Bonus Rant: Conference Speakers and the Golden Rule

Bonus Rant: Conference Speakers and the Golden Rule

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Fair warning: This isn’t a technical post. This is my opinion, and not Microsoft’s.

I’ve been a public speaker at events since 1980. Interestingly, even though I’ve done this, it’s never been my paid job. I’ve spoken on technical topics at groups as small as 5 people to over 10,000, in
local and global events. I’ve been on TV, radio, on stage and on webcasts. I teach at college as well.  

In all of that time, I’ve come to realize that speaking is the easy part. To be sure, I put an extraordinary amount of work into my presentations. I learn the topic, research speaking styles and communication
methods, fret over my demos and practice relentlessly. But I reiterate that this is the easy part.

 The hard part is putting the events together.

 Most folks have no idea how hard it is to create, advertise, pay for, staff, run and tear down a technical event. Even small ones. And the folks that do it get none of the glory, none of the praise, and usually all of
the criticism. These folks deserve way more respect than they get.

And the worst offenders in not offering this respect are the speakers.

Let me say that again – some speakers are rude, arrogant and disrespectful of the event planning groups that run their sessions. They have unrealistic expectations, and I’ve seen some actively fight the requirements these teams impose. From not delivering slides on time, to not following the rules the event planners lay out, to not even calling when they don’t show up. Showing up and saying "I'm still working on my slides" with a smirk doesn't impress me as a listener at all - it just makes me think you're dismissing my time as unimportant as a listener. Your content should be nailed way before the event, not the day of. Practicing on the day of presentation is expected - changing it indicates unprofessionalism. Sorry, but there it is.  

I don’t bring up problems without suggesting some solutions – that’s my military training coming through. :) Here’s what can fix this issue:

  • All speakers should have to demonstrate they have assisted in the logistics of an event somewhere. Or you don’t speak.
  • All speakers should follow the rules. Don’t get your slides in, don’t follow the rules? You don’t present. There are LOTS of people wanting
    to speak.
  • All speakers should follow the golden rule. Sure, you’re special, just like everyone else. Understand that the event planners are there – with you – to make the event a success. Treat them like you want to be treated.


No, I’m not pointing anyone out. No, no one asked me to write this post. I’ve just been on both sides of the fence, and you really have no idea how difficult the logistics of an event are until you put one on. Want to find out if I’m right? Volunteer at a local even like SQL Saturday, ask to help out at PASS, TechEd, whatever. The point is, walk a mile in the shoes of the event planner. It will make you a better presenter.

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  • Dexter - wow.

  • Buck: Third-party TechEd speakers receive T&E plus a small honorarium. I believe that if PASS paid T&E these kinds of issues would be much less frequent.

    Dexter: I once requested Sevruga caviar ($200/oz) -- totally as a joke -- and was scared to death when someone contacted me to ask whether I preferred it chilled or closer to room temperature. Turns out, the person was turning the joke back on me. Very effectively. I assume it's the same with the M&Ms, but that's actually an affordable prank to pull.

  • I recently attended my first SQL Saturday and my first PASS Summit (and was a first time speaker at both). These were truly awesome events but I was very surprised at the Summit that ANY speaker would cancel their session! In a "Professional Organization for SQL Server" this seemed very UNprofessional. I discussed it with the PASS board and they were perplexed too (I even tweeted with a guy named Allen and volunteered to pick up extra sessions if they needed me to). I can't tell you how many people I spoke to who paid for either all of the Summit (and/or hotel, airfare, etc) and were counting on specific sessions to be presented. I just feel that the attendees deserve the best and that there has to be some way to keep the speakers from canceling their sessions! Maybe we could track it on the PASS site - bad feedback and no shows = no invites to speak (we could even create a database!)

  • And... I woke up at 3 AM coughing this morning (I am pretty sick) but I still went in to work because I am teaching my third series of SQL classes to our Quicken Loans IT folks.

  • his is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the excellent work

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