Have We Seen The End of Local SharePoint Events?

by , Posted May 31, 2011 - 19:25

The Local Aspect of SharePoint events is slowly slipping away in favor of uber-conference atmosphere. Can we change this?

The question is simple: When was the last time you attended a SharePoint community event or conference where 3/4th of the speakers were local and based in that area?

Many SharePoint professionals who have gone on to become internationally known and respected, author numerous books, and influence the next generation of SharePoint talent can cite their involvement with their local Code Camp, User Group, Special Interest Group, or company Lunch and Learn session as the breeding ground for their confidence and newfound public speaking ability. The growth and continued operation of regional events and organizations are the heartbeat of the SharePoint community.

In attending quite a few SharePoint Saturdays,Code Camp and other community events over the past 2-3 years, I’m noticing a trend as the SharePoint industry continues to grow and expand that is impacting regional events. Let’s take a look at the growth of SharePoint Saturday and how it trickled down to other aspects of the community.

The primary impact of SharePoint Saturday was that it leveraged Social Media and the User Group community to establish a legitamite speaker’s circuit for regional SharePoint professionals to cut their teeth by delivering sessions and through consistent presence at events, gain exposure on a nationwide level, thus increasing their credibility and value as a SharePoint pro/expert/specialist.
Prior to the explosion of SharePoint Saturday events, there existed two types of speakers which I’ll label as The Mega Conference Speaker and The Regional Code Camp Speaker.

The Mega Conference SharePoint Speaker is a RockStar in every sense of the word

The Mega Conference Speaker can best be characterized and described as a SharePoint thought leader in their given discipline who has enjoyed years of notoriety as a top tier SharePoint expert and authored the books/blog posts that provided the entire SharePoint industry direction on how a particular feature is to be understood and best practices for utilization. A large number of Mega Conference Speakers have earned the MVP designation at one point in their careers or have maintained it throughout for continous value given to the community. If the Mega Conference Speaker attended your event, an instant boost of credibility was given to the overall Speaker’s lineup and organizers can count on standing-room only in their sessions.

The Regional Code Camp Speaker

 The Regional Code Camp Speaker was a knowledgeable SharePoint professional .
It is interesting to note that prior to the release of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, many Regional Code Camp Speakers were working as IT professionals in other disciplines ranging from Network Administrator, .PHP/.Net Development, Project Management, Business Analyst, Graphics Design and converted into a career in SharePoint after their company implemented SharePoint in one of many deployment scenarios. The learning curve was steep for MOSS 2007, so they joined their local SharePoint User Group to connect with like-minded SharePoint professionals to ask questions and find answers. Soon after, they started delivering technical presentations at the local SUGs and Code Camp throughout their region and the Speakers on the higher end of this spectrum started to travel outside of their region and delivered sessions at Code Camps in other cities and states.

SharePoint Saturday: Not Your Typical Community Event

From the very first SharePoint Saturday event held in Virginia Beach, it was obvious that this wasn’t your typical SharePoint event as speakers traveled from far and wide to attend and be a witness to the start of something magical. SharePoint Saturday also provided a format where over 20 speakers can be featured within a one-day conference. This lead to other SharePoint Saturday event organizers attemping their hand at hosting events in their cities but the key catalyst was the SharePoint communities’ usage of Social Networking  that enabled community organizers to:

  1.  Spread the word in real-time about upcoming events to a concentrated group of SharePoint professionals
  2. Expand their available Speaker pool from 1-3 neighboring states to the entire US (and now global) depending on the event’s performance track record

 

Has Nationwide Focus and Demand Impacted Regional Events?

Let’s be honest. Organizers put a lot of time and effort into events that they host. It is very hard to say ‘no’ to an accomplished author/speaker/expert if they are willing to foot the cost to attend and speak at an event that an Organizer is hosting. The reality is certain names entice people to attend and spread the word which leads to greater chances of a successful event.

This has lead to many community/regional events taking on the look, feel, and approach of a mega-conference. Many of our speaker lineups are featuring SharePoint pros from all around the US, and this also trickles down to the smaller SharePoint markets, who would typically have to shell out thousands of dollars to attend a paid conference to enjoy such star-studded lineups. In the effort to plan the best event for the attendees, many new Speakers that are based locally may have fallen by the wayside.

The tough questions are:

  • Does the focus on gaining the best speakers from a nationwide pool impact the grooming and development of a new crop of speakers?
  • Have we as an industry lost focus on what community events are intended to be?

Here’s a comment from a previous post on SharePoint Careers from Mark Miller of End User SharePoint that highlights the issue concerning local events:

“A problem now occurring is that SharePoint Saturday and other regional events, originally created to allow locals to participate as speakers and gain recognition in their local area, is being overridden by the chance to hear nationally recognized speakers at these free events.”

“My concern is not so much with top quality presentations, but that a majority of the slots remain available for locals who want to present new ideas and aren’t known on the speaking circuit.”

 

Are there Any Good Examples?

SharePoint Saturday DC: Federal provided a solid blueprint on how to host an event with a regional focus on local topics and/or speakers. It was the first SharePoint Saturday event with a focused theme throughout. The challenge for other Organizers in other regions is to find the topics that the attendees in their given region would support.

What are Event organizers doing to promote new speakers?

Are there designated slots available for each event to include new SharePoint community speakers?

Are local events a thing of the past as the SharePoint community expands globally?

Submit your Viewpoint on the topic.

Written by: Shadeed Eleazer

Photo credit: G Mcfly under Creative Commons License

Post By Shadeed Eleazer (56 Posts)

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618 total views, 1 today

  • Mr. Avto

    Hi. Great SharePoint info. Thank You for posting this.

  • Joe Litic

    Shadeed, great writeup. How do I get in touch to discuss? Will you be at another event soon?

  • James Canel

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for putting up.

  • http://spinsiders.com/ruveng Ruven Gotz

    Your post did make me stop and think for a minute: Are the more famous speakers crowding out opportunities for others to ‘come up’ through the system? I think the answer is ‘yes’, there is a definite impact on SharePoint Saturday events, but your provocative headline is not proven out.

    At the SharePoint Saturday events that I have attended (and the SharePoint Camp that help to organize in Toronto), there are always slots – the majority of slots, in fact – available for local speakers. I think the balance is generally pretty good; you get a good collection of local/regional speakers – generally more than half the slots – and you get some well-known speakers who help draw some of the crowd.

    By the way, ‘rock-star’ speakers don’t have as big an impact on the crowd as you may think: Even famous speakers are a lot less famous than we think they are. If you sit with local people whom you don’t know at lunch (which I try to do), you’ll find that most of the names on their schedule sheets are just names, not celebreties, and they are looking for help on what to attend based on title/abstract, not fame. I think that in many cases, having well-known speakers can ensure a certain level of session quality. Also, newer speakers can learn how to improve the quality of their presentations by observing those who have honed and practiced their material. (However, I have seen newbie speakers do presentations that are much better than some from much more experienced presenters.)

    My experience as a SP User Group organizer is that we are always looking for local speakers to address our groups. This is a much friendlier and less intimidating environment where they can learn to build a presentation and tame their butterflies. SP Saturday organizers are usually well connected with (or running) the local user group, so they know who has made an effort to present and will be able to select those people to speak.

    SharePoint’s growth has led to some growing pains within the community, but I think that SPS events have gotten better, have continued to bring new speakers along, and provide huge value to thousands of people who otherwise would not be able to attend a conference.

    • Tasha

      +1 to Ruven. I couldn’t have said it better. The one thing I might add is that the propensities brought forth in this article might be the case for *some* SharePoint Saturday events, but certainly not all- having gone to a large number of mid-Atlantic SPS events, the down-home feel of some of them can’t be denied.

      • Shadeed Eleazer

        Sure. There are several events that have a ‘local’ feel to them. My point in writing was the observation of a trend that I saw growing so I raised it for discussion. I can point to local events for a big portion of my speaking experience and building credibility as a SharePoint professional and I don’t want that opportunity to be not available for the next person in the community.

    • Shadeed Eleazer

      Your post did make me stop and think for a minute: Are the more famous speakers crowding out opportunities for others to ‘come up’ through the system?

      This is exactly what conference organizers should do as well. Stop and think about who is being selected and the value that their event has on the community at large. Code Camps, User Groups happen to be the farm system that produces the next phenomenal speaker in the SharePoint community. Those opportunities have to remain even at the expense of the big conference atmosphere.

    • Kaeden

      Heckuva good job. I sure appreciate it.

  • http://www.letscollaborate.co.za Veronique Palmer

    I agree with Ruven on the rockstar thing. We’ve made people into rockstars by being those circles, but the average business user in a company sure doesn’t know who any of those people are. The only way they find out, is by us selling the broader community to them. I often ask my community and clients if they know speaker X – and every single time without fail, it’s no.

    End of local events – can’t speak for anyone else, but we won’t let that happen in our region. But I hear your point on giving local people a chance to speak. It is only fair and there are hidden gems of note waiting to be discovered.

    We have a saying in South Africa – “local is lekker”! It means, local is nice or great. :-) ) Hard to translate it well, but you get the idea. We have monthly user group meetings as well as SPS’s and we get anyone that wants to speak on the stage.

    Maybe we just care cos we all arrange these things, but maybe the delegates attending don’t. Maybe they just want to see good content regardless of who’s delivering it.

    SPS organisers could decide to only extend speaking slots to the international speakers IF the local speakers can’t fill the slots. It’s just a choice really.

  • http://tomresing.com Thomas Resing

    Who we consider big names as community leaders and who the average SharePoint Saturday attendees consider worth watching are two different things.
    For example, at the last SharePoint Saturday DC, with 1000 attendees, I sat in one of Bill English’s session with around 12 others. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get in the room, but I was able to be a part of an intimate converation with a good group. 988 people didn’t agree he was a “can’t miss” speaker, yet eveyone I talked to enjoyed every session they went to.
    There is room for local speakers at these events and there is room for the major conference regulars, as well.

    • Shadeed Eleazer

      Tom, I judge all speakers from a Toastmasters’ perspective. From that standpoint, there are speakers who know their stuff but
      lack good presentation basics/best practices and then there are people who are just flat out great presenters.
      I do agree with the points that you raised in your comment.

  • Elmira

    This is the perfect way to break down this information.

    • Shadeed Eleazer

      Thank You. I appreciate that you took the time to read this article. – Shadeed