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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions. Andy is co-host of the Data Driven podcast. Andy is no longer updating this blog. His current blog is

On Presentation Evaluations

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Published Wednesday, December 14, 2011 8:01 AM by andyleonard

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Koen Verbeeck said:

Great blog post.

I had to deliver an MS BI training once and my manager said I needed to give a level 100 one. (students were total beginners)

I had a level 200-300 training lying around, and lazy as I am :), I gave that one with a bit more focus on the harder parts. Result: students were very pleased with the training and I got great feedback. Conclusion: they don't care about the level, as long as they learn.

December 14, 2011 7:10 AM

Matt Masson said:

I think the session level numbers are needed as a guide, for both the presenter and the attendees. It's hard to tell just by reading the title (and sometimes even the abstract). I don't see how the current system is different from using non-numeric levels - Beginner (100), Intermediate (200-300), Advanced (400), Expert (400-500).

December 14, 2011 9:02 AM

andyleonard said:

"I don't see how the current system is different from using non-numeric levels..."

Hi Matt,

  I agree. That's why using non-numeric levels is a compromise and not truly a solution. If someone is developing a curriculum, levels make sense. For a collection of presentations from different presenters on different topics? No. It's an unnecessary distraction for both presenters and attendees, in my opinion.


December 14, 2011 9:28 AM

jonmcrawford said:

Does any presenter ever tell someone in a 400 level course that they won't cover material because they should already know it, or they shouldn't have come?

December 14, 2011 1:56 PM

andyleonard said:

Hi Jon,

  I am not sure about other presenters. I have never said someone should not attend my Level 400 session if they do not already know A, B, and C.

  I'm sure some people get more out of some presentations than others, but I believe anyone can take something away from every presentation.


December 14, 2011 3:18 PM

a.m. said:

Jon: Kind of. If I have 75 minutes to cover a 400 or 500 level topic, and someone asks a 200 level question, unless I'm doing VERY well on time I'm going to (politely!) tell them that we can talk later. And privately I'm going to be thinking, "why did they come to this session?" But no, I probably wouldn't come out and say anything.

As for session levels, they are very much needed. Consider the following session title:

"Transaction Logging: How it Works"

Is this a beginner talk? Sounds like it. It might cover basic concepts around transaction logging. But wait! ... It could also be an expert talk. It could be hardcore internals. Which is it?

Well, you could read the abstract, but oh wait, the abstracts are huge and we can't possibly print them all in the little pamphlet that is put into the conference's badge holder. We need a way to quickly convey who should attend. We need... Levels.

December 14, 2011 3:31 PM

andyleonard said:

Hi Adam,

  That makes sense. When I get questions that are beyond the scope of a given talk, I also politely defer them until later.

  I like your example about Transaction Logging. I believe a beginner could learn a lot from an advanced presentation on the topic, and an experienced database professional could glean something from a beginner-level session.

  As someone who reads the abstracts provided online and in the bigger booklet containing them, I may just be projecting. I still think complaints about level are misdirected and the actual complaint lies elsewhere.


December 14, 2011 4:45 PM

Toine said:

I've recently been to sql rally nordic, where there were no level indicators on the sessions in the online agenda or physical schedule. Some of the levels could be guessed from the abstracts, but on most of them this wasn't the case either. Partly due to this i went to 4 sessions (out of 10 time slots) that i wouldn't have gone to if i would have known the levels, which appeared first when filling in the session evaluations.

Personally i would never complain about the level put on a session (as long as one doesn't mix up 100 with 500), but when there are multiple interesting sessions in the same time slot i find the level indicator helpful to pick which session to go to. Though it is never the primary reason.

December 14, 2011 6:12 PM

andyleonard said:

Hi Toine,

  Your experience has me rethinking. Do you think clearer abstracts would have helped? The PASS Summit requests a list of take-aways the attendee should expect to learn. Did they do that at Rally Nordic?


December 14, 2011 7:33 PM

Toine said:

Hi Andy,

Clearer abstracts would definitly have helped in 1 or 2 cases, since the abstract that was available wasn't really related to the content of the session. There weren't any take aways in the abstracts either.

The main problem i see with sessions/levels is that the 100's and 500's are quite easy to recognise/classify. And the expected content of sessions containing one of those levels is generally matching.

The real problem exists with the 200's, 300's and 400's (or Intermediate/Advanced) because the level is based on the reference window of both the presenter and the attendees. For attendees the indication about their own level is only related to the knowledge they have about what they know and don't know. And since most of them don't know which part they don't know they'll put their personal level higher than what an expert would put them on (ofcourse there is also the group of attendees that think they are intermediate while they are near expert). Presenters will generally be subject experts, but when they put a level on their sessions they'll have to take into account how an attendee would rate the session as well.

I totally agree that level indicators shouldn't be the leading argument for choosing a session (for some attendees it is totally unrelated because they are only interested in 1 of the tracks anyway), but for the ones that are interested in content from 2 or more different tracks it should be the abstracts. Howevere when multiple sessions look interesting a level indicator will definitly help to choose the right session to go to.

One example i had at the Nordic rally was 2 sessions were going at the same time. Both of their abstracts stood out and i choose the one which i expected to be the session that would be the "right" one. However the session i picked pointed out to be a 200 and the other one was a 400. I can say that i got maybe 1 or 2 things out of the 200 session, but i know for sure that i would have gotten a lot more out of the 400 one. However if both of the sessions would have had the same level i would have gotten most out of the session i attended.


December 15, 2011 6:50 AM

Brent Ozar said:

I'm with ya - I abhor the numeric level system, and I'd rather see categories like Concept Introductions, Demo-Fest, Performance Tuning, Troubleshooting, etc.

December 15, 2011 8:55 AM

andyleonard said:

Hi Toine and Brent,

  Toine: Excellent description of the difficulty with 200, 300, and 400 sessions - and I completely agree with your points about the context attendees bring to every session.

  Brent: I like this suggestion a lot. One presentation may cover more than one category and your list would account for that. Cool!


December 15, 2011 11:13 AM

Gary Mazzone said:

I never mind going to a Level 100 session on SSIS.  Yes I have packages in Production systems I have writen Script tasks to pull data from https sites as xml and used XSD to convert the data to load into the databases.  But there is always something I don't know.  

If there is a choice between a 100 and a 400 level session in SSIS I would probaly go for the 400 but If there was a 200 level and Andy or Matt were presenting I wouldn't mind doing that session over the 400.  I like their presentations and always get more out of the session the the level they said the talk was.

December 16, 2011 1:44 PM

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