quirky remarks or references. The writing style can swing both ways, which is often forgotten. Write too formal, and a community driven, lighthearted conference might not want it. Write very informal, with lots of lame jokes, and you may not make the cut at an academic research papers conference. Again, do the research and find out what works!

Then, I try to avoid using sentences like: ‘we will look at a number of techniques’, or ‘we will describe a few scenarios’. They are very vague, and probably written at a time you were not completely decided on the content you wanted to include in your session. Instead, it can pay off to quickly describe the items you want to cover, as an attendee can decide if they are new and exciting to them, or they may not be as relevant to them as you think.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of including parts of a biography in the actual session synopsis. For instance : ‘Join John Doe, author of Book XYZ and presenter of show ABC with over 25 years of experience in 17 different technology companies throughout the globe with distinguished accomplishments 1234 ..’ is something I think is better suited for the presentation of the speaker, not the session description.

Notes (Insert Bribes Here**).

As an organizer, I barely see the Notes section being used, but it actually is a really useful space. Anything you put in here is private between the organizer, program committee, and yourself. This is an excellent place to include feedback or references from prior versions of this sessions, or the indicate your willingness and flexibility to make this session fit better into their schedule by changing complexity or adding an extra solution method. In the end, an organizing committee always has a certain idea of which types of session and topics they want to include, and it is up to you to prove it can be a good fit.

** For the sake of completeness, this is not to be taken as a serious remark.

Bio (About yourself).

Now let us present a few things about ourself, that can be relevant to the story we want to tell. Depending on where we are submitting, the writing style can vary. In the end, I personally try to keep this somewhat professional regardless of where I am submitting. It can definitely contain some quirks and references, but I don’t think anyone is interested in the fact that you ate 37 hotdogs at the company picknick in 2017.

Which leads to the point that you want to include relevant and updated information about yourself. If you have changed employment 4 years ago, it is definitely time to reflect that in the bio as well. Also, consider the photo you are using for your abstract. Do you really want to use the “after photo” from said picknick in 2017, or the late hours of the Christmas Party in 2018? The photo you choose here, definitely has an impact, so consider your options.

Then, make sure you are including links to you online portfolio, or places where people can learn more about you. Think your blog, LinkedIn page, Twitter profile, GitHub Repo, .. If you already have supporting videos, blog posts, or prior instalments about your topic, this will definitely help your case.

Before you submit

Good, we’ve written everything we needed to. Let’s hit send as quickly as we can, right? Right? As my final piece of advice, I suggest you put some time into the reviewing process. First, make sure you review the content yourself, to assess if it effectively portrays the message you want to convey, and that there are no large grammatical errors included.

Then, I have always had great experiences with getting external opinions on what I wanted to submit. Ask other people to review the abstract for you, and answer a few basic questions. If the responses come back to something completely different than you would expect, you may want to review the abstract again. The questions I am referring to are:

  • Who should attend the session?
  • What are we trying to solve / describe?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What are we learning?

Reaching out to other people can be virtually anyone, and they don’t even need to have prior experience in the topic. Heck, they don’t need to have any knowledge about the subject domain at all. If someone that is completely new to the topic can answer the questions, you can say for sure the message is coming across the right way. But also, other speakers and organizers can have valuable input for you. Cathrine Wilhelmsen phrased it so well by stating we are “aggressively friendly” in our community, and we will always try to help, or find someone who can.

Wrap Up

To wrap up after another lengthy post, I want to thank you for making it to this point. I’ve shared my thoughts here, and I hope you can take away a few things to mold into what works for you. To conclude. Do the research, and be thorough!
Let me know if you have made some changes to your session abstracts, and if it helped you!

Take care!

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Buh bye, 2021!

Buh bye, 2021!

In my round-up for 2020, I mentioned it had been a weird year for mostly anyone. I’ll go out on a limb, and state that 2021 has been just as weird. And yet, I don’t have major reasons to complain, and am incredibly grateful for it. 2021 has been a rollercoaster for me, with plenty of things to reflect on. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how everything has gone, and I’m hoping I can continue 2022 on this trend.

I didn’t set any fixed goals for myself for 2021, and am glad I didn’t do so. I’m sure I wouldn’t have achieved the ones I would have set out, while still having done so many different things. To look back at what I’ve been up to this year, I’ll break it down into these categories:

  • Professional
  • Community – Personal
  • Community – dataMinds
  • Personal

Professional

In short, I made a career move! Around the May-June 2021 timeframe, a lot of things were shifting at the former employer, and it made me realize my heart wasn’t a 100% in consulting anymore, and that I had to start looking at my options. I didn’t feel like switching over the a different consulting company in Belgium, or start doing my own thing as a freelancer.

When I noticed a job posting for Power BI CAT in Europe had opened, I knew I had to move quickly to get my stuff together. I managed to get everything sorted out, and got my application in before it was closed off. Some conversations and interviews later, I got word a proposal was coming my way, which I decided to accept. I took my fair share of time to think things through, but quickly realized I’d only blame myself in the future, if I didn’t give this my absolute best effort.

I joined the mothership on December 1st as a Program Manager in the Power BI CAT (Customer Advisory Team), after 10 years in consulting. I’m now a part of the Europe/Rest of World team with Rui Romano and Lars Andersen, led by Chris Webb. We’ve got exciting new people lined up to join us in 2022, so this will definitely be incredibly interesting! 1 month in, I can say it’s a real change from what I was doing before, and I still have so much ground to cover.

Microsoft is a large organization, and is not easy to navigate. Luckily, every single person I’ve spoken with so far has been exceptionally welcoming and helpful, and really helped me to get settled in. Now that I’ve worked my way through my onboarding materials, and am starting to get caught up on all of the super duper secrets and codenames, I’m looking forward to helping organizations achieve more with Power BI.

Community – Personal

Sessions

Joining Microsoft also meant I retired from the MVP Program, and am no longer a Data Platform MVP. A pity, as I really liked the options it gave me to connect with other people in the MVP Community, and it absolutely plummets my chances of getting to attend an in-person MVP Summit at Redmond Campus. I’ve had heaps of fun when engaging in these activities, and will definitely miss it.

When I was preparing the figures for my round-up I thought 2021 had been a slow year for me in the form of presenting community sessions. Looking at the numbers, I realized I was horribly wrong as it actually has been quite the busy year with 28 sessions presented over the course of the year. The majority of these have been virtual, with the only exceptions being Power BI Next Step (September) and South Coast Summit (October).

In April 2021, I did decide to tone it down with presenting virtual sessions, as it was simply not giving me the satisfaction I had before. I still want to do them, but at a lower frequency. Virtual event fatigue is real, yo! That said, I do appreciate all the organizers for the time they put into putting on these user groups, conferences, .. Because of their effort, I get to present these talks across the world.

I have some ideas for new sessions brewing, so I’m trying hard to take the time to work out these vague ideas into actual sessions. My speaking schedule for 2022 is already filling up nicely, and I definitely want to get some more variation in the sessions I’m presenting.

An overview of the sessions I presented in 2021.

Blogs

I managed to write 6 (including this one) blog posts in the past year, and this is definitely where I want to put more focus on in the next year. I’d like to have supporting blog posts and Jupyter Notebooks for the sessions I’m presenting, where I can provide more context and explanation for certain topics. And, instead of only writing down my random discoveries in OneNote, I could definitely create blog posts out of those, to have some more reading material in the future. Who knows, I may even publish a blog post under 1000 words this time 😂.

Our local region

Probably the most important one of all, I want to make sure our local community talent gets the chances they deserve. We’ve got some incredibly talented speakers in Belgium, whom I think will do great in the future. I’m not sure yet and the what, when, and how, but I do want to make sure they get some extra exposure, and help if they need it.

Community – dataMinds

For our user group, 2021 was also a curious year. Our ‘normal’ planning is to hold about 10 evening sessions in the September – June timeframe, send out a monthly newsletter + round-up in that same timeframe, plus organize a free Saturday event in March and dataMinds Connect in October. Then, we sometimes decide to opt in for Global Bootcamps, but it’s not necessarily part of the plan at the start. In 2021, we did put together a nice mix of speakers and topics, and can look back with joy on the attendance we got in these weird times.

An overview of the dataMinds evening sessions of 2021.

For the Saturday event in March, we unanimously agreed that if we were putting this together, it had to be a distinction from all the other virtual events that have popped up lately. We did notice that the representation of speakers from our local area (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemburg) in these online events was fairly low, with mostly the same names coming back. For that exact reason, we branded our first dataMinds Saturday as the BeNeLux edition, and only wanted to schedule speakers residing in this local region. We managed to get some new speakers launched, and this was so rewarding to watch.

Then, our crew agreed we were not looking forward to another virtual edition of dataMinds Connect, and decided to move along with planning for a ‘as normal as possible in-person’ edition in October. Come May 2021 we made the decision to move forward, and get the wheels in motion, with constant decision gates based on external factors.

It wasn’t easy getting this edition planned and executed, but I’m so happy we managed to get it done in a responsible fashion. Personally, I got so much energy out of having conversations with loads of people at the venue, and am glad we pulled it off.

We’re cautiously considering our next steps for 2022, and specifically the 15th anniversary of dataMinds Connect (formerly known as SQL Server Days Belgium), and I’m looking forward to keep contributing to these activities. And, we already have a great line-up of evening sessions planned for Q1 2022, with plenty of ideas for more sessions to come!

Personal

2021 has been a wild year for me where I kept getting reminded with force that I’m not 18 anymore, and need to make myself take some breaks. I love doing a variety of activities that can be related to the tech stuff I do, or beyond. But enough is enough, and I really need to pace myself. Pace myself, and take the time to better process some things, which will help me out in the long run.

For 2022, I’ve got some cool things outside of tech lined up, that I’m cautiously preparing for. Here’s to hoping I get to see these plans through! I’m rooting for our world to go back to a less erratic situation, and to get back out there.

Wrapping up

As I mentioned in the intro, I’m so fortunate and don’t have any major reasons to complain. My heartfelt wishes to you and those close to you.

May 2022 bring you everything you deserve.

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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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Hello World!

Welcome to my blog!

Pondering long and hard about starting to blog and thinking of lame excuses for not doing so, I finally decided to step up to the plate. I’ve been following the SQL Community for about 4 years now, and I’ve learned heaps by doing so. By blogging I hope to contribute the community, and maybe even inspire a few people.

Working as a Data Insights Consultant, I spend my days working with data, and using tools to make working with that data a lot easier. I pretty much work exclusively in the Microsoft Data Platform stack, which is expanding at an insane velocity. I’m tech savvy by nature, so I really enjoy trying to keep up with all the new shiny toys (Cortana Analytics Suite anyone?).

I’ll find inspiration for my topics in my day-to-day job, and any issues, oddities or challenges I encounter, but most of all about data related things I’m trying to grasp in my spare time.

Enjoy reading!

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