...or what is all the fuss about? If there's one controversial topic in the community its speaker arrangements with regards to covering their expenses for conferences. In the last few years several people have been pretty vocal in expressing their opinion on the issue. Just to put this into context, I'm not pointing the finger at any particular event or organizer nor am I suggesting that its in any way unethical for a conference to make a profit. I want to put some information out there for those of you that might be wondering how things are handled by various conferences.
The conference that always used to get brought up is Macromedia MAX -- they didn't pay any external speaker for travel, accommodation or expenses. This year with Adobe running the show things have changed somewhat in that everyone got their hotel paid for.
There is however still the issue of 'inspire' vs 'non-inspire' speakers (Adobe is aware of this and are looking at resolving this for future editions). In an effort to bring the conference closer to the community, various well-known designers and developers were invited to come and speak and do in fact get all expenses reimbursed. There were other perks like not having to use the Adobe template for their session notes and only having to present once.
I have several friends and colleagues that did the inspire track at MAX and I'm not suggesting they shouldn't have been paid, but I think its fair to say that Adobe recognized they wouldn't have come if they didn't get expenses paid.
Other conferences like Flashforward, FITC, Flash on the Beach (a newcomer since last year) do pay for travel and accommodation. One of my favorite conference so far webDU (previously known as MXDU) in Sydney, Australia did not use to pay any expenses. Last year that policy was revised and they started paying hotel accommodation for speakers.
To me speaking at conferences has always been about meeting the community and sharing my ideas. I've probably spent well over 20,000 USD of my own money on flights and hotel rooms in the years that I've been freelancing just to go and speak at conferences in the USA, Europe and Australia.
I was always happy to do so and its not as if you don't get anything in return (appreciation, contacts, miles on my frequent traveler card). In all seriousness though, no sane freelancer speaks at five or more conferences a year and I'm currently in the situation where I will need to cut back. Even if expenses get paid you're away from the job for several days which costs you money.
I'd like to be in the situation where I could just go out to all these conferences to speak and not worry about the backlog of email that is accumulating or finding excuses about why its taken 5 days to send a reply to a client because you're dealing with crappy wifi. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that -- I can't keep justifying the cost attending all these conferences if it all needs to come out of my own pocket. If I'm spending my time presenting at a conference I do feel that organizers need to do everything in their power to at least contribute towards speakers expenses as a general rule for everyone.
I've had people tell me that you 'get to speak' at a conference and should be paying for the whole deal including your ticket because you're just like any other attendee that gets to see the sessions. Well let me tell you -- conferences also aren't always as much fun as they used to be if you've seen the same talk over a dozen times. I can mouth along with certain Adobe sessions verbatim... "tragic wand hehe, here comes the internet exploder joke... ooh after effects puppet tool still getting applause, where have these people been?"
This is admittedly a bit of a rant post but I just wanted to put my point across. I love the community and want to be able to do as much as I possibly can but the way things are looking it seems like it'll have to be less conferences and more blogging.
OK, so where is this all leading up to? The 360Flex team is bringing the conference to Europe and Tom Ortega is looking for feedback from past and future attendees on how to deal with speaker expenses, provide or not provide lunch, what to do with a conference party etc.
If you've got a minute please take the time to fill in their survey and let them know your thoughts on the subject: