On January 5th, 2013 the SharePoint community will reach a major milestone: the 5th anniversary of SharePoint Saturday. From its meager beginnings in Virginia Beach, Virginia, this community-led phenomenon has spread to 5 continents, with almost weekly events being held somewhere in the world. Created by Michael Lotter with the help of community members Eric Harlan and Susan Lennon, both of whom have gone on to join the ranks at Microsoft, the initial goal of SharePoint Saturday was simple: to bring major conference speakers and content to cities and user communities that would otherwise never have a major conference.
The fundamentals of SharePoint Saturday are simple: they take place on a Saturday (for the most part). Attendance is always free (again, for the most part). And the focus is the local community. While the events may have expanded to larger communities and cities, with some events attracting upwards of 400 to 500 attendees, the majority have stayed true to the original vision of the founders, with averaging attendance hovering somewhere around 150 attendees.
This past weekend I finally made my way to one of the SPS Twin Cities events in Minneapolis. My hotel was located across the street from the Mall of America, in fact. It was one of the larger SPS event, with around 450 attendees plus speakers and sponsors, with 4 tracks, each containing 8 sessions, giving attendees 32 different options for content. My first session on content governance had a typical audience of 25 to 30, but my second session on little used 2010 out-of-the-box features broke a record, attracting 129 attendees. We had to bump another session out of the large auditorium just to make room. Contrast that with SPS Bend, which I have helped to organize for two years now. Bend is a small, high desert city in central Oregon with a small but vibrant SharePoint community. We had 86 attendees this year with just over a dozen speakers participating. And it was a blast.
If you've never had a chance to attend a SharePoint Saturday, the model is fairly straight forward: most open registration early in the morning, with a keynote address and guidance for navigating the venue over the course of the day. Sponsors cover the expenses, representing local, nations, and even international product and service companies serving the SharePoint space, with many of them filling a central area with exhibit tables. Breakfast and lunch are often provided, as well as raffle prizes at the end of the day. But the main focus is the content, with speakers selected from within the local user group and from across the broader SharePoint community.
What makes a SharePoint Saturday successful?
- Keep it simple. You're not trying to re-create the massive conferences. It's meant to be closer to the code camp model, with minimal overhead and lots of good content and networking. That's it.
- Focus on the community. If you don't have the community onboard, you will not be successful. Knock down the competitive walls, and invite everyone to participate, whether it be battling technical user groups or competing consulting companies. Put that aside and come together for the betterment of the community.
- Follow the leaders. Look at what has been successful elsewhere, rinse and repeat. Don't reinvent the wheel, but talk to other SPS organizers and figure out what went right, what they recommend you avoid.
- Don't sweat the small stuff. Not everything will go perfect (except for the last SPS Redmond event -- that one went beautifully) and it doesn't have to. If you have good speakers, good content, and a decent turnout, you're ok. Whether the food is perfect, your budget includes nice raffle items and attendee or speaker shirts -- not important. Again, keep it simple.
Arguably, the success of SharePoint Saturday has little to do with the parent organization and founders, and everything to do with the success and capability of the local communities who run them. Certainly, there is a centralized site and model for how to run them, and a shared list of sponsors, but those are a result of success, not the driver of that success. I'm looking forward to helping organize more SPS events in 2013, including Redmond, Bend, Silicon Valley, and Salt Lake City. I'm also hoping to help out with Portland and Vancouver, and will be working with a few folks to try and get Boise off the ground. If you are looking to get involved with any of these locations, feel free to reach out to me. We're always looking for locals who want to help.