Monday, December 16, 2013

Open letter to No-Shows at a Free Conference

Dear all prospective conference participants,

In efforts to make things better for the future, I wanted to share you my perspective from something that happened last weekend at Tampere Goes Agile 2013 -conference. A lot of people, about 60 that had enrolled did not show up at the conference. In addition, there were about 20 people who cancelled in advance during the last week, when the per participant cost has been fixed to a level regardless of if you let us know or not.

Picture: these badges were left without their owner (We know who you are)

Some people feel really upset about this. The hard reality is that we payed 41 € / person who we reserved a space for, and with 80 no-shows, there is a sum of 3280 € +VAT 24% that we could have used on other things like beer at the location for those who were there. If we would buy beers that cost 8 € / unit for end users, we missed out on 508 pints of beer, that is over 2 units / person at the conference.

I feel that it is your right as a member of these free-form communities to reserve a spot for you and take that cost to be allocated for you. If you were present at the location, I could see you not just as cost factor, but a factor that brings the community value through your skills improving and you contributing to the learning of others and the overall atmosphere of the conference. The same idea of value is relevant for every participant at the conferences, the organizers build these places to meet up with others to generate value that would not happen if we did not discuss actively and build on each other. 

This year we increased the limit of participants so that everyone from the wait list could get in if they wanted. But letting people know on last week or during the conference day does not work. As agile as we are, we should also remember our responsibility to think a bit in advance on those things where that makes a difference - like reserving a place in a conference where you don't show up. 

In summary, I kindly ask all of you going to conferences, to keep in mind these:
  • When you participate actively, you create value that takes our community forward
  • When you enroll and don't show up, you become cost that creates no value.
  • Critically think about your possibilities to be there over a week in advance, but if you end up sick, don't feel obliged to show up just because you think you promised something
There's been plenty of ideas of how we would do things differently because the badges left behind made the problem visible. We could:
  1. Stop making free conferences - all conferences cost something and "only money makes people committed to their enrollments"
  2. Charge money that you give back when you retrieve your badge, like a deposit - but work isn't free either
  3. Put the no-shows on waitlist for next year when they enroll and confirm their spots only when those without the no-show history have acquired their spots 
  4. Hand out twice the amount of places and hope that the no-show rate remains the same, or give the benefit of food & coffee only to N first people on the registration desk, N being the number we officially announced we would have. If lucky, there is no N+1...
  5. Use more money on the no-shows so that they create value - give 20 € on their name for a cause that publishes a list of donators, so that they become donators for not showing up. Tell about this in advance.
  6. Organize only conferences where presenters get in. They tend to be then more committed to showing up, and make good participants too.  
You could probably come up with other great ideas. Personally, I'm not open for anything that makes you feel any worse than you already should since you missed out a brilliant conference regardless of what was your reason. I believe many of you would have seriously wanted to be there and I hope to get the chance to see you there next time. 


  1. I would've gladly paid the 40€ for this event. Sad to see so many no shows. The event could have even lasted for two days with the amount of content presented. But yea, at least the deposit sounds good to me, I've been to some other events where this was done (the deposit was 20$).

  2. It slightly depends on the sign up engine (eventbright is so far the best currently for free events).

    I would suggest looking at a "no show fee" (waved if ticket is cancelled up to 2 days in advance or some such idea).
    The money could be requested as a donation to some charity?

  3. I am, for now, against the idea that we would create free conference which is not free after all. This is probably because at a point in my life I took the scrum master course with Ken Schwaber, I got delayed the second morning, paid for a taxi not to be late and still paid the fine for being late at the location. Some things are just out of your control, and adding a penalty does not make it any better.

    I know people would gladly pay for good contents, but I also would like to see places like this as locations to get in touch with the community you don't feel you belong to yet. Adding barriers does not make that goal easier to achieve.

    All I want is for people to be aware of this, and understand what leads to this behavior. I refuse to buy in to the idea that people don't just care in general, because if I did, I would not organize more events.

    We had a lot of fun with our 140 participants, and that is the value I feel we paid for. :)

    1. I would consider making it opt-in rather than opt-out (current solution). Ie. ask attendees to confirm their spot two weeks before the actual event and give them a week to do that. Drop those that don't confirm and open second registration round to fill in the remaining spots.

      I agree it can get a bit complicated with money. Even the scheme I am proposing comes with overhead but maybe it's an alternative to that.

  4. Forgot to mention: we used Eventbrite, and as per my theory that is a big part of the problem - unpersonalizing the messages we send for the event. Next time I was planning to try not using Eventbrite, just to try it out.

  5. For the record, I was willing to hand out my ticket to anyone in need but I guess I did not advertise it enough. I have no idea if Eventbrite could have accepted return of the ticket. I am very sorry for not showing up but that is just the reality as a family man with kids. I would have not been able to show up even if I had paid for the ticket but then the cost would have been on my wallet, not Agile Finland's.

  6. I think at the point when tickets became available again, people had already committed to other things. Pressing reasons are pressing reasons. People who turn out in a flu just would infect others.

    Until I investigate this a little further, I have hard time believing pressing reasons are the only reasons for no shows. And if I can't understand this, I would most likely recommend a wrong fix.