Conference One: Workshop Done, Now for the Conference

Yesterday morning, I finished work with my own customer and went downstairs in the hotel to give my workshop for the conference. There were four people. A fifth person had signed-up and paid but not been able to attend. In contrast, customers and sponsors will be speaking to something like 45 people when they give their conference talks.

Yet I recently read one of the software vendors complaining that consultants have it easy because we get into these things for free. While I realize that sponsorship can be expensive at these conferences, once they’ve paid, they sometimes get to speak to the entire audience and usually on a topic that is at least somewhat related to getting business for themselves. By contrast, consultants get the slots with the smallest audiences and, while we get the conference fee waived, we still have to take off from chargeable work and pay all the expenses. For one, I don’t get paid to speak, and other consultants I’ve spoken with don’t seem to get paid, either. Additionally, in order to be involved with some of the conferences, consultants are sometimes required to put in lots of volunteer time to help the conferences find speakers, sponsors, and do some of the marketing.

Actually, most conferences REALLY don’t want consultants to speak – unless we do a lot of extra work or take over the spots no-one else wants, that is. My point is that there is no free ride. And so, consultants struggle to get to the point I’m at, now, where they’re invited to speak at most or all of the conferences, but probably find out that it’s too expensive to fully take advantage of, both from lost chargeable time and the travel expenses. For those that think that attending a conference equals getting more business, I would say that that is not the case. The other thing I keep in-mind is that, like everything else, conferences are businesses, too. They have to make money on this (if a commercial conference) or break-even (if volunteer), so they have to do what they think is best for them. That usually doesn’t include paying speakers.

But with that said, overall, I’d say it was a good experience. The four attendees that came in early for the workshop were all knowledgeable people so we ended up discussing somewhat more interesting and difficult issues rather than going over more of the basics. Well, we did do a little on the basics, but covered it quickly. I don’t do this so much to get the business, but more to get out and find out what issues are currently on people’s minds and to help educate the industry regarding the issues. On the other hand, to make it affordable to continue, I can’t justify continuing to spend so much money on activities that don’t eventually produce any revenue. I suspect I’ll have to cut back on these activities for the future, unfortunately.

Today, the actual conference starts. I will have a chance to go between my room (to do customer work) and the conference (to see a few of the talks). Since I’m doing something with my customer that absolutely has to be done by the end of the day on Thursday (it doesn’t have to be by end-of-business, just by something like midnight, Eastern US time or just slightly after), the next two days will be LONG if I want to keep to their schedule (which I WILL, because I’ve committed to that) AND to see any parts of the conference (if I don’t see a few talks, I’ve just wasted a good chunk of money to stay in the expensive conference hotel for the extra few days). Personally, I prefer the strain on my health over missing a deadline or wasting money.  😉

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

4 responses on “Conference One: Workshop Done, Now for the Conference

  1. Naive question Gloria – I don’t quite get why conferences don’t want consultants to speak. Am I wrong in thinking that seeing as consultants generally go to multiple client sites they would have a better idea of what an industry as a whole is doing, whats worked at different places, what didn’t work etc rather than say an employee of a pharma who can only talk about his/her project at his/her company?

  2. Colin, I’ve thought a lot about this and am not sure. For one, I should add that a number of the customers have been to multiple companies and multiple projects, especially those at the larger companies. On the other hand, some of them were consultants in-between to build their experience before ending up at the customer position they now have.

    But I do think that consultants have a bad rap as people that are just trying to constantly sell their services without providing some kind of value from their talks.

    The really odd thing is that, when I speak with consultants in totally different industries, such as the Cloud experts, the SoA people — those conferences see the consultants as the cutting edge people and really value having them speak.

    I should add that the issue isn’t just the conferences — there are a number of magazines that won’t let consultants write informatics articles, either.

  3. You got me thinking about conferences now.

    Conferences are one of the few things that get me spontaneously annoyed (along with Robin ‘Mork from Ork’ Williams, Thomas and the Magic Railroad and drivers who don’t indicate when they’re turning – jerks). Personally I’ve only been to about a dozen or so conferences mostly LIMS or computer systems validation related so I haven’t got your depth or breadth of experience. Never have I come away thinking “that was worthwhile” and definately NEVER have I thought “that was so useful I would have paid a couple of thousand bucks of my own money to attend that”. The worst thing I ever went to was a Validation “workshop” – the presenter opened up by getting everybody in the room to stand up and introduce themselves, who they were and what they were hoping to get out of the workshop. There were about 50 to 60 attendees in the room – everyone got to take a turn. This was followed immediately by an hour on the legislative history of validation. The only way it could have been more excruciating is if Robin Williams had been the presenter. Somebody shoot me.

    Search your heart Gloria (or anybody else) – have you ever been to a conference which was totally worth the money??? or is it just me . . . . . .

  4. This discussion has gotten me thinking even more about conferences. Also, by chance, a number of us at the conference have had a number of discussions regarding which conferences are good and which ones are dying. I also ended up in a discussion regarding an area of people that doesn’t appear to be represented by any conference, at all.

    And I think that’s part of my issue – it doesn’t seem to be there’s a conference that’s really a good fit for a lot of the consultants. In other areas, there are professional groups or private companies that have big, industry-wide conferences that are appropriate for a technical level of person, for example. Those people could come together and talk about learning from each other, new things on the horizon, the direction of the industry, etc… We don’t have anything like that in our industry. When it was mainly just LIMS out there, we had the old LIMS conference. That seemed to fill a part (but not all) of that need, in my opinion. But nothing similar has replaced it.

    So, for your question about my feelings about conferences – yes, I’ve been to quite a lot of conferences, workshops, etc… at this point in my life. It’s hard to rate them. I’d almost have to find a way to do it dollar-for-dollar, and I’m just too lazy. I’ve been to see quite a lot of mediocre presentations or those that don’t benefit me to an extent that I’d pay for them. But sometimes, they were quite cheap, too. Sometimes, I’ll attend a presentation just because I know someone not because I’m interested in a topic – to show support to them. They might have a solid presentation, but it might not necessary have anything to do with areas I’m interested in.

    But I think when you pay money for something and you don’t feel a general benefit-per-dollar, then you don’t come back. As such, I don’t keep attending awful things because, if I don’t like them, I don’t go back. And it’s also hard to assign dollar amounts to some of the reasons I attend things, I realize. Some of my reasons for attending: help educate our industry, generally show off my knowledge so that people would do business with my company, find out what’s going on in the industry, hang out with people I wouldn’t get to see, otherwise. For example, I don’t expect to get business from attending Pittcon nor any particularly useful information – I attend because it’s the only way I can get a few minutes of people’s time to catch-up with a lot of them that I know in the vendor booths.

    But you bought-up yet another good point – how much would I spend to attend some of these conferences? Would I spend a few thousand dollars just for the conference fee? Probably not. Partly, I get a lot of the information from talking to people, both customers and vendors. Also, I try to keep-up with reading articles coming out on various topics. Also, my company being so small, a few thousand dollars for a conference fee on top of the travel costs – that’s truly substantial for me.

    One conference that I used to pay to attend, year after year, was the ICCA (Independent Computer Consultants Association) conference. It didn’t cost thousands to attend, though. When I first started my business, it helped me learn better business skills. Over the years, though, I probably attended more just to catch-up with people and to be a resource to others who were starting their own businesses. That organization went defunct as of December 31st, 2009. Since then, I’ve felt adrift. Each year, it was something that really energized me and got me in-gear for the year. Now, as I struggle to find another good spot for myself, I’m struggling to find another place that would be a place I could both learn and contribute and be welcome to do both, equally.

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