Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Greedy Speakers are the Death of conferences

Conference organizing is hard work. Lots of hours. Stress over risks. '

But it's also great and amazing. Bringing people together to learn and network makes me feel like I'm making a small difference in the world.

And for me in 2017 it has also been losing some tens of thousands of euros on organizing a conference that was totally worth the investment, regardless. 

I organize conferences idealistically. My ideology is two-fold: 
  1. I want to change the world of conferences so that money isn't blocking the voices from getting to stage. 
  2. I want to raise money to do more good by supporting speakers for conferences that don't pay the speakers.
I also organize without raising money, and I've made organizing without any money a form of art for myself in the last 15 years. But that's local meetups, and I do a lot of them. I have four coming up in the next month. 

I'm tired of conferences, where majority of speakers are vendors, because they have an interest in paying for the speaking. I want to hear from practitioners, and sometimes consultants if they keep the selling to a minimum. Bottom line is that all speakers have something to sell anyway, their personal brand if nothing else.

I would like to believe that conference going is not a zero sum game, where choosing one is away from the other. People need places where to share, and there's a lot of people to listen to various perspectives. But I also feel that people need to make choices in which conference they go to, with their limited budget. Cheap conferences are great, it enables your organization to send more people out. But conferences are cheap if the money comes elsewhere. And this elsewhere is sponsors and speakers as sponsors, paying their own way to work for the conference.

Being able to afford the cost is a privilege not everyone has. I would like to see that change and thus support the idea of Not Paying to Speak at Conferences. And this means travel + hotel paid. No fancy expense accounts, not even paying for the hours of work to put into the talk you're delivering, but taking away the direct cost.

Conferences that don't pay but yet seek non-local voices have made a choice of asking their speakers to sponsor them and/or the audience (if truly low-cost). If they're explicit about it, fine.

The could choose to seek local voices so that travel and expenses are not relevant. But they want to serve the local community with people's voices that travel, and people (who can afford the travel in the first place) have the freedom to make that choice. The local community never has a chance of hearing from someone who won't travel. They haven't heard that voice before, and still won't. And the ones who can't afford (I was one!) can be proud and choose to remain local, rather than go begging for special treatment. Some people don't mind asking.

I wrote all of this to comment on a tweet:
I've been told that travel expenses for the speakers and in particular paying the speakers is the death of commercial conferences too. They need to pay the organizers salaries. It's a choice of ticket pricing and who gets paid first. Local conferences don't die for travel expenses, if they work with local speakers. But they tend to like to reach out to "names" that could bring news from elsewhere to this local community.

The assumption is that a higher ticket price is death of a conference. It's based on the idea that people don't value (with money) the training they're receiving. Perhaps that is where the change needs to be - expecting free meals.

I can wholeheartedly support this: 
Do that even if you're not a first time speaker. There's nothing wrong with building your local community through sharing. It might give you more than the international arenas.

Greedy speakers are not the death of conferences. There's conferences with hugely expensive professional speakers that cost loads, and still fill up. If anything is death of conferences, it's the idea that people are so used to getting conferences free that they don't pay what the real cost of organizing a *training* oriented conference is.

Luckily we have open spaces where everyone is equal and pays. We're all speakers, all participants. Conferring can happen without allocated speakers, as people meet.