We recently had a great discussion over email about 360|Flex Europe, and in general how Tom and I do things. Since this topic has come up twice, I think it warrants being posted here. For many reasons, one as we’ve said, we’re into transparency so we want everyone to know why we make the decisions we do. Second, since it has come up more than once, we can point to this entry the next time it comes up.
So the topic is paying speakers to speak at conferences. The short answer is, we don’t.
Here’s the why:
We spend a lot on each event, mostly it’s on food and beverage during the event. There’s a reason for that. Yes, we could not offer lunch or throw parties each night and instead pay for speaker travel and hotel, but that goes against our whole reason for doing this. We also don’t think attendees would agree with that approach.
By not forcing attendees out into the world to buy food, we enable great hallway conversations between people who might otherwise not chat. These conversations are part of what our attendees like. Also in the “food” category is a meet-n-greet on Sunday night, as well as parties during the week. We split the costs of those parties with sponsors, but they’re very important to us because they are social activities. One of the key aspects of our show is that you can’t come and be shy. We practically make you be social and many, many attendees thank us for that. A lot of programmers are not social by nature, but would like to be. They just need a little help. Let’s be brutally honest too, anything that can be learned at any conference can be learned from a blog (albeit at a slower pace as you have to find the blog, have delayed Q&A, etc.). The key differentiator of a conference as a learning vehicle is meeting people in the community. People that you can at a later date chat with when you get in a bind or when you need to pay for some quick help.
Sure, if we didn’t provide food, people would go out (probably in groups) and eat. The trouble is those groups are usually not made up of strangers. They’re usually made up of IM buddies, friends, project-mates, etc. Being in the same room as all the other attendees gives everyone a chance to meet.
There’s also a logistical reason we don’t cover speaker travel and lodging. It’s just Tom and I. Managing the travel plans for 40 or so people for each event, would require we hire some one to manage that… We don’t even pay ourselves, paying a new person just isn’t in the cards.
We also look at speaking as a way to “give back”. We “give back” by not trying to make a mint on each event, and making them affordable. Most, if not all, of our speakers see it the same way we do, acknowledging that they got where they are on the shoulders of others and if they can be some one else’s shoulder, that helps everyone. Sharing knowledge freely is what the development community is all about. Not charging to answer questions, not charging for each piece of code created.
Of course, this could all be fixed by raising our price from $360 to $720 or $1000. That would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve though. We do this to make attending a conference possible for folks who might not otherwise have the budget for other $1,000+ events. It’s a pretty good sell to your boss (whether corporate or your spouse) to say, “It’s 3 days of learning plus all food covered for only 360!”
We’re working on ways to help defer speakers’ costs, such as selling videos of their presentations and sharing the profits of those sales. Overtime, we’ll likely find other ways that speakers can be reimbursed but we just haven’t found them out yet.