What Should We Change About the Next GroupBy?

The April event is going pretty well, so let’s talk about what changes were made, and how they went.

What We Changed for April

We added chat in Slack. In the first event, I didn’t really like dealing with chat happening in GoToWebinar plus Twitter plus emails, so I focused on making it easier for folks to talk in Slack. The SQL Server community Slack has gotten really popular (up over 2k members now), and if I can drive people into there, I think they’ll stick around for the activity in other active channels. So I built SQLslack.com to make it easier to introduce people to Slack. I think that worked really well – the #GroupBy channel had over 250 folks in it.

We switched from session ratings to pick-your-top-10. Last round, we let folks rate sessions with five stars, but this time around we had them just pick 10 sessions with a list of checkboxes. I’m really, really happy with the way that worked. We had 327 voters, and no questions or complaints about the process – except one.

We required logins for a lot of stuff. To vote, attend the webcast, submit a session, or give abstract feedback, a WordPress login was required. I don’t have numbers on this (hey, it’s a spare time project) but my gut hunch based on watching activity is that participation dropped by a lot. I’m not really interested in building some kind of big master database, and the whole point of this project is to help the community, so I think we’ll pivot away from the logins.

Speakers did tech checks ahead of time. I let them book a GoToWebinar on my live calendar so we could test their webcams & audio, and get them accustomed to the GoToWebinar presenter UI. This worked extremely well.

We made the session breaks longer. We now start every 2 hours rather than every 90 minutes. I looooved this change because the event felt much less frantic. It let us have longer, more relaxed breaks, especially since I pulled in Erik, Richie, and Tara during the breaks. This probably means we’ll have less folks stay through the entire event, but more on that in a second.

We let volunteers edit the abstract transcripts. We use a transcriptionist to pull off the hard work, but then to clean up the abstracts, add pictures, and add section titles, we had an open call for volunteers. We gave them editorial permissions in WordPress, and emailed them when new transcripts were available for editing. I did a couple myself to show the standard we were aiming for, and…nope. This simply didn’t work – we didn’t get the participation we needed.

What We’ll Change for June

To lower friction, we’re abandoning logins for attendees. We’ve already gone back to a simplified webcast registration form on the home page, and the next round of voting won’t require a login either. There’s a risk here that people will stuff ballot boxes via scripts, so I’ll do some digging to see how easy that’d be to identify. Submitting a session will still require a login just because speakers end up editing their abstract over time.

We’ll tweak the site to reflect the new workflow. When I first put the site together, it was a wild experiment, and I wasn’t quite sure what process changes we’d need to make. Now, I want to make it easy for:

  • Learners who want to discover good, relevant content available right now (videos, text, podcast, apps)
  • Planners who want to register for a future webcast and help shape future abstracts
  • Presenters (and perhaps soon-to-be-presenters) who want to contribute

We’ll outsource the transcription cleanup. Look at a session with a plain transcription, and then a session page with headers & pictures, and the difference is pretty dramatic. I think the section headers & pictures add a lot of value, and I want a presenter to be really proud of their session page. I’m going to work with our AV team to figure out what it’ll cost to add that higher level of polish to the pages. Plus, as a side benefit, that means they’ll control when the session’s page is completely done: with a podcast and full transcription. We’ll be able to re-publish the session page with a fresh date stamp, put it out as a weekly email, and the subscribers might love that.

We’ve also got a lot of little long-term tweaks on the Project Status page.

Now, what else should we tweak about the event?

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Brent Ozar

Managing Director at Brent Ozar Unlimited
I make Microsoft SQL Server faster and more reliable. I'm the guy behind BrentOzar.com, Ozar.me, DBAreactions.com, SQLServerUpdates.com, and GroupBy.org.
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12 Comments. Leave new

Any consideration to lightning talks? You talk about wanting to help groom potential speakers. An “open mic night” could be a good way for newer speakers to dip their toes in the water. You could potentially have mini-abstracts and voting as well, to weed out the terrible stuff.

Could also be a good way for people consistently on the bottom of the vote list to at least get their topic touched on, maybe even build some interest. Maybe I don’t want to spend 90 minutes learning about DAX, but I’m up for a 10 minute lightning talk.


    Wow, I absolutely love that! That’s genius. Should we do it between main sessions, like unscheduled? Or pick a separate window for the next 5 runners-up to each spend 10 minutes in an hour straight?


      Hmmm, My original thought was to just do it at the very end of the day so people not interested could just bail out. Also makes scheduling a lot easier.

      However, if people are bored between sessions, you could use them as filler.
      Downsides: harder to coordinate and schedule, need to communicate to the presenters that they are the opener band and most people aren’t paying attention or are in the bathroom.
      Upsides: Makes the downtime way more dynamic, no pressure for the speakers! Lowered expectations, in a good way.


      If you do the 5 runners up, now it’s like the trailers before the dvd plays. Coming to GroupBy.org this November “T-SQL for Beginners by Andrea Allred”. So if you re-use the same votes to determine lightning talks, now it’s like a preview for the next event. Adds continuity, builds interest in voting. People have more to go off of.


While I’m on the subject, you could also consider panel talks or some kind of Q/A session. Maybe something like your Office Hours podcast, but where you acknowledge that BI exists as a field 😉


    Sure, panel talks or Q&A sessions are absolutely welcome – none have been submitted yet, but you’re welcome to submit ’em. I think with the right panel of personalities and the right topic, it’d be easy to get that voted in.

    I wouldn’t want to curate topics or session types though. I want to keep the session list 100% decided by the public via transparent means. (It’s not that I don’t like curated conferences – they’re wonderful – I just want to aim for a different niche here, purely democratic.)


      I’m all for keeping it democratic. But I think some of these types of talks need a little prodding to get submitted in the first place. Once people see it’s normal, more will come.

      I hear you’ve got some connections, Brent. Maybe you can poke some people, or voluntell your staff to submit an office hours presentation.

      I’ll go lovingly harass the dbatools team to consider submitting a talk like they did for the Data Partners podcast.


        I’ll totally leave that up to the community to drive the kind of content they want to see – I’m just not going to be pushing it in one way or another. (I’ve got my hands full just building the plumbing and running the conference, heh – the content really is up to the community here.)


I’d love to see more speakers pop in/out between sessions. I love the adhoc Q&A, and impromptu presentations on using ? emoji as a batch separator… but I’d love to see this be more people jumping on camera to help those things along. Having the BOU team there is great, but it would be nice to see more speakers/bloggers/whoever joining in for those intermission chats. This might dovetail nicely with Gene’s suggestion to get some lightning talks going between main sessions… just getting more faces into the conversation.

Scott Buchholz
April 26, 2017 5:34 pm

Great tweaks so far. My only “issue” is being West Coast. I’ve started just waiting for the recordings rather than getting my behind out of bed for the 5am start. Call me weak but I’m glad for those recordings.


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