Pay to Present? I don’t think so!

There is some strong language and emotion here, and remember it’s just my opinion. Don’t read if you are easily offended!

Something interesting crossed my inbox last night. There was an email thread amongst a bunch of presenters about a policy of pay to present at Collaborate this year. I have, and never will present at Collaborate, as Apps is not really my scene, but I think anyone accepting this policy is helping to set a dangerous precedent and I would encourage them not to go. I know funding user group events is problematic, but NO!

Collaborate already do something that I personally think is quite scummy, which is to make you pay $200 extra if you don’t stay in an official event hotel. They’ve done this for a while. This year they are going a step further. If you work for an Oracle partner that isn’t exhibiting at the event, you have to pay to go to the event, even though you are speaking. It’s a reduced rate of $299, but you still have to pay. You can’t present more than one session unless your organisation is a member.

People go to conferences to watch presentations and get advice from presenters. If the presenters weren’t there, there would be no event! We are the commodity they are selling and we don’t get paid to speak. Some lucky people like me get to claim some of our expenses back from evangelist programs, but even then we lose money. I buy back extra holiday from work. Those working in consultancies lose consultancy money. My first two conferences of this year are fully funded by me. If someone were to then tell me, in addition to all the other expenses I incur, I had to pay to go to the event my reply would be something to the tune of, “Shove it up your arse and f*ck off while you’re doing it!”

“But it only affects people working for partners!” Loads of presenters work for partners. Not all partners are giant corporations.

“But think of all the free advertising partners are getting!” Newsflash! Most companies would rather you were working and earning them money than poncing around at a tech conference. Most companies aren’t getting loads of new leads as a result of you presenting at a tech conference. I think people outside the conference circuit have quite a skewed view of what it really is. On numerous occasions I’ve spoken to people about this, and letting their technical staff present is less about company profile and making money, and more about staff development and keeping them happy so they don’t leave and go somewhere else. Good staff come at a price, and not all of it is about wages.

“Times are hard for user groups!” Making the speakers you are relying on to make your event successful pay to attend is a scumbag move.

“But you don’t even go to this conference!” True, but if people start to see this as a revenue stream for their conference, others will follow. I honestly believe this is the thin end of the wedge!

“Why should you get the whole conference experience for free?” I understand this for someone that maybe presents once a year. You could see this as a free learning experience. Having said that, if you present a lot it gets increasingly hard to find something you’ve not seen several times already. Added to that, many presenters are still working during the events. Meetings with existing customers, or just going back to the hotel to do your day job between presentation commitments. It’s not like one long party! 🙂 Update: Samuel Nitsche pointed out, even if you do one presentation a year, you still invest a lot of time to get ready for that, so you still deserve the free pass. I agree. As you say, at least for us we can use the same presentation multiple times, so the investment per event on preparation time is a little less.

“You’re a presenter. Of course you would say that!” I think most of my presenting days are behind me. What happens with user groups and the conference circuit is really of little concern to me personally, but how does this affect who comes next?

I know this might be hard for folks who see Collaborate as their main conference of the year, but I would suggest all speakers and attendees boycott this event unless they reverse this decision! It’s a slippery slope folks!

Just my opinion. You don’t have to agree!

Cheers

Tim…

Update : Some extra things coming out of the woodwork from private messages…

  • Two other reports of different user groups suggesting a pay to present model, then backing down when confronted.
  • Sponsor us, or you can’t present seems to be quite common.
  • Some speakers being paid to speak at regular user group events. I have heard this before, but I’ve never been paid. *
  • Some speakers getting travel expenses paid by the user group for regular user group events. I have been offered this a couple of times, but never taken it. One conference I go to pays the hotel bill for speakers, which is very welcome as I usually end up self funding that one. *

* I have no problem with a user group deciding to pay a speaker, or pay expenses, but I would be super-pissed if I had been asked to pay to present, then I found other speakers at the same event had been paid to be there. Screw that!

I’m telling you people. You’ve got to nip this thing in the bud!

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

10 thoughts on “Pay to Present? I don’t think so!”

  1. I totally agree, Tim. My employer doesn’t pay for travel expenses for conference, even if speaking, unless it’s asked by the clients/market. And they don’t pay for conferences, even at 299$. I can understand they need money but it doesn’t make sense to ask your presenters to pay. By asking to pay, they especially prevent new presenters to show up and they discriminate against those who work in small organizations.

  2. My first reaction is to heartily agree.

    I don’t expect to have a second reaction.

    By the way, the equivalent in Texas of “Shove it up your…” is
    “F*** you and the horse you rode in on!”

    The imagery is a bit more poetic I think.

    Best regards,
    Stew

  3. The purpose of a user conference is the sharing of information between those attending. Burdening presenters with fees will chip away at the purpose. It’s a huge step towards killing the conference altogether.

    I’ve run across this requirement once or twice. My response is always to immediately cancel the speaking engagement and refrain from attending that particular conference. “Just say no.”

  4. I’m going to put up some counterpoints
    1. “If you work for an Oracle partner that isn’t exhibiting at the event, you have to pay to go to the event, even though you are speaking. It’s a reduced rate of $299, but you still have to pay. ”
    Let’s rephrase that to “If you work for an Oracle partner that isn’t exhibiting at the event, you have to pay to go to the event. If you are speaking, it’s a heavily reduced rate of $299. ” which is a bit less alarmist than “pay to present”.

    2. Most of the other factors apply to attendees as well as speakers. Like speakers, they may well be using leave rather than having it count as a work time. They may be losing consultancy revenue. They may be doing their work job between presentations or after the conference day finishes.

    3. “You can’t present more than one session unless your organisation is a member.”
    “if you present a lot it gets increasingly hard to find something you’ve not seen several times already.”

    Maybe diversifying the speakers away from the regulars on the conference circuit would actually help. When people get siloed into thinking of themselves as speakers rather than attendees, there’s a risk that they start to lose focus. While there is effort in preparing and delivering a talk, if the attendees don’t come away with a set of followup actions to implement, then there’s a question mark over the value of that presentation. And if they are getting a similar set of actions from half a dozen, or more, talks, then they are putting in as much time as any speaker.

  5. 200 $ additional administration fee, if I don’t spend the night at there hotels? For what, removing my name from a list? This goes really in the wrong direction and I think I will cancel my presentations.

    So I totally agree with you.

  6. Gary:

    1) I disagree. I know what you are saying, but I disagree. A free pass for speakers is the norm at every conference I’ve ever been to. You may not like it, but this is pay to present as far as I’m concerned. Added to that, the follow-on points of partners being told they can only present at some conferences if they sponsor really is pay to present. Not every speaker from a partner is there because the partner gives a crap about the conference. The papers should be selected based on what is right for the attendees, not who is willing to pay. I understand maybe wanting whitepapers or some guarantee of “no sales pitch” from partners, but as others have said, if they are forced to pay, a sales pitch is what you are going to get, and I have some sympathy for that attitude.

    2) I can’t speak for others, but I didn’t do any conferences before I became a speaker. If I stop presenting, I’ll probably stop going to conferences. Maybe one local one a year if my company pay. Maybe not. Not saying I’m a normal case, but the post is my opinion, and my attitude to conferences is no doubt an influence on my feelings in this matter. International? No way!

    3) Diversity of speakers is great if people apply. Depending on the types of events, this is not always possible. I’ve had to jump in to fill speaker slots a bunch of times because of this. Your last point is totally flawed. I have no idea why you think the amount of effort the attendee puts into the takeaway has any bearing on the amount of effort someone puts into preparing for their session. In fact, the amount of effort the attendee has to put in to implement any changes/functionality should be reduced as someone has done all the hard work for them and saved then falling down the same holes the speaker did. I totally disagree there. So a are you going to charge me for writing a technical article, because it has taken you time to read it and implement what I wrote about.

    Cheers

    Tim…

  7. ” but I didn’t do any conferences before I became a speaker. If I stop presenting, I’ll probably stop going to conferences”
    I think we agree there. Oracle conferences simply aren’t worth paying to attend. I’ll be interested to see if you follow this up with a call to boycott conferences by attendees as well as speakers.

    But I think it shows in spades that you have no idea how it is to attend a conference as a regular paying attendee. Unlike you, I have done so (once, and it isn’t worth it). And you for to me how “easy” it is for attendees because the speaker has done all the hard work is simply bollocks. That would be nice….but it simply isn’t how it works in real life. For the speaker, the hard work finishes when the presentation is delivered (barring later amendments, etc). For the attendee, that’s when it starts. They have to strip out bits that don’t apply to their situation, work out kinks that are almost unique to them, maybe try to squeeze a question in at the end of the presentation. Then switch mental models to a different subject for the next talk starting in 10 minutes.

    Then, depending on versions and plans, it might sit in a draw for a year until it is time to put into action. For most issues web site articles are infinitely better than a PDF of a powerpoint plus a bunch of scribbled notes from an hour long talk from six months or a year ago.

    Take an example. With the EU planning to abolish daylight savings later this year, a bunch of people are going to be upgrading the timezone file in their database once the countries decide on whether they are going permanently ‘summer’ or ‘winter’. A talk (or article) covering the upgrade steps is a starting point, but relatively easy to churn out on a small, isolated test instance. The real work will be identifying and prioritizing databases that are impacted, planning outages, working out what happens if a ‘pre-upgrade’ database talks to a ‘post-upgrade’ database…

    Something like that you want in an article, you can read at your own pace, print, scribble notes on, share around for discussion… As a conference talk, it would just about work as a ‘heads-up’.

    For brand new products/services, overview presentations can be useful, with more detailed implementation issues in documentation or video. But that pushes the useful conferences into fields that are rapidly developing, rather than mature/legacy stacks with slower paced upgrades.

  8. Gary:

    In my post I did say, “I would suggest all speakers and attendees boycott this event unless they reverse this decision!”

    I don’t believe I said it was “easy” for the attendees. I said, “the amount of effort the attendee has to put in to implement any changes/functionality should be reduced”, and I believe this. Much of what we do is not dramatically hard. We just need some activation energy and a few pointers. The presentation “should” inspire and give direction. Depending on the subject it may be the complete solution, but most of the time that’s not possible. Using my article/blog post analogy, you read the post for basic information and maybe some inspiration. You have to alter stuff, and change it for your situation, but if it’s done correctly, the article saves you time compared to learning it all for yourself from the manuals. Same with a good presentation.

    “But I think it shows in spades that you have no idea how it is to attend a conference as a regular paying attendee.” Really? Two reactions to this. First, I have done this, but not for straight Oracle stuff. I went with a sysadmin colleague to an OS/hardware event run by UKOUG. I was not presenting. I also intended to go to OUG Ireland last year as an attendee, but then 2 weeks before the event they asked me to fill some blank slots with two presentations. In both cases my attendance was covered by my company’s UKOUG membership, like pretty much anyone else going to a UKOUG event in the UK. You could even say I was going to, “attend a conference as a regular paying attendee.” 🙂 Second, regardless of my motivations for being there, what I do at a conference and how I approach other people’s sessions are the same. I really don’t get this point, and why you think my approach is any different to anyone else’s. I suppose one big difference is I stay for the whole event, and don’t leave early to go home, or go shopping like many other people. 🙂

    “For most issues web site articles are infinitely better than a PDF of a powerpoint plus a bunch of scribbled notes from an hour long talk from six months or a year ago.” Yes. This is one of the reasons I try to build presentations around articles I’ve already written. In my talks I link back to those articles and tell people that’s a better source, as it has more information, and that information is kept up to date. What’s more, my download pages for the slides include the links to the article(s), demos and videos if there is one. A lot of the speakers do this. It adds to the effort involved in building a new talk, and also makes things “easier” for the attendee. Lots of speakers do this.

    Regarding the timezone thing. OK, but I’m not really sure of the point you are trying to make. If someone were to do that talk, they couldn’t just do it on the steps to upgrade, as it would be 1 or 2 slides. There is nothing to talk about. If they were doing a talk on the subject, they would have to discuss the implications, as you mention. Are you just going to terrible talks or something?

    In your paragraph talk, it pretty much reads like you don’t like conference presentations and prefer to read articles and discuss. So why don’t you do that instead of going to conferences? Don’t you have a meetup in your area still? Why don’t you do this? At every meetup, ask people to read a couple of articles so you can discuss at the next meetup. Kind-of like a book club. You should definitely not go to conferences if you don’t think you are getting value from them. 🙂 I think it’s important to remember different people like to learn in different ways. I much prefer reading manuals and playing with the kit to learn. Some people find that really hard and want “pre-digested” information. Some people love conference presentations. Being away from the office allows them to immerse themselves for a couple of days. There are a load of people out there that do almost nothing other than watch YouTube videos to learn. You literally put a link in the video saying you can find more information here, and the first question they ask is explained in the linked article. They *never* leave YouTube. 🙂 Everyone is different.

    Following on from that point, some people might think I’m down on conferences because of some of the things I say. The way *I like to learn* is fundamentally different to what happens at a conference. If I am interested in something, I’ve probably already learnt about it before going to a conference, but that’s me and my approach. Not everyone is the same as me. 🙂

    Regarding your last point, I kind-of agree, but it gets increasingly hard to think of new talks about mature products. I think conferences have a hard time juggling new people and existing people. There are a couple of my old talks I could literally do at every conference and some people would be learning something. I do one called, “PLSQL : Stop Making The Same Performance Mistakes!” Every time I do it people are frantically scribbling and it gets great feedback. Most of the points have been the same for the last 23+ years I’ve been writing PL/SQL. If UKOUG were to ask me to do that every year, some of the audience would turn up and be happy, some of the audience would be saying, “Holy crap. Tim is doing that same talk again?” What is the conference to do? It’s a hard call. Speakers submit papers on things they are interested in. Conferences select what they think the audience will like. Conferences almost never pitch subjects they want to cover to build an agenda. That’s only happened to me when they’ve been putting together a track for students.

    Cheers

    Tim…

  9. Tim,

    I whole heartedly agree with you, and as a planning committee member for the UKOUG I know a lot of effort goes into ensuring submissions that are accepted aren’t sales pitches.

    The user group do allow sponsors to have a presentation slot – which could seen as pay to present, although to me it is payto guarantee a presentation slot. Kind of Ryanair of conferencing – you want a definite and specific seat, you pay the premium. If you want the lottery of getting a seat and flying – you submit like he rest.

    A little surprised at Gary’s comments about attendees, yes attending a conference to get the most out of it is hard work. But from my experience as just an attendee that hard work exists whether I am trying to learn from any resource, a conference, training etc etc. Whilst presenters from consulting organisations are trying to squeeze in the chargeable hours, we also trying to attend sessions, workout what is getting attention because we have to share that back to our colleagues. Many good presenters, will make themselves available to answer questions and sometimes that can be difficult when you’ve finished presenting. So our work doesn’t end after the presentation, we also have change gears.

    I don’t present because I love the sound of my own voice. I do it because I believe in giving back to a community. For me that means communicating what I’ve learnt, helping people avoid mistakes I’ve made or observed. The reward for me is someone saying – thank you, that really helped.

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