My personal experience with PASS events is somewhat modest. I've attended the PASS Summit conference twice, I've only been to one SQL Saturday, and attendance at my local PASS chapter spans less than two years. In spite of my limited experience, I've come to this conclusion: code samples and/or live demos are better than PowerPoint slides. Now, this may be a contentious topic. I want to stress that this is my personal opinion. You may decide I'm dead wrong. So keep that in mind and please continue reading.
I suppose I came to this realization on Thursday last week in Seattle. I sat in on a U-SQL presentation. Here's a sample of what I saw:
That's Visual Studio (or at least the VS shell) and some actual code. This particular presenter showed a lot of code too. I don't know much about U-SQL, but I saw a lot of elements that I was personally drawn to (lots of data, C#, and a T-SQL-like language). If nothing else, the presenter piqued my interest and made me want to investigate further. It was one of my favorite sessions of the week. As I thought back to some of my previous sessions, I realized they were mostly, if not entirely, driven by PowerPoint slides. For me, that's not what I want.
Take database backups as an example. (Note: I've never seen a presentation on backups. I'm not trying to single anyone out.) If I attended a session on backups, I'd want to see the presenter backup a database using either the SSMS GUI, a T-SQL script, or both. Sure, I'd expect a discussion on the different types of backups, et al. That could very well be covered in PowerPoint. I've got no issue with that. But the live demo and/or runnable code needs to play a prominent role. That's the part of a presentation that brings the most value to me.
Maybe you see things differently. After all, what's important to you may be entirely different than what's important to me (more on this later). And further, some topics don't lend themselves well to demos or code samples. Take the PASS Summit keynote by David DeWitt. By all accounts, his presentation was the runaway favorite as best session of the week. As I recall, it was just him talking along with his slide deck.
If you're a presenter, I imagine somewhere along the way you've mumbled something about the "Demo Gods". Yeah, I get it. I've done presentations on a small scale at my employer. A live demo that fails sucks. But so what? You work through it. Go back to your slide deck to finish up your thought. Move on to the next part of your presentation. I've written plenty of code and scripts with bugs in them. It comes with the territory. I accept that of myself and others. I hate to think that some of the smartest, most talented people in the SQL community are holding back out of fear of failure in front of a crowd. The presenter might save face, but the attendees end up missing out. I felt strongly enough about this sentiment that I wrote this on the community wall at PASS Summit:
"Can PASS publish the demo % with each session description?"
With that in mind, I have an idea for PASS. I've been told that when the hopefuls submit sessions for PASS Summit, they are asked for the demo percentage (I'm not sure if it's the same for SQL Saturday). Can we have this percentage included with session descriptions? This may help attendees find the presentations that will benefit them the most. It would also be nice to indicate downloadable code samples accompany a session too (maybe a simple "Code samples available" checkbox). A little extra info that describes the session isn't a bad thing, is it? Anyone that doesn't want or need that info can simply disregard it. As a PASS event attendee, I like these ideas a lot. However, if you're a PASS event presenter, you might share a different perspective that I've not considered. If that's the case, please leave a comment below.