PASS Summit 2019 Session Evaluation and Tips

I received my PASS Summit 2019 session feedback the other day, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on it. I gave two sessions this year; each one drew a smaller crowd – about 125 for each.  I can’t find my evaluations for past years, but I think my scores were a bit better this year than in previous years from memory alone, at least.

Question HA/DR Talk Upgrades Talk
Rate the value of the session content. 4.55 4.38
How useful and relevant is the session content to your job/career? 4.6 4.52
How well did this session meet your expectations? If there were any areas, questions, and/or pain-points not addressed in this session, please list them in the comments. 4.35 4.29
How well did the session’s Title, Abstract, Level, Technology Focus, Content Stream, and Audience align with what was presented? If this session was incorrectly assigned, please indicate the correct category or categories in the comments. 4.65 4.48
Rate the speaker’s knowledge and expertise of the subject matter. 4.8 4.67
Rate the overall presentation and delivery of the session content. 4.7 4.52
Rate the balance of educational content versus that of sales, marketing, and promotional subject matter. 4.6 4.52


The questions were all rated on a 1-5 scale. One is the lowest; five is the highest. There were a few common points for some of the questions in the comments:

For the Upgrading SQL Server Talk

First, there were some great comments like these, which were just overall “cool” comments – but also the second one was exactly a takeaway I had in my own goals for the talk. A few news items also made that a more critical goal with some features going into SQL Server standard in SQL Server 2019, and some HA/DR license benefits –

  • Excellent!
  • Great. Making me think about dropping from enterprise to standard but getting more cores than we have.

There were other comments in the form of these examples –

  • Very personable, relatable speaker.
  • Very relevant to my job, great presentation.

Which were also great to receive. The scary part about doing a decidedly intro talk and trying to keep it at a high level, leave room for entry-level/newer folks to take away much, and keep it interactive is that you may annoy some people who wanted more.

My Abstract for this upgrade talk is below

It’s (way past) time to upgrade your SQL Server environment, especially you sitting there on SQL Server 2008! Where do you start? What version should you pick? How do you migrate? What about the downtime? ARGH! Come to this session and take the stress out of your SQL Server upgrade project. In this session, we’ll walk through all you need to think about and do before, during, and after your upgrade for success. We’ll answer your upgrade questions, but you’ll also leave with the right questions to ask everyone else as you prepare for a successful SQL Server upgrade project. We’ll talk about successful upgrade checklists, best practices, why roulette is better than in-place upgrades, and how to minimize the strain on your users and teams during the upgrade. You’ll leave with a working start on your upgrade checklist and plans too, with a lot of free content and tools! Come on! Ditch those SQL Server 2008, 2012, and 2014 instances! Also, yes, we’ll chat about the cloud some, too.
And at the start, I gave a couple of warnings for this talk (and the HA/DR talk) letting folks know this would be a conversation, it would hopefully be interactive, and I was going to keep it simple and basic and not get into tools per se – because how can you cover all the angles in an hour. I suggested folks check out my Upgrade webinar series, but even that is bigger on theory than on tools demos. The theory is the hard part. The tools to analyze upgrades are easy.
But I got a couple of comments that clearly showed me want for more here. And I’ll let this inspire me to bolt a couple of webinars onto my Upgrade webinar. Maybe do a “Part Deux: The Tools!” and go through some upgrade analysis/etc. Perhaps some shorts using various tools and techniques… These comments were very fair, and I tried to head them off in the abstract and the intro where I told folks, “Please! Leave! if they wanted more” but definitely some things can go into the next 75-minute version of this I do at a UG (A sidebar on tools, and some videos ready to link to about demoing the tools is one, talking about edition upgrade/downgrade, maybe more on PowerShell and automation with DBATools.IO for the migration side, again maybe with a video, and a chat about the OS upgrade, but my answer there, as a DBA, is “Work with the sysadmins” 😉 but we’ll touch on it.)
  • “I was expecting a bit more on the technical side, such has tools to use to automate the upgrades. How about the OS? Upgrading the OS can be more challenging than upgrading SQL, and I’m not going to run SQL 2019 on Windows Server 2008 R2.”
  • “I expected more depth”
  • Wanted to see tips, experience and knowledges about upgrade and edition downgrade, but….


The HA/DR talk had a couple of similar comments about wanting more in-depth, one at least acknowledged the abstract and intro. A few one-word praises. There were a couple of comments about the “style” of the presentation here as well. Comments like these few I picked:

  • engaging and humorous. great overview of ha/dr.
  • Really enjoyed the speakers delivery of content.
  • I loved the open feel of this session. It’s very appropriate for something that like HA/DR which has a lot of decision making to it.
  • I’ve been doing HA/DR on SQL Server for decades, and I learned something in this session!

The abstract from this session:

Your company needs to achieve high availability and disaster recovery, but there are many choices nowadays (more than a few ways inside of SQL Server, third-party options, on-prem, cloud, VM based technologies, oh my!). How do you choose what’s right for YOU and your company? In this “DBA 101” session, you’ll wade through all of the choices and understand the pros and cons of each. You’ll also learn which questions you should be asking of the business. Find your needs, then the right solution. Not the other way around! You’ll leave more informed about the choices, have some guides to help you pick, and you’ll be on your way to the right choice! This session is for SQL Server technologists who “get SQL,” but are looking to weigh their HA/DR options out and want to level up their knowledge and go back to the office prepared to be a consultant to your company and tackle those HA/DR needs.

One observation from my side, and backed up in at least a few of the comments plus a few tips that worked for me  – 

I attended a “Community Session” at the MVP Summit a year ago. It was not during the “NDA Portion” so I can talk about it and commend this man’s session to you if you ever see him speaking somewhere. His name is Dux Raymond Sy. He is an MVP. And he gave an exceptionally well-received session about speaking. He gave a lot of great tips on engaging with the audience and preparation.

I’ve been speaking in the SQL Server “circuit” since 2011, but this was the first time I finished my sessions and felt invigorated, alive, and excited afterward. I didn’t follow all of his tips. But I did a few things in preparation, and during the session, that was very different for me. And I owe those changes to his presentation. You can see a video based on the presentation I saw here.

So a few things I did differently here inspired by Dux. I truly believe this made the presentation gel better for me. Still, it also helped engage the audience earlier, helped them prepare to listen and participate and made for a more enjoyable experience for all. I hope that it also meant the knowledge stuck better.

  1. I really thought about “What do I want to be different about the people here today?” – These were not “technical” chats diving into a demo, but they were conceptual concepts. I wanted folks to feel comfortable upgrading and confidence to build a checklist and get upgrading for the first. For the other talk, I wanted people to realize that the options for HA/DR are more accessible than they feared, and perhaps more attainable than they realized. I wanted them to walk away, excited about, and ready to upgrade or implement HA/DR. Thinking actively about the “goals” and what I wanted to be different about the audience helped me hone the presentation to the goal.
  2. I “worked the room” before. I walked around and talked to some folks. I’ve done that a little earlier. But sometimes I stand up there and stare awkwardly as the people fill in the room and do a quick short “5 minutes and we’ll start… 3 minutes.. 1 minute”. So this time, I walked around as folks came in. I met some people. I got to know them. This built some friendly eyes to go and pick on for interaction, but it loosened me up to be able to focus on coaching the folks in the audience.
  3. I started “on the ground” – I walked around the room at the start. I started quickly with my disclaimer at the intro slide, but then I went into an audience relationship building section. I talked about mistakes I’ve made by asking for a show of hands for folks who have made the same mistakes. I added some humor – because, well, they are funny failures in the comfort of hindsight. I showed them I was human, and I knew the topics because I’ve messed them up. I interacted with the audience about their similar mistakes. And I started heading up to the stage while introducing the topics, talked through the agenda, and goals for learning. And a story about why it mattered.
  4. I finally introduced myself. Rather than just saying, “Here’s a long, complicated bio slide” at the start – I wanted to start with the audience building, then tell them what I was going to tell them, then tell them what I want to learn. Then I introduced myself briefly.
  5. I introduced self-effacing humor here and there in my talk – and I kept going back to the goals, the abstract, and hopes for their learning.
  6. I paused for interaction and built time for interaction.
  7. I tried to keep this real with real-life positive and negative stories of the lessons.


I’d do other things differently and better next time, and I’d have more supporting resources at a higher level. I will have to begin working on an HA/DR webinar and Part 2 for the upgrade webinar series in 2020.

Thanks for coming to the session! And Dux, thanks for the tips!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share This