I haven’t been blogging much lately, as I’m currently buried in class preparations – taught HTML5 in June, finishing up a SQL Queries course this Thursday, and I also help teach some of the web material for the Software Craftsmanship Guild, ran by the awesome Eric Wise.  However, with a few conferences coming up and looking at some recent conference issues, I have to take a break from class prep to get my thoughts out.

Conferences and Families

Recently, there was an issue with a speaker at TechEd who had traveled to be there and his wife’s presence.  He ended up cancelling his talks since his wife – who was in from a foreign country on her own not knowing anyone else there – wasn’t allowed to be there.  As a conference organizer, if a speaker conveys to me ahead of time that they’re traveling with family, then I have no problem working with them on either getting their family in or at least working with the family to find local things to do during the conference.  I totally get travelling with family, especially when going far from home.  So I sympathize with him.

Reading Andy Leonard’s blog post – This Isn’t Hard: Allow Spouses to Attend Conferences, I couldn’t agree more with Andy.  I don’t help plan conferences with seven-plus-figure budgets – the ones I help with might hit six-figures but definitely not seven.  However, the ones I help with have been sympathetic, easy to work with when approached, or understanding when a speaker has to cancel due to family obligations.

This leads me to an upcoming conference I’m speaking at that is family friendly… That Conference!

That Conference – August 12 – 14 @ Kalahari Resort, Wisconsin Dells, WI

This is my first out-of-state conference where I’m actually going to have my family in tow.  While I’m looking forward to presenting on untying the knots of IE web development, I’m also looking forward to family time as well.

That Conference is a family-friendly conference – complete with events such as THAT Wildlife, Internet Safety for Parents and Kids by the awesome Richard Campbell, LEGO programming, pig roast, waterpark party… all sorts of fun for the family!

Words can’t explain how excited I am to be hanging with my friends and family!

Software Craftsmanship Guild

After That Conference, then I get to look forward to a new cohort starting at the Software Craftsmanship Guild.  My friend Eric had asked me to come by during this first cohort, and he has gotten me to spread some of my love for the web technologies, with more lessons planned in the future.  I’ve been enjoying this group so far – with backgrounds from medical illustrator to marketer to entrepreneur to shipping to military and all non-programmers at that.  This group of talented men and women show a lot of success so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go.  I’m also curious to see who will make the cut and join us in the next cohort.  Want to know more?  Check out their website at: http://swcguild.com

Strange Loop – Sept 18 – 21 in St. Louis, MO

Shortly after the new cohort starts, I’m heading to Strange Loop to speak on the history of women in tech.  I’m really looking forward to this talk – no technical demos for the demo gods to invade and it’s a topic I’ve been excited to talk about for awhile.  Not only am I looking forward to speaking here, but I’m also looking forward to the sessions – especially the Raspberry Pi pre-conference workshop.  We have a few first gen Raspberry Pis that I’ve been meaning to tinker with, so now I have a good reason to!

Conference Sponsors & Attendees’ Contact Information

Recently, I took a survey for a conference I had previously spoken at, and there was a question on the survey that brought up bad mojo.  I’m thankful when conferences are open with how they use their attendees’ contact information.  However, more and more and much to my dismay, I’m hearing conferences take the approach of “We’ve got your contact information and for a low cost of {$10 – $35+} you can pay us to not give your contact information to our sponsors.”  When I helped organize Cleveland Day of .NET 2008, sponsors contacted us to get our attendee list.  Some were a bit more persistent – to the point where I won’t do business with them still today.  We protected our attendees’ information successfully, but it still irritated me to see this.

As an attendee, if I’m paying to attend conference, it should be for a meal or for the content – those costs I can understand.  Maybe there are costs – venue, insurance, etc. – that couldn’t be covered due to a lack of sponsorships – I could see this being passed on if people really want their conference to happen.

However, charging attendees to prevent their contact information from being released seems a lot like extortion.  With extortion, you obtain money with threat, force, torture, or the like.  Hmm… obtaining money from attendees with the threat of releasing their contact information to the sponsors – seems like extortion to me.

A friend likened the practice to ad-supported versus ad-free, but even with ad-supported apps, you aren’t necessarily giving away your contact information.  You may be giving up screen real estate to see an ad of something that you might care about, but with ad-supported apps, they aren’t saying “Give us your contact information so that we can have our marketing and partners contact you or you aren’t getting our app.”   Or if it is an app like that, I back away quickly, as it’s a practice that I personally don’t agree with.

I’m fine with sponsors having a booth or some way of interacting with the attendees at the event.  That way, if the attendees want to interact with the sponsors, then they choose to do so.  This is the opt-in approach.  If sponsors aren’t getting the foot traffic they had hoped for, then they need to work with the conference organizers on finding a way to make this happen without putting the attendees’ personal contact information out there.  Conference organizers could promote the sponsors in emails, slides on the speakers’ decks, conference programs, through word of mouth, Twitter – the opt-in options are endless.

However, I am not a fan of the opt-out by paying model.  To me, this seems unfair to the attendee.  So going forward, I won’t be speaking at conferences that take this approach.  I personally cannot support conferences that do this, not in good conscience.


I’m looking forward to the conferences I have coming up.  From family friendly and just well-respected… I’m super excited to say the least! But at the same time, as time goes on, I’m going to be even more careful about the conferences I speak at or even help organize, because if there are practices I don’t believe in that are happening, then I’ve got to either change the conference (by speaking up) or change the conference (by walking away and sticking to my beliefs).

One thought on “Preparing for Future Talks and Conference Thoughts

  1. Regarding the guy that was supposed to speak at TechEd and there was a problem with his wife getting in. I agree that Microsoft did plenty wrong, but so did that presenter. He did not talk to Microsoft ahead of time about his wife being there.

    If a conference requires me to pay to opt out, I’ll never attend. I agree, it’s extortion, but the conference itself is doomed as many people feel like I do. For Utah Code Camp, that I help organize, we do an email blast for the vendor. The vendor never gets the contact list.

  2. At least the conference in question is giving attendees the choice. Some conferences don’t and I end up being hit with a wave of marketing crap from all the sponsors. Do I want it? No. Was I given a choice? No. Fact is, SOME people don’t mind getting emails from sponsors. I for one, as a conference speaker, organizer and attendee, don’t have any problems with this approach.

    Have you brought your concerns up with the conference organizers, or are you just complaining, hoping they’ll read your blog? I know for a fact that the conference in question has had success with this approach, and I don’t believe they’re “dooming” themselves because of it.

    1. Oh, I know, Mike. I’ve run into the conferences that give out attendees’ contact information to the sponsors, and once I realize who gave out my information, I tend to avoid those conferences.

      I don’t mind getting emails about the sponsors from the conference organizers – that’s one thing. But to have the sponsors with my contact information without my approval – that’s just not right in my book.

      As you know which conference triggered this post, you know I’ve been friends with these organizers for years. We’ve had these conversations offline over and over. Unfortunately, that particular conference isn’t unique – more and more conferences are taking the opt-out approach. And more and more, I find myself getting grumpier about it – hence the motivation to blog. I don’t care what they think about my thoughts – it’s their conference and they choose to run it how they prefer. I’m just saying that those that do the opt-out method are not for me. *shrug*

      As a conference organizer, speaker, promoter, and attendee, I understand why we need to generate traffic for the sponsors – especially if they are helping to make the events as low cost as they are. But I don’t like the hassle of the opt-out approach for attendees. At the end of the day, our conferences and speaking gigs are useless if we don’t have attendees who are happy with what they’re there for. I err on the side of caution with the attendees in mind.

      1. Apparently, my disapproval for this practice in the past wasn’t vocal enough, but I’m sure this blog post makes it clear that I strongly disapprove of this practice. Yes, I’ve spoken at conferences that have done this in the past, but I had talked about it then with the organizers if I did catch that being done. Apparently it wasn’t clear enough then, but I’m sure going forward it will.

        As an organizer, I understand the need to (1) bring in sponsors and (2) promote those sponsors so that they take away success from events. At the same time, I’m on a board of a conference that has sponsors clamoring for next year’s sponsor slots right at the end of the conference and the attendee’s contact information is not released to the sponsors. I’ve been involved with other conferences and events that have not had to resort to opt-out ways for money. Obviously, there are ways to promote your sponsors and give them value without a pay-to-opt-out policy or even a free opt-out policy. If sponsors are bullying organizers for attendees’ contact information, then you have to question the integrity of the sponsor rather than give into their bullying.

        If it’s a money issue, then charge the attendees a fee to help cover the costs that the sponsors aren’t covering. I’ve seen events well under $50 that get great attendance and do not give their attendees’ information to the sponsors.

        There are a few other conferences that I’ve heard either tried this pay-to-opt-out policy or even just outright giving the information away. One recently happened within the past couple months. That particular conference has gotten a lot of community backlash for handing out their attendees’ information.

        Conference organizers have to realize – we’re not going to please everyone, and you go with what you think is right based on your (and maybe a committee’s) judgment. I’m not the only one who’s against the opt-out approach, and there are others who either are for it or don’t care either way. Feel free to agree to disagree. Just know that I won’t change my stance on pay-to-opt-out or even the opt-out approach in general.

      1. By your statement, everyone is paying {x fee} and automatically opted out, but if you don’t pay {x fee} then you’re opted in and the sponsors get your info. It’s still a “We get your contact information and you have to pay to keep your data away from the sponsors.” situation. Which, in my opinion, is a pretty crappy way of treating your attendees.

        Even if you spun it as an “administrative fee” to keep track of who’s not getting submitted, it just doesn’t settle well with my conscience and is something I will continue to stand against. *shrug*

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