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Open Conference Expectations

Open Conference Expectations

This document lays out some baseline expectations between conference speakers and conference presenters. The general goal is to maximize the value the conference provides to its attendees and community and to let speakers know what they might reasonably expect from a conference.

We believe that all speakers should reasonably expect these things, not just speakers who are known to draw large crowds, because no one is a rockstar but more people should have the chance to be one. We believe that conferences are better -- and, dare we say, more diverse -- when the people speaking are not just the people who can afford to get themselves there, either because their company paid or they foot the bill themselves. Basically, this isn't a rock show rider, it's some ideas that should help get the voices of lesser known folks heard.

These expectations should serve as a starting point for discussion between speaker and organizer. They are not a list of demands; they are a list of reasonable expectations. Speakers should freely adapt this list to reflect their personal expectations, and conferences should keep these expectations in mind during planning. We do not recommend that speakers send this document with their talk proposal, because that would be rather tacky. We do believe that these guidelines will help ensure quality content and quality conferences that benefit everyone.

What We, As Speakers, Ask from Conferences

  1. Recordings: Organizers should prioritize recording all talks and sessions. Now, ideally this would involve video recording, but hey, we acknowledge that quality video recording is both expensive and time-consuming -- audio recordings paired with the slides is a decent compromise if video isn't possible. Recordings should be made available under a permissive license (CC-BY-*) within six months of the event, information can get too stale after that. (If you're worried that releasing video will depress ticket sales, other conference organizers will vouch that, to the contrary, recordings are an excellent tool for driving ticket sales in future years, and are also an excellent sponsorship opportunity.)

  2. Travel reimbursement: Conferences will offer to reimburse travel and reasonable transportation costs, such as airport taxis. In some situations, speakers may opt not to accept such reimbursement, either because they prefer to pay for it, or because their company will pay for it.

  3. Lodging: Conferences will offer to obtain and pay for lodging for speakers for at least the night before and the night after a speaker's talk. Again, a speaker may opt out of provided lodging, and those saved costs can be put to good use.

  4. Wifi & Internet Access: The speaker hotel should provide wifi; if the wifi isn't free, the conference should ensure its cost is covered. Wifi can be really rough at events, so a prioritized wifi for speakers (or ethernet) works very well.

  5. Honoraria: Some events are epic and large and can cost above $1,000 for attendees. In these cases, a speaker honorarium of at least 50% of the ticket price seems fair compensation.

  6. Food & Beverages: ⅔ of our bodies are water, so let's keep plenty of drinking water on hand at the conference. The conference will provide the speaker with lunch on the day of their talk. If ticket prices are over $300, then lunch, beverages and snacks for speakers and attendees should be provided.

  7. Schedule: Conferences will let speakers know the time and duration of their talk at least two weeks before the event.

  8. A/V & Power: Conferences will provide a quality projector with at least 1024x768 resolution, projected onto a screen that is appropriately sized and readily viewable by all attendees in the room. Conferences will also provide video adapters for the computers that speakers are most likely to use, and power outlets at the podium.

  9. Call for Speakers: The call for speakers should occur at least 90 days prior to the event, with invitations to speak sent out no later than six weeks before the event (if this trip is going international, additional lead time would be nice).

If an event costs less than $200 to attendees, then it is absolutely acceptable to only meet some of the expectations listed above.

Good to Have

Conferences that want to make a real impression with their speakers can go the extra mile:

  • Provide a space at the venue where speakers can focus and prepare for their talk.

  • Organize a speaker dinner; you can even help fund it by selling VIP tickets that let a small number of attendees join.

  • Share a summary document with important times, locations and info immediately preceeding the event.

What We Promise to Conferences in Return

Speakers should appreciate that their obligation does not start and end with the few minutes they spend on stage. Speakers who have the above expectations should expect to spend days researching, preparing, and rehearsing their talk. They should expect to spend time with attendees, and they should expect to help the conference be a success.

Specifically, speakers who expect the things above should agree to the following:

We will deliver a quality presentation. We will speak clearly, not too fast and not too slow. We will observe the audience's reaction and adjust accordingly. We will read more books than is probably useful, but at least Presentation Zen and Confessions of a Public Speaker -- in order to improve our presentation skills.

We will respect our audience. We will rehearse our talk in front of a small audience in order to ensure we are prepared. We will ensure that our talk does not go over the allotted time. We will think about the people in the back row, and think about whether the room will be light or dark, when we design our slides. We will say "um" as little as humanly possible. We will deliver talks that are current, correct, and of genuine interest to attendees; we promise not to make our talks a sales pitch. We will refrain from language, images, or behavior during the conference that may reflect poorly on the conference, and will adhere to a conference's code of conduct if one is established. We will post our content and demos on the web within 48 hours after the conference.

We will help the event succeed. We will consent to the distribution of video and audio recordings under a permissive license. We will commit to spending time with attendees during your event. We will commit to publicizing the fact that we'll be speaking at your event. We will gladly make reasonable adjustments to our expectations -- and go with the flow if the unexpected occurs -- as long as you treat us as you would want to be treated if you were in our shoes.

This document written by @rmurphey @divya and @paul_irish in June 2012 and has been updated since then. It is a living document and open for edits from anyone -- just fork this gist, and get in touch if you think we should include your changes. Organizers and speakers should feel free to reference or adapt this document when discussing the arrangements for speakers.


  • 07.13.2012: Revised introduction. Significant rewording of the items. New ending promises.

paulirish commented Jul 12, 2012

As a speaker, if you agree, please comment below that you support the document.

I support the OCE 👍

If any items in particular you don't totally agree with, feel free to mention that. For example:

I support the OCE, except for clause 5, as I'm paid by my company to speak.

jwill commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

davemo commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

anselmh commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE. And I support it fully from a speaker's view as well as from a organizer's view.

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE, although I find clause 8 to be a bit vague with regards to what constitutes a common computer, and I would find it reasonable to expect a speaker to have the appropriate adapter to go VGA. Seems like that would be more of a "Good to have", IMO.

I support the OCE.

ttrenka commented Jul 12, 2012

I do my best to not speak at conferences, but I support the OCE. I'd also make an addendum to #1; video recordings are great, but often not much is paid attention to the idea that a Q/A that follows a talk is caught well on tape. Either mic the room or provide a way for a microphone to be handed to someone asking a question, so that the speaker does not have to repeat the question in order for it to be caught (probably a microphone to the questioner, a la Kevin Smith Q/As).

dcorb commented Jul 12, 2012

Lodging costs included? wow.. Respectfully, but I think you went a bit overboard there. Where to sleep is a personal decision (maybe the event is in your city), the same than what airline to choose.
Maybe a fixed cost (30% of ticket price for lodging costs) will be something more reasonable.
Rest of points I see reasonable +1:

Very nice and let me support this even if I don't speak as often as you guys :)

wesbos commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE


paulirish commented Jul 12, 2012

@dcorb in the case of local cities, yes, typically you'll stay at your own place. That should always be your option. Aside from that, lodging MUST be offered for all speakers.

Mr @cowboy brought up the Call for Proposals/Speakers cycle, and that the conference should allow plenty of time for that to happen (such as minimum 90 days before the event).. probably more.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

I like the idea of this but it seems to be very much from the perspective of speakers and organizers. I think it's a great idea to have a list of expectations from speakers to organizers but it should be named as such. "Open Conference Expectations" sounds more general than this really is.

I support the OCE 👍

ibjhb commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

suissa commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

+1 re lodging. For some events, a night or two in an acceptable hotel will cost as much or more than the plane ticket to get there. As a speaker, I shouldn't have to crash at a friend's place or hunt for an affordable Airbnb or stay at some no-name motel. This is an area where I'd absolutely make an exception if the conference tickets were < $100, or if there were other extenuating circumstances, but a decent place to sleep when I'm away from my home and family is generally a must.


paulirish commented Jul 12, 2012

@Mikael that's true. hmm..

I support the OCE 👍

@paulirish please include in schedule: "Conferences will let speakers know the flight hours and hotel´s place at least two weeks before the event."

There were an event last year telling me the flights and places only 1 day before the event. This is ridiculous but common.

I support the OCE

This isn't the right venue, but would be cool to highlight some conferences that do this well already. Breaking Development, for example, was fantastically hospitable to speakers when I went two years ago.

I support the OCE

I support the OCE

I support the OCE. 👍

rupl commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE

I like this, but I'm not sure that being able to pay for loding+travel for speakers would be viable without increasing ticket prices in many cases.

Then again, the conference I'm helping to plan did have like $50 tickets, so...

suissa commented Jul 12, 2012

Awesome. I support the OCE. 👍

MIght be nit picky, but I first read the the title as (open conference) expectations instead of open (conference expectations), so I was thinking they were expectations of an open conference ( Maybe change to Open Expectations for Conferences, but I am also not a subject matter expert here.

@suissa we did have sponsorships as well.

getify commented Jul 12, 2012

I'm a speaker and I support this OCE in its entirety.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@suissa "With sponsors you can."

I don't think we should make this assumption. Some ideas are too crazy and different to get sponsorship. The first NodeConf SummerCamp was very difficult to get sponsored because it was so different. TacoConf only had one sponsor and it was very cheap to do so because nothing like TacoConf had ever happened before.

Making assumptions like largish budgets, or even having sponsors, is too presumptuous.

I support the OCE both as a speaker & organizer ( ;-) I'd say that of all those guidelines, #1 is the hardest to get right when you want decent video quality.

garann commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

+1 to @mikeal (I think). Would be cool to see a version of this from the perspective of attendees. Both for the benefit of attendees who don't want to waste their time and money and for conference organizers who, lacking any static baseline, might feel like they have to try and please everyone.

I support the OCE, except for the part on publishing all slides/content in 24 hours. Some talks have slides that are useless or confusing unless accompanied by the speaker’s story. If this is the case for one of my talks, I’d rather wait until the video is released, and then link to that instead.

revin commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE

I support the OCE in theory. In practice, I will make many exceptions for a conference run by hard-working people who do their best to adhere to the OCE, but are unable to. Funding and running a conference is hard work.

I also agree with @mikeal.

As a speaker and an organizer, I disagree with the premise of this doc (in particular I do not agree that points 1-6 should be a minimum expectation). As an organizer, I think I should be free to prioritize what my conference provides (which may or may not meet these for some or all speakers). [Note that while I do cover essentially all of these in conferences I organize, that's my choice and others can choose differently for perfectly valid reasons.]

As a speaker, what I really want is a clear statement of what a conference provides. If that isn't sufficient, then just don't speak there. I do think it's helpful to have a standard list of items that a conference organizer and speaker should agree on.

More detailed thoughts:

say2joe commented Jul 12, 2012

I'm not a speaker, but everything Paul's (et al.) written here seems to be completely reasonable and should invariably be an expectation (except in the regard of reimbursement to the speaker by some other means, of course).

I support the OCE.

iannsp commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE. 👍

remy commented Jul 12, 2012

As a speaker: This is nice that public speakers are publishing this kind of thing, because new folk coming to the platform of speaking should expect many of these items.

As a speaker: It's funny that I bowed out of speaking at the first jQuery conference because of points 2 & 3!

As an organiser: The first point is the bit that a) seems to have been prioritised, but b) doesn't take in to consideration any of the costs that come with video. Full Frontal doesn't record video. It's simply because there's no space at all, and yeah we're <300 people big, so you're saying the conference isn't (or shouldn't be) worthwhile to the speaker. I've put out the audio the first and third year (the first year the audio was shot to shit, and the second year really bad, but I'm still hoping to revive it). We're trying another approach this year to attempt to get a video camera in place, but it's a long shot so I'm not holding out too much hope.

Conversely when (rather than if) we move to a bigger venue (400-600) videoing is actually easy, and often these venues off video as part of the package.

Maybe I'm completely alone, but the smaller venues, that aren't for meetups, are harder to pack in AND get full video and editing that represents the content of the conference. I think if you're going to get a following on this gist, audio and slides is an acceptable alternative if you're not able to provide video.

I encouraged and support the OCE for privately funded conferences.

I support the OCE 👍

I support the OCE!

I support the OCE

@remy about the video recording, I agree with the acceptance of slides, but we are considering events costing more than $100 to attendees. I´m also considering it´s value proporcionality outside the US, not only currency conversion.

@remy Very good points about video; I think all of these should be considered as extremely reasonable starting points for a discussion between speaker and organizer. As you mention, new speakers should know what's reasonable to expect, or at least discuss. Organizers may have specific and very good reasons for not meeting all of these expectations -- for example, serving food at the Full Frontal venue would be a nightmare, but the venue is amazing and makes it OK (for me, anyway) that we're on our own for lunch. As a speaker, if conferences feel they have good reasons for not doing everything on this list, I'm very open to hearing them out. (cc @puredanger)

As a speaker I guess I'd like to see a better set of expectations around presenting material and experience if we're going to ask this much of conferences. Maybe:

We will agree to present the material in some form to a smaller audience for feedback before the conference.

I'd also like to see a checklist for simple things that presenters should do like content too low on the slides, bad contrast, etc.

Good hospitality is a great thing, but I like swearing in my talks, and I agree with @remy's point that many of these requirements impose a lot on smaller conferences. I really don't like the implication here, which is that smaller conferences which can't afford video are somehow bad people or not good enough.

I also don't think this is about conference expectations at all. When you go on tour as a band, you have something called a rider. It's a contract your venue has to sign, guaranteeing that you'll have what you need/want when you arrive. What you have here really is an open sourced rider for conference speakers.

It's semantics, but it matters. If you were to impose this document on a community, that would be a complete dick move. It would signal extraordinary distrust of the community as a whole, and disdain for smaller conferences in particular. But if you're facing conferences which want you to come because your name is a draw, but which have widely varying ideas of how to treat you, that is exactly what a rider is for.

Also, -- you call it a standard, you're just asking for trouble, but call it what it is, and you've got something. An open source conference rider is something which anybody can fork and modify.

edit - I just saw the footnote about "enormous exceptions" for <$100 conferences. still rubs me the wrong way, so bureaucratic, so hostile. bureaucracy bad, infinitely forkable good.

and the other reason you need forkability -- "this document is open to edits from the community." THE community? which community is that? the people who wrote this all seem to be JavaScript people, but they don't even acknowledge that anywhere in the text. that's not even honest.

there is no "the community." Python conferences have very, very different atmospheres from Ruby conferences, and JavaScript conferences are a third thing -- it makes a lot of sense to accomodate the fact that "the community" is actually a whole network of fragmented and interrelated communities.

As someone who loves to go to conferences, and one day hopes to talk/teach at one, this is perfect.

You might want to include a way that users can get access to the videos and slides such as a URL, QR code, flyer or something similar.

One of the biggest frustrations of a great conference is that the speaker/conference does not always include the slides or a link to the video or if they do, it is hard to find. This is really important for bigger conferences and talks where you might not always get the best seat to see everything. If a conference can have a page on their website that links to the speakers content and video, that would be ideal.

ttrenka commented Jul 12, 2012


"It's semantics, but it matters. If you were to impose this document on a community, that would be a complete dick move. It would signal extraordinary distrust of the community as a whole, and disdain for smaller conferences in particular. But if you're facing conferences which want you to come because your name is a draw, but which have widely varying ideas of how to treat you, that is exactly what a rider is for."

As a very long-time musician, seems to me like this is an open-source rider. Somewhat dickish, yeah...but that's how a rider evolved in the first place.

adactio commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE, except for clauses one and five, which I would modify slightly.

For point one, I think that audio recordings (perhaps together with slides) is sufficient (and can be a hell of a lot cheaper for conference organisers to produce than video). In fact, I would love it if every conference that provides video of talks also provided an audio version—I know a lot of people who listen to talks (in a tab open in the background) without watching the talks.

For point five, I think that any conference that charges attendees money to attend (or, let's say, charges more than $100) should be paying speakers a decent honorarium. The AV guys don't work for free. The caterers don't work for free. I don't think the person on stage should be the only person in the room doing a job for free.

I agree with every single point in "What We Promise to Conferences in Return."

This is a great document, and an excellent resource for anyone planning to organise a tech conference.

I support the OCE. I would like to add a nice to have: Transcript of what the speaker said! Sometimes I don't have time to sit through a 30 or 45 minute talk to reference something I heard live.

EDIT: I see a lot of of the opposition treating this OCE like a RFC or a threat. I saw this more as a potential model.

No where did I ready into it that "ALL CONFERENCES MUST OPERATE THIS WAY OR NO SHOW!!"

I wouldn't support making this legally binding, but provided the conference is funded sufficiently enough to do these things, this is not a bad model.

@Sophrinix I would love that, plus it would help search engines find the content for others to enjoy. Though that would bring a significant cost to the conference.

codepo8 commented Jul 12, 2012

We could add to offer at least screencasting/audio recording if video recording is not available. a dictaphone on the pedestal or a memory stick with VLC running on it for each speaker is cheap to do and allows for simple audio recording/screen casting.

nzakas commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the theory of the OCE. My exceptions:

  1. I don't think videotaping should be a requirement at all. I'm equally happy to speak to a room of 30 people as I am to a room of 300. Videotaping is a nice to have, not a need to have. It's completely worth my time to speak without being videotaped.
  2. I don't agree with the food and beverages requirement. Yes, speakers should definitely have water, especially on stage. Having organized the conference myself, food and beverages is always a tough one. It can get really expensive very quickly and is hard to organize. Tying this requirement to a dollar amount for tickets doesn't make sense because different venues cost different amounts in different conferences provide different things to attendees (for example, free phones, T-shirts, etc.
  3. The promises we make in return aren't all actionable. Delivering a "quality" talk is really vague. What defines a quality talk? Is it that the audience members gave you a certain number of stars? What makes a presentation well designed? who gets to decide? The first few bullets in this section either need to be clarified or should be removed in order to avoid confusion.

codepo8 commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE

codepo8 commented Jul 12, 2012

@amaxwell01 No need, as Camtasia is first of all bad for cross-platform and VLC is open source and free to use. They used that at YUIconf when I was at Yahoo and it worked really well. Run VLC from a memory stick in the presenters computer and save the recorded video to it - dump on on a laptop between sessions. Simple.

remy commented Jul 12, 2012

@codepo8 to clarify, are you suggesting that the speaker under their own volition captures their talk (as you do)? If so, a great idea.

If you're suggesting the organiser provide the software to capture the screen recording (as @amaxwell01 is - which... I don't think you are), it's a nice idea, but utterly unfeasible. As an organiser you want everything to go smoothly - but installing custom software on a Mac, Windows or Linux based machine to capture the speaker's talk before they speak would be possibly an even greater feat than pulling off the event itself. As a speaker, there's absolutely no way an organiser is going near my machine before the event - I make sure that I don't need the internet and videos will play fine - and installing some extra software is a no go area!

Pretty sure you mean record it ourselves as speakers - which is a really nice thing to do for the folks that are interested in your talk for consuming later.

It was just a thought that I threw out for smaller conferences that want to help out. For people like me who can use my Chromebook, there is no desktop recording software. But if a conference is small they may use a single laptop between the speakers, which can use Camtasia or VLC (Thanks @codepo8, I forgot about that one)

I support the OCE

rdodev commented Jul 12, 2012

Is the motivation behind these guidelines a bad experience where an organizer failed to provide adequate compensation/reimbursement to a speaker(s)? Or is it a "trend" where organizers seem to short-change speakers in general?

I support the OCE

I support the OCE

1stvamp commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE

Comments on concerns raised:

  1. Video Requirement: It would be awesome if some of the conference organizers share how to do this on the cheap (or zero cost) if possible. Videos provide context to a talk and publishing just the slides or even just the audio does not convey the force of the talk as much as video would.
  2. The Community: The community here is all the people who are involved in front-end development, not just "JavaScript". I do not consider myself a 'JavaScript person'. This is the same community we talk about in
  3. Publishing content ASAP: We could definitely choose to do this, but at the minimum, it would be nice to at least gather links and post them for reference to attendees who do have context. Perhaps this is very talk-dependent, and could be better described (@mathias how would you do it?)
  4. Unactionable Deliverables: Definitely needs to be spelled out as @Zakas mentioned. Perhaps we could talk about this in detail separately. But we do need them more actionable.
  5. Food & Beverages: I honestly think this is not a big deal. At best it is going to cost about $20 per person per meal, and the only suggestion is to offer lunch on the day of the speaking event. I can't imagine this ballooning the cost of hosting an event.

More than anything I think conference organizers could also put forth tips/tricks of making an event happen in terms of logistics and how to get this done with as less cost as possible, because at the end of it, everyone wants to leave buzzing with ideas, collaborative plans, insightful conversations, and actionable new lessons about web development.

@gilesbowkett I am unsure what you mean by "bureaucratic", the intention is to say, we will go out of our way to accomodate the tight constraints small conferences have and the huge efforts they need to put in to get it started to begin with (see @mikeal's point about TacoConf/NodeConf).

It's curious. I don't think that conferences are as cut and dry as this. I'm going to leave out particular conferences because I don't want any witch hunts or particulars

Conference A is huge, national, expensive, run by a non-profit, and everybody pays, all speakers, all attendees (with the exceptions of grants) and managed by volunteers. Nobody makes money. There are way too many speakers, and expenses to consider paying for speakers, there are too many speakers volunteering and paying (and providing great talks) to accept them all.

Conference B is free and regional. Expenses are covered by grants from the national org, as well as sponsors. Some people travel, including speakers, everyone pays their own expenses.

Conference C is paid (sub $500) and national. It's niche, national conferences are expensive, even with sponsors, everybody travels, there are a load of speakers (multiple tracks, multiple days), and it's a community run conference for a community run project. An individual (really his LLC) takes on fidicuary responsibility and risk because the organization can't. He makes a very small profit (my best guess is that this does not pay for the time he puts in, at least by much).

Conference D is a one-day regional conference with an explicit goal of making a profit, or a multiple day national conference run by a specific corporation to promote their interests. Maybe, 6 speakers, 200 attendees, cheap location, cheap(ish) lunch, and only Tier 1 speakers (looking at several of you here).

OCE makes sense in Conference D. A, B, and C are just not clear. If you feel that you're above speaking and paying, don't apply to speak at those conferences, and don't pretend that your motives are entirely to contribute to the community if you don't also support and speak at those when you are financially able, interested, and have the capacity.

We should focus on what are the conference groups, and then figure out what the common characteristics are for each of them.

Conference groups (per ticket):
Free - $50
$1000 - up

Feel free to adjust these, just throwing our some figures.

fhwang commented Jul 12, 2012

I think @gilesbowkett 's analogy to musicians is fairly apt. There's no world in which a college rock band is going to get treated the same on their tour as Radiohead. And there's a similar (if not as extreme) range among tech speakers: Some people are huge draws and some people are not. If you're a huge draw, and you want to insist that conferences treat you a certain way, then more power to you. Many conferences won't be able to meet those demands. Many speakers won't be able to force conferences to do so. I don't really think either of those situations are huge problems.

In general, I support this document's intentions, as both a tech speaker and a tech conference organizer. When possible, conferences should endeavor to treat their speakers well; their attendees will have a better experience as a result. But in practice, standardization is a tricky thing.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

I'm in the process of writing a very long article about this but it's prudent to comment now.

I think this is the wrong conversation to be having. Conferences that might lack these items do so out of either a lack of budget or a lack of giving a shit. We've forgiven lack of budget and are left only with not giving a shit. This list can't force the small number of opportunists who run conferences for their own motivations rather than community enrichment to actually care about the community. We'd still not like them or their conferences if they hit every point on this list.

The end result of this document is an increase in the list of things a conference is likely to be criticized for even when run by people who care. This list does nothing to help new organizers achieve the points on the list, which are mostly targeted at appeasing speakers than attendees.

I want to see more people from the community organize events and push out opportunists. I'm afraid that this will only serve as another barrier to entry for those potential organizers.

I'm available for anyone that would like my help organizing a meetup or conferences. The only criteria is that you are from the community you are trying to serve and that your goal is to make it better.

janl commented Jul 12, 2012

What @mikeal said.

ajpiano commented Jul 12, 2012

I think that #1 would be better phrased as "IF your budget is such that you can afford video recording and editing services, the products of those services should be available online for free, for everyone." I think most folks are reasonable enough to understand that sometimes, a conference might not have the wherewithal to afford video production services, and that if no video exists of the presentation they gave, they can move on. What's frustrating is knowing that video is available, but is just being kept behind a paywall, and if six months down the road, I think it would be really useful to pass that talk along to someone who needs it, I can't because the conference organiser still wants a few hundred bucks for it, now and forever.

Part of me just wishes this whole thing could be summarised down into "do right by your speakers while still doing right by your budget." I don't think this document is meant to discourage people who are organising things at the grass roots, but rather as a salvo against the conferences at the top of the food chain that can definitely afford 1-8, yet still chintz out on it.

If I could alter my comment I would. Being invited as a speaker at a commercial conference is totally different than applying as a speaker at any conference. Even the smaller ones may have some budget for "keynotes" and such, having a list of requirements for that is your own deal. I guess I'm not sure that there's a need to standardize that list, just make your case and say yes or no if you can/can't/don't want to do it.

I support the OCE as a Speaker and as an Organizer.

getify commented Jul 12, 2012

I'd like to further add that whatever subset of the OCE you do or do not agree with, conferences should put out that list of what they provide (at a minimum) BEFORE they post a CFP. I had to turn down speaker invitations from proposed talks at 4 events already this year because they didn't explain what they covered until the invitation time.

I recognize that can create a catch-22 for smaller/first-year confs, because you may not know what kinds of sponsorships you can get, or how many tickets you'll sell, etc. But I think you have to post a base-line for what you can cover (even if that's nothing), and then sweeten the deal as you get more $$, rather than the other way around.

I also recognize that some confs will want to have different levels of coverage for different types of speakers (the keynote speaker may get more than the guy in a 30-min lunch slot). Again, you should be as open and transparent about this as possible, before the CFP. Tell me that you're only covering airfare for the keynotes -- that helps me know if I should respond to the CFP or not.

As a new organizer ( we did everything laid out in this document (minus compensating the speakers directly) on an extremely small budget, but one step further with live streaming of the event. The only reason we were able to achieve this was through the incredible participation of members and companies who want to build a stronger community. I think this sets a pretty high bar IMHO for any new conferences, which is likely prohibitive with a small conference's budget. None of the points laid out here were brought up by our speakers, they accepted because of the cause. Maybe this should be the OCE for "for-profit" conferences?
@mikeal +1

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@timsavery careful about drawing lines at "for profit". there is a huge financial risk in running a conference and everyone I know that does it keeps around an "oh shit, the sky is falling" emergency budget. this came in handy when the venue's wifi, which they said would work great, in fact did NOT work and i had to call in a last minute microwave hookup. if the sky does not fall, you're left with some money, which you might need for taxes, paying an accountant, or just investment in equipment for the next time around. and also, there are a few people that do this so well and care so much for their community that I would be happy if they made a living of it, although none of them do now I think that they could do it with integrity.

that's why i draw the line at "intention." is the purpose of this conference to genuinely enrich the community or are they trying to make money, or get famous, or they just felt like a conference would be a great way to promote their brand. these intentions are easy to see but for some reason we're a little too afraid of call in to question the motivations of others, to being honest and calling them opportunists but I think it's the only way we can get past this and to be true.

@mikeal yes, 'for profit' is complicated, but 'intention' is quite simple to determine. ;)

thoward commented Jul 12, 2012

I support the OCE.

...and I also agree w/ the comments that it might cause a barrier of entry to community building.

Perhaps it could be updated to a "good, better, best" model to tier out expectations? Maybe a different set of standards for local confs / meetups vs large international, highly produced conferences. Maybe correlate expectations to scale up with attendance count?

@mikeal agreed. Shows my inexperience as an organizer :). "intention" is a much better way to look at it.

As someone whose spouse records av for conferences, including small ones like pyohio, you can achieve screen capture, video, and audio for conferences that charge <= $100 per person but it takes a lot of work to do it and a little bit of insanity. but it is doable!

I feel like all the small community conference organizers should have a big meeting to talk to each other about conference planning best practices.

@codersquid in ruby-land we have a private mailing list for that.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@codersquid for the javascript stuff, we talk a lot actually :) we've also been kicking around the idea of "ConfCamp" for a while, which is a conference for conference organizers :)

vhata commented Jul 12, 2012

I do not support the OCE.

My friend and I single(double?)-handedly created and organized - we spent three months of our lives sweating the details and crying over signup numbers and stressing about costs and worrying that nobody would come. A month before it happened, we were literally ready to call the whole thing off. And then it happened and it was amazing and we had 300 attendees and world-class speakers and I have never felt so good in my life.

But I was ready to take out a personal bank-loan to cover the costs of THE VENUE ALONE. Not the internet access, the lunches, the coffee, transport, etc. If we had had to pander to needy speakers the way this document describes, we would have been dead in the water after one speaker.

As it is, we had amazing, amazing, wonderful speakers from fantastic companies who saw the value of what we were trying to do, and helped us in every way they could. They all paid their own plane tickets, and we tried to reimburse them as much as we could, within our power - our main currency was exposure to the attendees, which is kind of advertising for the companies, but they thought it was worth it, and I think it was judging by the feedback.

If we had had to stick to these incredibly demanding rules, our conference simply never would have happened. I am not a company, or for-profit, or anything like that - I am just a guy who wanted to bring people to his city to talk about something he cares about, and lists of rules like this destroy any chance I would have of ever doing it again.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@vhata amen. Chris famously put up his house as collateral to cover the first JSConf.

thoward commented Jul 12, 2012

@codersquid Regarding video streaming...

For NodePDX, I went to Office Depot, bought the most expensive webcam I could ($99) and a tripod ($25). I signed up for a free livestream account, and sent an email requesting unlimited viewers because it was a not-for-profit event. They said no problem (within 5 hours of my email). I streamed through my laptop on the venue wifi, no probs. All those videos are now hosted on livestream at

So, yeah, it's cheap and easy to stream and post video from your conference. Granted, those videos suck because the lighting in the room sucked, and we didn't do screen cap (even though we could have, had we wanted to mess with it). But for the amount of investment (next to none, and I can use the same equipment for many conferences), we got a pretty good product from it.

thoward commented Jul 12, 2012

@steveklabnik Fer real. I feel like there should be some kind of graph for this that plots expectations against quantity of attendees and amount paid for conference registration (adjusted for amenities like an included hotel room).

anselmh commented Jul 12, 2012

Regarding video recording: We paid much money on a professional film team for our first conference. They cam with big cameras and recorded the whole thing. Except they did it wrong: They used analog cameras, they focused fullscreen on the speaker. This resulted in enourmous costs of video capturing for videos that are not worth it because you only see the face of the speaker but not what he shows. Fortunately some speakers used slides and we could manage to cut them into video but this was a bad experience.
For the next event we will record the audience and the stage with a simple DSLR and capture the monitor with external hardware (to rent for about 300€ for 2 days). With that you will get both, the screen to see what the speaker does as well as the atmosphere on stage.

And by the way: Many thanks to all commments. I really like this conversation because it helps (at least me) to make better events next time.

@thoward I think perhaps there should be a forum for comparing video capture notes. people could swap tips on getting the highest quality possible with what they have to work with.

This guy named Tim gave a lightning talk at the last pycon about this kit he has spent time perfecting so that he can take it to some place like pycon or even just a user group meeting and have streaming. He also unofficially streamed the conference.

I want to clarify what I said earlier though -- I thought once people saw how to capture stuff and get it online that we could have a sort of kit library, but it turned out that people weren't obsessed enough to get equipment and run with it. We sent gear to someone and nothing came of it.

Is there some behavior hack we missed? Because it would be cool to have some non profit for obsessed streaming people, but I don't see it happen.

thoward commented Jul 12, 2012

@codersquid StreamConf 2012? That actually might be really fun. No venue. All speakers stream from their location, all viewers watch online. Geo-distributed conference.

remy commented Jul 12, 2012

@thoward I hate to admit it, but Aral Balkan did that back in 2008 with <head> conference. Not sure if he intended it to be a one off or if the stress of running such a complicated operation put him off...

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@codersquid @thoward I don't live stream first and foremost because the quality is poorer than I'm willing to live with. Instead I record them, have them editing, and then release them, and i've invested a crazy amount of money this year on equipment to do so.

On live streaming in general: I don't like it. I think it makes some potential attendees feel like it's "just as good" as going which misses the real purpose of the conference which is to build community which live streaming mostly fails at. The other reason is that wireless is very hard and very expensive, especially upstream bandwidth, and using a significant portion of the upstream which will degrade the experience of paying attendees to provide a service for people who did not buy a ticket seems wrong to me. But most important is the quality comment I've already made.

I just want to weigh in here to say that even community-focused conferences actually can accomplish many of these things. I've been involved with a few of them that have done a decent job, including NCJS (one day, two tracks, $20-ish tickets, 3 out-of-town speakers whose flights were paid; lunch, drinks, and wifi for speakers and attendees; alas, the out-of-town speakers stayed at my house) and TXJS 2010 (one day, two tracks, 2010 tickets were $29-$149ish, lunch, wifi, open bar, pre & post party, all out-of-town speakers flights paid, and out-of-town speakers stayed for free at a fancy downtown Austin hotel).

Was it easy? No. Did I panic? A lot. Do I believe that conferences do not exist without their speakers, and regret that I was not able to pay them for the hours they spent preparing, but take solace in the fact that at least they didn't have to pay their own way? Absolutely.

Point: I didn't contribute to this list as just a speaker; I contributed to it as someone who knows that it's possible to live up to at least a big chunk of it, even as a well-intentioned community-focused conference. Reasonable people should and will make reasonable accommodations for individual conferences, but this list, in my mind, is what everyone should aspire to.

thoward commented Jul 12, 2012

@mikeal I agree with you on the quality issue and on the bandwidth issues. I actually think the best way to go about it (and this is what I suggested for 沪JS (damn! leaked it!)) is to record at a high quality to disk, and post the video online immediately after the talk.

That allows people to only have a slight delay from the time the talk was given until they get to watch it (for a 30 min talk it's maybe 35 minutes latency vs real time), increases the overall quality and lets the upload happen all at once, instead of constantly degrading upstream bandwidth during the entire talk. Also, live streaming can often be droppy even in the best of scenarios.

As far as the "almost like being there" comment.. I disagree. Conferences are not only about the content of the talks. They are about the interactions that the conference allows. I think most people realize that... and the ones that do aren't going to be buying tickets anyway, because they don't know how to value the conference experience.

fhwang commented Jul 12, 2012

At Goruco this year we did both livestream and video, and we've been fairly happy with the results. Generally speaking I think the expense and bandwidth tilts things slightly away from the attendee experience and more towards what speakers & sponsors want, but you just have to be conscious of the overall balance for everybody involved.

It is true that some people are going to think they don't need to attend if there's a livestream or videos after the fact. There's also been this interesting dynamic of people giving the same talk at a few different conferences, which is sort of a curious dynamic, but some people really do like being in the room even if they could've watched the talk online and not come.

Ideally, conference talks are the seed of the crystal but not the whole thing. There's just as much value from networking, hallway conversations, etc. But you can't have a conference without talks, and better talks make for a better conference (all other things being equal). It's like a bar. You don't go to a bar for the alcohol, but the alcohol needs to be there.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@rmurphey sure, but where does this list help potential organizers achieve its goals?

I'm working with a lot of people to get new conferences off the ground and everything on here is something they already aspire to. But I don't think anything on this list is more important than "intention." Why don't we just say that we're talking about Fluent and that you guys are really pissed :P

fhwang commented Jul 12, 2012

Also, as an organizer, the videos benefit you. Because, from my experience, there's so much that comes up on the day-of that you don't actually get to sit and absorb the really good talks.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012


As far as the "almost like being there" comment.. I disagree. Conferences are not only about the content of the talks. They are about the interactions that the conference allows. I think most people realize that... and the ones that do aren't going to be buying tickets anyway, because they don't know how to value the conference experience.

I think you're right about people who have been to a good conference before. But for people that haven't been to a conference, or attended "trade show" or "expo" style conferences only, they don't fully understand the value of those conversations until they experience them.

thoward commented Jul 12, 2012

@fhwang +100.. As an organizer, I hate that missing the content is a fact of life for most of the talks.

remy commented Jul 12, 2012

@fhwang that depends on how you run your gig doesn't it? In the last 3 years of running Full Frontal, I introduce each speaker, then sit down in the front row and I enjoy the show. It just so happens there's 280 other people in the room with me. A good team will make sure the show runs smoothly (or more specifically: that people won't notice the bumps).

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@remy +1 it depends on the conference. if Funconf were video taped it wouldn't have done proper justice to the experience. some things are best left as they are and enjoyed while they happen.

@mikeal I admit that helping potential organizers was not my motivation; I was motivated to contribute to this list because I've talked to too many speakers who don't know what's reasonable to ask for, and end up footing the bill for the privilege of speaking at a conference that could absolutely afford to pay them. As I said above, I see this list as a good starting point for conversation between speaker and organizer. Good conferences that have good reasons for not meeting these expectations should have no problem getting speakers, but again, all conferences should aspire to meet these goals. A system that only admits people who can afford to pay their own way will exclude certain people -- possibly people you'd really, really like speaking at your event -- and no one should be OK with that.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

@rmurphey to be honest, while all of this is reasonable for you to ask, it is not reasonable for all speakers to ask. the "What We Promise to Conferences in Return" list is certainly something you and Paul can deliver on but not something that less seasoned speakers could claim.

think about it this way: you're right, a conference will not get the best speakers without providing these things. but, in order for that to matter they have to give a shit about having great content to deliver to their audience. conferences that fail to meet this list when approaching a seasoned speaker, I would content, already don't give a shit.

we should call out conferences that aren't interested in enriching the community and use that as a barometer for engagement rather than a list like this. we should help conferences that do care to find, and when they have the money pay for, the kind of speakers that will make their conference great.

PEM-FR commented Jul 12, 2012

As an organizer I would like to point out a few things :
#1 Video, if done by pros, costs a shitload of money, if you do it yourself, it means spending lots of evenings editing, encoding etc at the expense of your family time... Please also consider this. IMHO, video should not be #1 but a nice plus!

For Web-5 Conference 2012, we did all the points you said, except that I am not sure we will be able to release all the videos within the 6 months timeframe. Maybe one year makes more sense.
To give your a rough idea, at Web-5 we had 23 talks, in one year that'd make 2 talks / months, so one video to edit & encode per week ! Not mentioning all the work that follow a conference (paying everything, etc) aswell as organizing the next one...

About #5, I would say it is not really a matter of ticket pricing but more about benefits sharing... you could ask for 1000$, if organizing the event costs you 800$ for the venue etc, then you cannot afford giving 500 to the speaker.

What about favorizing Events done by non-profit organizations? :D

I support the OCE.

WRT honoraria, I think anything above covering expenses should be a negotiation between speakers and conference organisers, because:

  • Many speakers come from multinational organisations who don't need the minimum proposed honorarium of a few hundred bucks and who will ultimately benefit in terms of goodwill, recruiting, etc.
  • The minimum proposed fee would rarely come close to covering the opportunity cost of preparing a talk, travelling, and attending the conference. It only serves as a token of appreciation, and that's already covered by the invite, expenses, and hopefully general hospitality.
  • There is a wide spectrum of "agenda" across talks, ranging from the suit giving a sales pitch in the "sponsored keynote" to the tech enthusiast who enjoys a good soapbox. The majority of talks at a good conference are in between, good content with something to promote, be it a book, consulting services, the fact they're recruiting, or something developers can use. Should a talk from a browser vendor about some new APIs they hope to promote require payment, even if the talk is high in tech-content, valuable to attendees, and not deemed to be a sales pitch? I'd argue no, so there should be some flexibility according to the trade-off at play.

I'd propose to remove this as a requirement and put something like this in Good to Have: "An honorarium for speakers who are not backed by well-funded organisations and are providing high-quality content without promoting any affiliated products or services".


I support OCE except for clause 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

They should all be deemed good to have. Claiming you expect them seems outrageous to me, as though you as a speaker solely bear the burden of ensuring it's a worthwhile conference experience. And that you in return receive little in the way of benefit by speaking in front a paltry 300 people.

Can't afford it? Get your employer to pay. They won't? Speak at a closer conference.
Need wifi? Get a mifi or tether your phone. Or here's a novel idea, come prepared, assume the wifi will be shit so you have to run your live demos locally, or disconnect for a few days an pay attention to the conference rather than stressing about the twitter back channel. I found the lack of wifi at FullFrontal and Ruby Manor quite refreshing (thanks @remy and lrug guys).
Food? Water? You're an adult, work it out. Go for a walk, find a pub.

If the absence of these suitably disgusts you because you question the profit generating motives of the organizers, then don't speak. I'm free to decide that I don't want to pay $500 to attend a conference. That decision is much easier when there are few people talking there of interest to me. The fact ticket price is used as some way to gauge whether you can justify these seems equally ridiculous. Communities seem to have worked hard to move away from the whole "javascript rockstar" and "ruby ninja" approach to hiring, and yet here we are writing a list of demands for our promoters like we're rockstars.

The fact is the price of the ticket is going to naturally skew the audience the speaker is in front of. Want to talk to enterprise and CEOs/CTOs, then submit a CFP to Structure and talk to people that are happy dropping $2k on a ticket. And guess what, if these are your people and you're speaking here... you just saved yourself $2k by not needing buy a ticket to attend! Win! If you'd rather be building a movement among grass-roots developers then stop speaking at conferences that have a ticket price you're unhappy with.

And just be grateful people want to listen to you at all.

As a conference organizer, frequent attendee of small and large conferences, occasional speaker, and member of the Ruby community, I not only do not support this, I fear it is a perfect example of the sense of entitlement that pervades the hacker community.

It's perfectly fine to want certain things as a conference speaker. It's fine to ask for them, and it's fine to decline an invitation if the conference cannot or will not accomodate your requests. After all, an invitation to speak at a conference is a job offer, and it's fine to say no. The problem is that talking about them as "expectations" implies an attitude that conferences owe speakers something, and this is simply not true.

I assume that this is primarily targeted at large, for-profit conferences run in partnership with large, for-profit corporations. And, in that scenario, I think these guidelines make an excellent target for that kind of conference. If that's the case, though, I think it needs to be called out specifically. Applying these guidelines to small, not-for-profit conferences carries a better than average risk of killing them.

It's important to remember that every market is different, every venue is different, and your experiences putting on a conference in one region/city/venue for a specific audience don't mean a thing when compared with a conference in a different place, for a different audience.

I don't have the necessary data in front of me, but I'll come back later with details about what Cascadia costs, and what it would look like if we tried to accomodate these requests. I can tell you off the top of my head, though, that we'd be losing multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

I'm willing to give the authors the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they simply did not consider the language they used. This is too common a problem in our little slice of the internet... if this doc had been framed in terms of "the raddest conference ever would do these things", then I certainly wouldn't be feeling bad. Instead, it's phrased as "these are our demands, meet them or we won't bother with your conference".

vhata commented Jul 12, 2012

@bleything: yes yes yes, this, so much, this is exactly what I was trying to say. If I, as a conference organizer, tried to accomodate these rules, I would just give up and never organize another conference again. I cannot afford the entitlement that this post demands, in the circumstances in which I have to hold - it is simply not economically feasible.

What @bleything said - it's untenable.

I appreciate the OCE and will try to apply it as much as possible

Here my 2 cents comments:

  1. Video recordings: As some others said, I think it's a nice to have. As a speaker I was quite happy to have it, but maybe a bit shy the first times (not always easy to assume yours first talks still available in video on the internet with all your beginner mistakes...). As an organiser to record the talk, I had to ask the authorization to the speakers, and some of them may not accept. In case there is video recording, I would add that the sound should have a reasonable quality, and the recording should not start only in the middle of the talk (it happened to one of mines).
  2. Travel reimbursement: As a speaker I appreciate when a conference cover my travel expense, but I understand that all may not be able to do it. As an organiser, I'd say it easier to do when you have sponsors. In some cities, it's very hard to find an affordable venue which can handle the number of participants you expect. For many events, the attendee fees doesn't cover all the costs. Another point is that, as an organiser, I've been kind of more confident in the motivation of some speakers that were ready to pay for the travel to participate, than others that may only select conference in nice places with travel expense covered. Of course the organiser should still do as much as possible to help any speakers to come, and if possible try to cover everything.
  3. Lodging: mostly cool but maybe, as for point 2, not always possible
  4. Wifi & Internet Access: as a speaker I would agree, but I won't blame if I don't have it in some isolated places where Internet is less accessible (Africa, Asia, ...). Note that at the Sub Web conference in France, there was no wifi during all the conference ;-) but well... speakers probably had wifi at the hotel...
  5. Honoraria: well, I like the spirit but I'm not sure such rule can be always applicable... Some may not be allowed to receive money and some may even refuse it... The attendee could also pay $1000 for many days with many speakers with lunch included each day and many other cool things for them and the speakers...
  6. Food & Beverages: here again, I think it's a nice to have but... I went to many conference in which I didn't like the food. I'd prefer the Organiser to only provide food if its budget allow good one... Here again it's hard to take the ticket price as a reference... some conferences have many sponsors while others have only few if any... What I'm willing to pay for in a conference never depends of the fact food will be provided... If the Organiser use the money to enhance other components of the event, it's good to me ;-)
  7. Schedule: +1 - Only precision would be that speaker should be aware that sometime schedules have last minute changes. If it has an impact on the speaker, the organiser should take in consideration its potential constraints... (may need to leave the conference before the end)
  8. A/V & Power: +10000 - Had very bad experience once with no power and projector not even available when my session started (first session in the morning)

In the "Good to have", I'm not sure the dedicated space for speakers is always a good idea. I must admit I appreciated it once while I had many things I wanted to add to my presentation... but well maybe should I have come with my presentation ready. We are many doing last minutes changes, and adapting the presentation to the audience, the venue, or things that just happened... But I also do think that some speakers abuse of it and that attendees would appreciate to have more free time from them. It's very frustrating when you can only talk to the speaker within the five minutes after its talk with 8 other people waiting like you

About "what we promise..."
It looks great :-)
I'm not sure all speakers are allowed from their company to alway consent distribution of their talk either in video, transcript, slides or audio...
I love the "spending time with attendees (cf my comment on "good to have")

Even if I had some reservation, I love this kind of Guidelines. I hope some of those comments from my personal experience might help

Thank you very much to Rebecca, Divya and Paul for what you're trying to accomplish.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

just published my thoughts on conference organizing, entitlement and criticism

@PEM-FR yes, a person can spend more time on this than with their family (i.e. me!) this is why I don't agree with making video a demand, for just one thing I have personal experience with. All of these are nice to have, but should not be requirements and would really kill small events.

loadx commented Jul 12, 2012

As someone who is yet to speak at a conf. There is one thing I'm having a hard time understanding.
If you are from say the likes of Google or Adobe, aren't you being paid by your employer to be at the conference? I don't want to sound like i'm holding a grudge but if that's your job to go out and expose people to what you know or a specific idea that your company supports then shouldn't they be footing the bills? In some cases like smaller community events then I cant understand there might not be an agenda, you might just be interested to speak. As mentioned before though if you expect to be compensated and you aren't then don't volunteer your time.

None of these things should be 'requirements' for speaking. Sure they are great suggestions and I totally agree with the premise of a rider. When it boils down to it though there are going to be grey areas that need negotiations.

I'd be worried as a conference organiser that providing videos online to the public for free (while i enjoy watching these myself) hinders ticket sales.
What about people who don't really embrace the social experience and just want to listen to the content in each talk? I understand social interaction is the real focus of any conference and there's been a large amount of discussion on how to encourage this more, but there are people out there who really just use confs as teaching aids (especially if you're convincing your employer to pay the bills). If i can just watch the video online then how am i supposed to justify to the company it's worth their money that I'm in the same room.

I'm not too big a fan of for-profit conferences but like @mikeal mentions this is again a grey area and can only be determined by the conference organizer. Are they creating this conference because they dig the people and the tech or is this merely a marketing opportunity for their partners to pimp their wares at?

It all seems like a great idea but as a general consensus of "expectations". I don't agree.

+1 to what @bleything said. there's a sense of entitlement here which is just inappropriate and ungrateful.

I love it when conferences cover my airfare, lodging, etc., but let's go back to the rider analogy.

riders are negotiated individually. every band or DJ has their own. you know why? because this kind of thing is inappropriate for collective negotiation. some speakers have more draw and can demand more. some conferences are run by a megacorporation pimping its shit, and some conferences are run by a small company or a dude who put up his own house as collateral to make the event happen.

setting up cost of attendance as your metric for what the conf organizers owe you is like central planning in communist regimes -- you've got this gigantic, complex, multi-variate equation and you reduce it to an only marginally related number.

the only way this document doesn't end up pissing all over every conf organizer who does it for the love is if people only ever enforce the doc, or take it seriously in the slightest, when dealing with gigantic megacorps.

you don't negotiate your salary using a committee-driven process emulating standards organizations, and you shouldn't negotiate your rider that way either.

edit -- also, this document annoys me because it's reinventing the wheel. you discovered that riders need to exist, but since they already do, the thing to do is take a second to study what works and adapt it accordingly.

mikeal commented Jul 12, 2012

keeping with the rider analogy I'd like to propose adding "bowl of m and m's, only the brown ones though."

yes, exactly. I already have a standing arrangement with all Ruby conferences that they supply me with a pound of marijuana and an inflatable pool toy. and it works perfectly well thank you very much.

Can't afford it? Get your employer to pay. They won't? Speak at a closer conference.
Need wifi? Get a mifi or tether your phone. Or here's a novel idea, come prepared, assume the wifi will be shit so you have to run your live demos locally, or disconnect for a few days an pay attention to the conference rather than stressing about the twitter back channel.

@glenngillen Sorry, but 3G is rubbish in many places and international roaming prices are out of control. And yes, every speaker should be prepared for the contingency (or more like, inevitabilty) of not having access during the talk. But it's unacceptable to spend 2 or 3 days in a hotel room offline, including making last-minute changes (which can enhance the relevance of the talk as well as sometimes being a realistic necessity). Yes it's nice to jump off the grid once in a while, but for people speaking at conferences at least a few times a year, it's completely reasonable to expect decent access. And unfortunately, it's often difficult and time-consuming for an individual to determine in advance how easy and pricey access will be, so it's better to concentrate that work into the hands of the conf organiser and let them negotiate the best group deal.

I support OCE

What a useful resource for speakers and organisers alike.

With regard to honoraria, personally as someone who enjoys speaking and finds it both rewarding and enlightening, I am prepared to speak at events as long as it doesn't leave me out of pocket. To that end, the expectation that travel, lodging and other associated expenses is covered for speakers attending ticketed and/or sponsored events seems reasonable.

I have on occasion needed to take time off work as holiday in order to speak at events. This is a slightly unseen cost which I have been prepared to accept in return for a good experience at a conference.

The section listing what the Conference should expect in return is excellent. I particularly think that "We will commit to spending time with attendees during the event" is very important. This is often overlooked and as an attendee, I find this very important.

I totally agree with @remy about the suitability of audio recordings as a minimum. Video is ideal, but good audio and slides are a good output in my opinion.

I support the OCE

Flight, Hotel, Food = Good.

Minus the honoraria and slightly over-indulgent stuff.

+1 on audio. Preferably with a podcast feed and a guarantee it won't be deleted after the next conference comes around.

SaraJo commented Jul 13, 2012

I support the OCE

gisikw commented Jul 13, 2012

I absolutely do not support this document. The entitlement dripping from this list of demands is staggering, and movements like this will only serve to further discourage conference organizers.

It is a privilege to be able to speak at a conference - and while many aren't able to commit without some sort of compensation - broad demands like this only further the god complex of many repeat-repeat-repeat speakers. The goal of any vibrant community should be to encourage participation and sharing.

I would like to see this document disappear and be replaced perhaps by some suggestions as to how conference organizers can encourage a diverse group of speakers, and how speakers can encourage a valuable and useful conference.

I offer my opinion as a prolific speaker, suspected communist, and JavaScript VIP.

I think a more effective document would be: "We're some pretty good speakers, and honestly, we'd greatly appreciate it if conference organizers offered these things. If they don't, we might be inclined to pass. We don't want to be dicks about it - but we're offering some pretty valuable content, and the least you could do is look after us. Especially if the ticket price is really expensive, and you're laughing your way to the bank."

I support the O.C.

The O.C.

peterc commented Jul 13, 2012

I support the OCE (as a set of guidelines) and, more strongly, civility and positivity amongst those in the field.

It is regrettable some make solid efforts to improve the community but then spread untruths or make libellous accusations about others doing the same. Or, worse, some even try to judge who is or is not part of the community, as if it were a gang. The items on the OCE are positive and aspirational but at a more basic level being decent human beings first will ensure decent events follow.

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

As a sometime speaker and unconference organizer (Ruby DCamp), I am entirely opposed to this document.

I agree with everything @bleything wrote. But let me augment.

Unless you are wealthy, it is worth noting that the speaker already gains value by the mere act of speaking. They gain an audience. While a presentation is not a sales pitch, they are on stage marketing themselves to the community.

Let's not bullshit: being a speaker has intangible benefits. Public exposure increases the potential for lucrative employment opportunities, deals, etc.

I am empathetic to the OCE's position if and only if it is directed at large for-profit conferences.

However, many conferences (Ruby DCamp for example) do not operate at a profit. They exist to serve the community.

If this document persists, it is my hope that you at least add clear cut exclusionary language for not for profit conferences. Otherwise, you alienate many of us organizers who are simply doing what we can to give back to the community.

Thank you

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

@benvinegar amen, brother.

I support the OCE.


I should add as a solo individual who isn't backed my a huge company that has something to sell (I work for a large company but they don't really pay for much). As a speaker I rely on a conference to at least cover the cost of flights and accomodation. I don't see this as entitlement but rather a viable way for me to justify putting in the huge effort, in my own time, that is required when putting together a good talk.

I honestly couldn't careless about being paid for my time as I get a huge kick out of speaking and meeting fellow devs.

radar commented Jul 13, 2012

I'm going to regret replying to this Gist because there's no easy way to unsubscribe, but whatever.
#1: self-record it if and host it on S3 (like I did with my talk on Rails Engines) if you want it to be out there in the public. Use Screenflow.
#2 & #3: You're a rockstar, therefore you have the money to pay for it. No?
#4: Most first-world countries have Starbucks or somewhere to go that you can use Wi-Fi. Being such a large celebrity as yourself, surely you'd be able to find someone with a spare desk that has both power and wifi to lease for a day or two?
#5: I can agree with this point. An event which invites people to speak at should not charge those people to attend the event.
#6: Water is a given, food may be pushing it a bit much.
#7: Well, duh. Have you ever been to a conference where this is not the case? And why two weeks? Why not just a couple of days?
#8: Absolutely agree.

Anyway, as I snarked on twitter ("Dear conference speakers: It is a privilege to speak at a conference, not a right. You are not a rockstar."), most of these points make you seem entitled and egotistic. You should be thankful for the privilege of being asked to speak at conferences around the world, not demanding things like this.

peterc commented Jul 13, 2012

@dscape I don't understand your antagonism. A few months ago you sent me this nasty tweet - - and when I replied asking what you meant, you deleted it and didn't respond. For my part, I linked to your projects with no negative commentary or comments in several issues of JavaScript Weekly, but have otherwise had no interactions with you. If I am in error, however, I would love to discuss it because I am not aware of having disparaged you.

  1. Freelancers have a high cost of attending conferences that are not where they live in (especially if they live outside of US). They need to pay for the airfare, the conference cost and a place to stay and not to mention as some of the privileged here seem to point out an international data plan too.
  2. If speaking at conference is all about 'honor', then I am pretty sure the only people who would keep getting honored time and again are those who work at big companies which allow or even encourage people to submit talks to conferences and picks up all the tab. Indeed, some people are employed to only speak.
  3. Freelancers not only have to forfeit the time spent travelling to, during conferences giving up their work, but they also have to spend time outside of their paying work preparing for a talk and ensuring it is a good talk because apparently giving talks would give them more freelance work (anybody has that experience?).
  4. If you are a beginner invited to speak at an event, you do not only have to worry about 1 to 3, but also about not screwing up disastrously publicly, and have sufficient money to spend all this money travelling and giving up days to speak at a conference with barely any return.

Not having accommodation, flight fares, excludes most members of the community from even showing up to these events. There are several well-deserving people who are not more visible in conferences for this reason. All of us who wrote this document, on the contrary are highly visible for the opposite reason. We all work at companies that strongly encourage us to talk at various conferences, and engage with developers. Unfortunately, that is not the goal for most people who make things.

So, no, these criteria are not for people like us, but it is only people like us who will show up, repeatedly (and likely talking about the same things again and again) if conference organizers are not willing to comfort the scared speakers about the alarming unexpected series of expenses they have to undertake just to give one talk and in a country that is not where they live.

As an independent speaker, paying my own way...

What @bleything said. I understand the motivation (let's not treat speakers badly) but it feels reactionary and overreaching. When travelling internationally it's great to get some money for expenses, but if none is on offer then that just means I can't go.

The underlying assumption is that "conference organizers are evil and will mistreat us and we must make a stand", and it reads like an attempt to unionize conference speaking. It would have the effect of protecting little guys like us against a few big mistreating organizers, at the expense of the little organizers which makes the conference scene so much fun anyway. Just avoid the big events if you feel you get treated badly.

@elight "Let's not bullshit: being a speaker has intangible benefits. Public exposure increases the potential for lucrative employment opportunities, deals, etc."... I have to disagree with you.

I work in a place that sells used books and web development market isn't our strong so when I give a presentation this won't help me at all on selling more books. I'm also not interested for another job, I work 6h/day using "havaianas" and I that is great enough.

There're other people in my work speaking in events, they think the same.

Our target is always community development, no mather what, we love this and we love sharing our professional experience with valuable people. Just for sharing.

If there is free food going around, the AV crew should eat too.

1Marc commented Jul 13, 2012

Overall I support the OCE (and have followed all of these rules), but for #1 I would say it can really depends on the type of conference, quality of the video and economics involved.

In the case of normal conferences (1 hour talks, little audience participation, no extra documentation needed, little post-production...basically just a raw feed etc) then what you can to post it online for free. I did this with a regular digital camcorder for and hooked into Google's audio feed. It did take much more time than I originally thought to produce and the quality isn't quite up to my standards, but I did the best I could with the budget I had. And the videos got a decent amount of views so it was a good resource for people. I'm happy about that.

But on this point of video... I do see a lot of people commenting on their concerns about the #1 so I thought I'd aggregate these concerns:

@sylvinus commented: "#1 is the hardest to get right when you want decent video quality."

@remy commented: "As an organiser: The first point is the bit that a) seems to have been prioritised, but b) doesn't take in to consideration any of the costs that come with video. Full Frontal doesn't record video..."

@gilesbowkett commented: "I really don't like the implication here, which is that smaller conferences which can't afford video are somehow bad people or not good enough."

@adactio commented: "For point one, I think that audio recordings (perhaps together with slides) is sufficient (and can be a hell of a lot cheaper for conference organisers to produce than video)."

@nzakas commented: "I don't think videotaping should be a requirement at all. I'm equally happy to speak to a room of 30 people as I am to a room of 300. Videotaping is a nice to have, not a need to have. It's completely worth my time to speak without being videotaped."

@PEM-FR commented: "#1 Video, if done by pros, costs a shitload of money, if you do it yourself, it means spending lots of evenings editing, encoding etc at the expense of your family time... Please also consider this. IMHO, video should not be #1 but a nice plus!"

@loadx commented, "I'd be worried as a conference organiser that providing videos online to the public for free (while i enjoy watching these myself) hinders ticket sales. "

@philhawksworth commented: "I totally agree with @remy about the suitability of audio recordings as a minimum. Video is ideal, but good audio and slides are a good output in my opinion."

Overall my view is that in regular conferences where you can just simply record a live feed and all you have to do is match up the audio and video.. I'd say go for it! Try to post it online for free as a resource to the community. If you can't afford to do this than it shouldn't be required.

peterc commented Jul 13, 2012

@1Marc I think an addition to that is that speakers should have the right to use and share raw recordings of their talks or be able to record their own (if no recording is taking place). Having professionally edited video is great and should be allowed to be an extra commercial product for the conference, but speakers, at the least, should have the rights over their own "performance" and be able to share this with the community as they see fit. (I also feel this way about photography rights - you should have the right to use any photo of you - but most professional photographers tend to disagree with this stance.)

1Marc commented Jul 13, 2012

@peterc - in the case of commercial videos...what if the speaker is being paid well to be recorded? Actors don't own video rights of their own performance -- they were paid to perform a job.

If the conference is a community conference that releases videos free (low production cost, no resale of videos) then I agree with you... give the speakers control to do whatever they see fit with footage of themselves.

foca commented Jul 13, 2012

So, as an occasional speaker, I think the points in the OCE are "nice to haves". I'd certainly appreciate a video of the conference. I'd certainly appreciate that they paid for everything. Hell, it's a "free" trip, I love traveling :) (Sure, I have to work on giving a great talk, but then, I like that, so I can't see it as a bad thing). That said, I would never demand of any conference that they pay for my ticket. I missed out on 3 large-ish conferences in the last year because I could not afford the transport and the conference could not pay it for me. I'm REALLY sad about that. But I would NEVER demand the conference organizers for that. As @bleything said, these "demands" carry a sense of entitlement that is reaaaaally not somethign I look forward to in the people that come to share their knowledge to improve the community.

As an organizer I call bollocks. First, this may apply to a "local" US conference, but the conference I organize is in Uruguay, a tiny country in South America. Flights to/fro the US are between USD 1000 and USD 1500 at least. It's about 120% of that to Europe. Every year we had amazing speakers that came from all over, because they wanted to come. We've charged between USD 30 and USD 60 for tickets (and usually we organized at a loss, economically). I know you want to make provisions for "low cost" conferences. But even if we charged USD 150 per person, there's no way we can afford ten to fifteen grand for the tickets of the ~10 US/European speakers we got each year.

That doesn't mean we won't make our best to make the conference the best possible environment for the speakers. We'll do all in our power to help out and make you comfortable. We'll feed you during the conference, we'll figure out which hotels meet your expectations, and help you finding cheap flights if you want. But if you DEMAND any of this of me prior accepting your talk, I'll just laugh and tell you to go be a pompous ass with someone else.

foca commented Jul 13, 2012

I have to ask, though, which conference doesn't have a projector that triggered point 8? :P

@foca - I've spoken at conferences that had either an old projector that was more or less redundant, and also a tv screen that was almost smaller than the screen on my laptop. It does happen.

I've been thinking about this heavily over the evening, and whilst I still support the basis of the document there are some areas that are in the 'expect' category that should be in the 'nice to have' category.

I was recently involved in a few discussions over video recordings of sessions. Whilst I agree that a recording would help share the message of the talk and make it available to a wider audience, it's not an expectation or definite requirement.
Travel reimbursement would be nice, and if the conference is known for making a good profit then I dont think it's unreasonable. Having said that, I have recently spoken at a conference in the US for which I covered travel costs because I really wanted to speak there. I made a loss in travel and days out of the office, but what I gained in networking, connections and sheer joy of doing what I enjoy doing made up for it (sadly 'joy' is still not a currency though, so I had to work damn hard upon my return to rectify any financial losses).

Honoraria - it would be nice, but 50% is a hell of a wedge.

I think all of the promises from the speaker are standard anyway.

Ultimately I believe that we speak at conferences because we ENJOY doing so - if you speak and don't enjoy it, your presentation, however detailed, informative or knowledgeable, will still be dry in terms of passion and I won't want to see it.

Let's not forget that if the aim of this document is to assist the community in preparing some form of 'official' guidelines, there would be no community to talk to if we 100% stuck to these rules / expectations. Either conferences would diminish, or other speakers would be chosen who are more than happy to speak for free, myself included. Payment is nice, but not expected, I speak because I enjoy speaking and enjoy teaching / knowledge sharing.

So, I'll retract my 100% support statement from last night and say that I do support the OCE for it's confirmation of what speakers should do, but only wholeheartedly agree on the following points for what conferences should be expected to do:

  1. Wifi.. internet access should be available at the entire conference, but I dont want special priorities over anyone else. I shouldn't need WiFi during my session. If I need it before or after, I'll find an access point.
  2. Water - please give me water.
  3. Schedule - make sure I know what time and date I'm speaking.
  4. Power - give me a power point to charge up my laptop or keep it plugged in when at the podium. As a professional / regular speaker I ALWAYS carry my screen adapter. If I forget it, I'll borrow one from another speaker. If the conference is nice enough to have considered the fact that sometimes these things get misplaced or forgotten and have one or two spare, that's awesome, but not expected.

Everything else is at the discretion of the conference and would be a 'nice to have'.

remy commented Jul 13, 2012

I've been watching and thinking about this since I first posted and reading people's comments (since I can't unsubscribe from a single gist!), and I hope this is my last opinion.

As an organiser, honestly, if I was sent a proposal that also pointed to a document like this with their expectations - just like if I received a CV with a list of expectations from my company, their proposal would fall to the bottom of the pile. Not because I don't believe these are good values to aim for, it just feels like you're being a prat by sending me this (i.e. what @foca said).

As a speaker, the only times I'm going to speak at a conference that doesn't pay my travel and lodging is when I can walk or catch a short train to the event and it's a community driven event/meetup (you're taking the piss otherwise - see SxSW, etc).

For me, ultimately this gist should be forked to simply say: treat others as you'd expect to be treated.

At which point, the gist really shouldn't even be needed. This is simple common sense. If you're an organiser, don't be a prat and treat people with respect. If their company pays the individual to speak at conferences, that doesn't mean they didn't had to leave their home, family, travel for god knows how long, etc. If you're a speaker, put the work in when you're giving a talk (that doesn't mean write new talks for each conf), it shows when you care about your subject.

And like @glenngillen pointed out =>

The indie conference scene across the world is pretty amazing right now, let's encourage that, not stifle it.

codepo8 commented Jul 13, 2012

@remy actually a CV with what the applicant expects from the company would peak my interest - especially when they are interesting expectations and show that the person wants to work as a professional.

This thread is becoming pointless as we are not discussing the matter any more but compare personal experiences and likes.

There is for example no point in complaining about speaker requirements at an unconference as an unconference has no speakers - it has speaking slots to be filled with people who have interesting things to say and get their first experiences presenting them in public. If you get famous speakers for your unconference to big it up you are organising a badly organised conference and you don't do it to support the community but because you want to have an event.

The same applies to complaining that paying flights to a conference in a far away country would be expensive for you as an organiser. Yes, it is also more straining on the speakers and it means more work for them as - if they are good speakers - they will prepare a presentation tailored to the audience and environment which means a lot of work upfront.

As a speaker who is always on the road, have my company pay my flights and accommodation and in many cases sponsor the conferences I am speaking at I find some of the posts here offensive painting people like me in a spoiled rockstar light. Before you complain about a few simple requests for creature comfort try being that "rockstar" for a while and then repeat what you claimed.

This is not about speakers vs. organisers, this is about setting expectations and not getting bad experiences. We owe it to the audience who pays the tickets to give them a great time and that includes awake speakers who are able to deal with their feedback and find out things for them.

If you ever dealt with concert organisers then you will know that "making it easy for the artist" makes for a great show. That there are "artists" who are dicks who abuse this and have all kind of annoying diva manners and ludicrous requests should not make it bad for everybody.

A list of guidelines like that actually makes it harder for speakers to be spoiled dicks. And I for one very much welcome that.

remy commented Jul 13, 2012


actually a CV with what the applicant expects from the company would peak my interest - especially when they are interesting expectations and show that the person wants to work as a professional.

Totally agree. But a CV with: I expect water to be provided. I expect to be paid. I expect my expenses to be paid when going to meetings. That's what I'm talking about in this case.

It's funny, I'm not sure at what point people thought that doing the amount of travelling that Christian does ever equated to Rockstar status. Seriously, who loves sitting on an aeroplane that much - there's rarely much room, and on occasion so little room you end up pouring water in to your laptops! Yes, that's definitely a rockstar lifestyle. </british-sarcasm>

codepo8 commented Jul 13, 2012

Even better, you then flash your mighty personal debit card to buy a laptop, re-write your talk from scratch and then realise that the 1500 Euro laptop doesn't connect to any projector. That's when I felt like smashing TV sets and going on a drunken rampage. Alas, I didn't.

getify commented Jul 13, 2012

I have entertained the idea of being a conference organizer a number of times, and I still may very well do so. I wouldn't do so if I couldn't meet most/all of this OCE.

That's not saying the OCE is discouraging me... on the contrary, it expresses what I feel all conf organizers should be (and many are) striving for (even if for some reasons a few of the items don't work out). It inspires me to what I should want do achieve as a conf organizer.

If you blatantly don't intend to do most/all of the things on this OCE, your conference is not one I would either speak at OR attend. I personally think you shouldn't be organizing that conf. Just my 2 cents.

@codepo8 "peak my interest..."

Sorry, but it's "pique"

codepo8 commented Jul 13, 2012

@pauldacus cool, thanks. The more you know.

grgur commented Jul 13, 2012

I wholeheartedly agree!

I actually used to be a conference 'organizer'. I started a web-app conference that brought tremendous amounts of joy and pride to myself, but, as I hear, also to the fellow community peers. After leaving the company (who were naturally the owners of the conference), they decided to run the conference on their own, and as stupid as I was, I helped drafting the speakers. It was one hell of a speaker lineup (many of you have been there as far as I can see), but the organizer abused all of the effort and set up an awful show. Not to mention the speakers never got paid, never got their expenses reimbursed and were never even honored with a dinner. The list goes on. What a humiliation.

If you want to learn from my mistakes, make sure the speakers know what they are getting back. They run the conference, not the organizer. Happy speakers = happy audience = conference next year.

HHRy commented Jul 13, 2012

Why do people expected to be paid for speaking at conferences? Is it something I'm missing? I can see the case if you were invited to speak or were giving the Keynote that some (or all) of your costs should be met. But Joe Bloggs answering a CFP?

As a new conference organiser, and one that @codepo8 and @paulirish spoke at, this thread has been very interesting to me. When planning my first conference my biggest concern was being able to afford to put it on, to do that I needed to sell out and get sponsors. To do that I needed "rock star" speakers, but ones that can deliver interesting content. I didn't call them rock stars in my head, I called them "names" Same thing I guess.

I researched all conferences, read backgrounds/blogs from people about speaker treatment, read the opinions of the speakers themselves, then put together almost what the OCE is. I didn't have a practice/quiet space, something I need to work on.

Being a not-aiming-for-profit-but-not-wanting-to-lose-my-shirt conference we couldn't offer a fee, but we could offer personal pick ups from the airport for the non-uk speakers, a nice hotel close to the venue, and lots and lots of gratitude for coming to speak at our new conference.

For the next iteration of jQuery UK I will try do a JSConf and let the delegates tell me what/who they want to hear about/from, but I will still be eternally grateful that these extremely busy people are disrupting their week to come and speak at my conference and look after them as best I can.

For my other new conference I'm doing the "name" thing again, but I think this is very acceptable for a new conference with no established reputation.

I'm a little sad that the original writers have had such experiences that they've had to write this article.

Something that also helped me as a newbie conference organisers was this handbook


paulirish commented Jul 13, 2012

Thanks everyone for their feedback. This is a great conversation to have.

Admittedly, sometimes you send out something you think is a draft and you want feedback on and it gets taken as a finished copy. In particular I was concerned about the tone of the document and wanted help on revising that. I like ben's go at it here. I just put up some new revisions where hopefully it doesn't come off too much like a prat.

Rebecca and I just did some changes that incorporate a lot of the feedback from the comments. We gave it a revised introduction, a completely reworked speakers promises, and reworded a lot of the items in the middle, both including the caveats mentioned above and revisiting the tone. We also wanted to move video farther down the list to deprioritize it, but we kept the order consistent so people's comments still line up.

@remy and @Mikael - both of you have a lot of experience in this area and I really appreciate all your thoughts shared here. I'm lucky enough to have a job that will pay my travel and hotel and I haven't accepted any honoraria. My personal #1 priority on this list (by far) is video as I want the great content at every conference to be seen by tens of thousands of folks, not just the people in the room. But this list isn't for me, and I hope it helps aid a better diversity of people speaking at events.

I suppose the problem that we're trying to solve is identifying the bottlenecks to getting great education out people. This list above helps for speakers that can't commit to an event, which we've heard some instances of in the comments. I totally support having more events and really like the resources Mikael pointed out at the bottom of his post. I still think there is a distribution problem for completed talks. @savetheclocktower, for example, does totally incredible talks, never repeats them and doesn't get nearly the amount of reach online that they deserve. (I'm really glad the Canadian University Software Engineering Conference recorded and published Bret Victor's Inventing on Principle talk, for example.)

@foca, totally agree that non-Europe/North America conferences have prohibitive cost issues if they must reimburse all travel. It changes the list of who you can actually pull in to speakers that can pay their own way, but much of the time that's okay. The net effect of travel reimbursement is trying to get a better diversity of speakers instead of the same faces.

Might as well cc @holman and @kneath since they both speak and might be able to add the feature to unsubscribe from this gist. :)

fhwang commented Jul 13, 2012

One thought on travel expenses for conferences outside of the industrialized West: I wonder how well a Kickstarter/IndieGogo/etc focused on only travel expenses would do. If a conference in Colombia or Tunisia or the Phillippines were to ask for help flying speakers over, such a focused appeal might hit a nerve and raise enough money to make a difference.

(Maybe. It's also possible that this has already been tried and is actually a lousy idea. Apologies for spamming the Gist if so.)

@HHRy This isn't about being paid to speak at conferences, it's about being reimbursed for reasonable expenses. The hours or days that I put into preparing a presentation are completely uncompensated, and I have no expectation that they will be.

From the dictionary

expect: to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of

This document is an outline of an expectation of a conference. This means, speakers and audience expects a typical web development conference to be so. If your conference does not match this expectation, then we would like you to point it out up front. It does not mean we won't attend your conference, or diss it in public or cause shame.

This document is an outline of what a baseline conference should look like. Not what a 'right' conference should look like.

I support the OCE.

Which would you rather have?

A sold out conference that made you 10k while you had to spent 2 of the 10 on speakers
A half-filled conference that made you 5k.

Asking for a hotel room and travel expenses is not outrageous at all.

Without the speakers, organizers wouldn't have a conference.

The most "ridiculous" expectation would be the honorarium - which isn't ridiculous at all given that the suggestion is 50% of a $1,000 ticket. If your conference is making $1k a ticket and you have a tiny 100 person conference, you still just reeled in $100k. Is asking for $500 unfair?

Think of it like a NPO vs a standard company. People will do a lot of work for free for an NPO because they're not out for the money. But that same person would be offended if they did work for a profit company and was offered 0.

I'm definitely on board with the spirit of "do right by speakers." That said, there are some absolute-sounding points up there that don't quite match up with the reality of an organizer's intentions and financials.

There are a LOT of contributing financial factors to consider. You talk about ticket prices, but ticket price is honestly pretty irrelevant; it's about the margin, and that's not really something you can know in most cases. I've run a number of events in really expensive cities, like Boston, New York and SF. Cities where I sometimes spend $200+ per attendee just on venue and food. Then there are things like swag, afterparties, video recording, shuttles, power, internet, etc etc etc. I always try to do things like speaker honoraria, but it usually takes running the show for a number of successful years for that to be practical.

I've got a pretty decent track record of gradually increasing the general quality and speaker benefits the shows I'm involved with have from year to year, but by this sort of standard, I'd never have gotten there. I wouldn't have been able to afford things like this in the first years, despite charging several hundred dollars in some cases, and thus would never have made it to the point where I did. Even if you make money in year one, most responsible organizers will sock that away for year two deposits. For example, it's not unusual for some of my shows to need $50-$75k venue deposits months and sometimes even a year in advance. It takes a nice long while to be able to rack up that much cash, and some people just plain never successfully do it.

At GoGaRuCo, we gradually added things like a great venue (year one was much more janky :p), great food, better internet, video recording, and more, year after year (jQuery conferences have been similarly gradual). It took us a few tries before we had the budget to add a speaker honorarium, and we still don't cover travel costs above that. We opted to start with an honorarium rather than travel reimbursements; this means everyone gets the same thing regardless of where they're coming from, and also simplifies the financials dramatically. Some speakers, in a generous fashion, have indeed turned it down because their companies funded their trips, and that's been really great. One day we might be able to do both honoraria and travel expenses, and I'm looking forward to that day, but I don't consider myself to be failing or greedy because we're not there yet :p

[Also, there's a master priority list. When I make more money than I counted on, there are lots of complex calculations to make. For example, better wifi would probably win over a speaker honoraria. Better food may or may not win over video recording. Point is, where you spend your money is NOT simple, and speaker perks are mingled in a lonnng list of a million other things.]

I've also watched friends run $750 ticket conferences where the cost per attendee was close to that much. I've furthermore watched a number of conferences take losses on their otherwise successful shows. There's just too much complexity to have your opinions all hinged on the ticket price we have no visibility into.

It's more about whether or not a conference makes money, I'd think. For example, I'd expect that O'Reilly conferences can make upwards of a million bucks. Maybe Carsonified conferences too, unknown. They're profit making ventures, and I'm all on board with saying you won't help someone else fill their own coffers if you're needing to spend money to do so. I'm also on board with wanting compensation for helping someone else make money.

I suspect this might have been better had it been split up a bit. Separate financial concerns from more experiential "if you care, you'll make it better for us by doing X" concerns. The courtesy of letting a speaker know when they'll be speaking is a very different matter than whether or not you can afford to subsidize them. Similarly, it might be effective to have different expectations for smaller independently run "we want to help the community" events than we have for larger money-making enterprisey events.

@nimbupani @gilesbowkett I am unsure what you mean by "bureaucratic", the intention is to say, we will go out of our way to accomodate the tight constraints small conferences have and the huge efforts they need to put in to get it started to begin with (see @mikeal's point about TacoConf/NodeConf).

I mean that this is the wrong level to work at in my opinion, and that the document's using a collective process to drive what should in my opinion be an individual negotiation; and that the metric of ticket price is extremely arbitrary in my opinion, in the same way that bureaucracies often are.

@gilesbowkett It's just a guideline so I doubt the ticket prices are meant to be exactly this or that dollar amount. However if you were gonna speak at TED as the keynote, would that be insane? The tickets are $10,000. If going to TED made your career go from 0 to stardom, then going there might be compensation enough.

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

@elight I agree that @wifelette made some fantastic points, and I agree that context is important. Here's my context: TXJS 2010 and NCJS were profit-free because I paid speaker costs -- even with dirt-cheap tickets and minimal sponsors, I'd have pocketed a couple thousand dollars for NCJS, and far more for TXJS 2010, if I'd opted to ask speakers to pay their own way. I went into the planning of both events with the firm belief than to not cover a speaker's hard costs -- travel and accomodations -- was disrespectful of the great service the speakers were doing by agreeing to show up and give great talks, and putting on a great event with speakers who would deliver (and speak at future events) was more important to me than making a couple thousand bucks. I absolutely do not believe speakers at reasonably priced open-source events should be paid for their talks -- indeed, that is the donation that they are making to the open-source community. However, I truly can't fathom making them pay for the privilege of making that donation.

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

@elight The website says DCamp is a free unconference. As far as I'm concerned, you're basically off the hook from doing any of these things at that price point, and more power to you for running a surplus. This gist is targeted at conferences that charge money, and especially at those that charge upwards of $200 per ticket. At that price point, I believe these things are largely viable, but trust that I'll be the last person to complain about how a free event spends whatever money it can come up with. Indeed, if I had the cash handy, I'd be happy to make my own way there.

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

Er... "Few of us, if any..."... You read what I meant. ;-)

elight commented Jul 13, 2012

@elight I disagree about Leah nailing it. I think she's right that profit matters more than ticket price, but my argument all along was that ticket price is a useless metric because any single metric is a useless metric. putting on a conf is a very complex operation with a lot of moving parts; any number you choose out of that maelstrom is going to be wrong one, in at least one real-world instance.

the more I read this discussion, the more I think this whole thing is just a waste of time. I think this is the kind of thing anyone and everyone can safely ignore without any consequence whatsoever. its base assumptions are so wrong that nothing useful can come of it.

its approach to strategy is as wildly naive as its model of conference logistics. it attempts to collectively negotiate matters which can only be effectively negotiated at an individual level. it's a poorly articulated document. if it were a well-articulated document, it would still have to operate with substantial developer support to have any power as a negotiating tool. as this discussion illustrates, putting a coalition together which could leverage that support would be one of the worst herding-cats problems in the history of collective bargaining.

people seem to agree that this is mostly just for O'Reilly and similar organizers. it's not exactly a coincidence that O'Reilly has yet to say a word. there's no reason for them to even pay attention.

go back to the drawing board.

find out how riders work. talk to somebody with music or theatrical tour experience. hell, talk to Richard Stallman, because he already has one.

the end.

Hi. I'm late to this conversation. I've read all of the comments before chiming in. And gosh, there's so much I want to say. It's hard to know where to start.

I'm Shane Becker. I organize Farmhouse Conf and co-organize Cascadia Ruby (with Ben @bleything).

In this conversation, I'm primarily wearing my Farmhouse Conf hat. I'll let @bleything do the talking about Cascadia.


I guess the thing through all of this that I keep thinking is, for everyone in this thread who's got any opinion on this and hasn't yet done it, please go organize a conference. It's a heckuva thing to do. However hard you're thinking it is, it's harder. Especially, the first year.

We've all attended confs. A lot of us have spoken at confs. Many fewer of us have put one on. Play all three roles (attendee, speaker, organizer) and you'll have a leg to stand on.

More to come...

I think the priorities of this thing are all kinds of cattywampus. The focus of this seems to be about the treatment of speakers.

Without the speakers, organizers wouldn't have a conference.

@DaveStein, as just one example (Dave, my aim is not to pick on you. Just the first succinct example I re-found. No disrespect.)

I think this is the wrong level of abstraction. Or whatever.

Without attendees in the audience, we really wouldn't have a conference.

I think borrowing from the HTML5 WG's "Priority of Constituencies" would serve everyone well.

In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over specifiers over theoretical purity. In other words costs or difficulties to the user should be given more weight than costs to authors; which in turn should be given more weight than costs to implementors; which should be given more weight than costs to authors of the spec itself, which should be given more weight than those proposing changes for theoretical reasons alone. Of course, it is preferred to make things better for multiple constituencies at once.

(Emphasis mine)

I tooted about this while I was still slogging through all of the comments. With a re-contextualing

In case of conflict, consider attendees over speakers over sponsors over organizers over theoretical purity.

"Theoretical purity" in this case meaning, strict adherence to this document's expectations.

To be clear, I understand that this means more work for me as an organizer and as a speaker. When I organize one, my goal is to put on an amazing show. When I speak at one, my goal is to contribute to the show being amazing. ...but always for the attendees. (And yes, I know that there's a razor thin fuzzy line between organizer, speaker and attendee at our confs. We're all attendees, really.) Attendees pay to be there with their money and more importantly with their time and attention. We owe everything to them.

Attendees first.
Then speakers.
Then sponsors.
Then organizers.
Then theoretical purity.

PEM-FR commented Jul 16, 2012

Hello, sorry to come up again with that but :
#5 Honoraria: Some events are epic and large and can cost above $1,000 for attendees. In these cases, a speaker honorarium of at least 50% of the ticket price seems fair compensation.

If you have 20 speakers, should they all get 50% of each ticket? Obvisouly i'm trolling, but then again, should 50% be split among the 20 speakers equally whe, maybe, some talks were not as great as one had expected, and some other were much better when we thought they were less experienced speakers?
Should the public rate the speakers, and should the 50% (again this number is just insane and not realist at all) be shared according to ratings?

I doubt most conferences makes 50% benefits, whatever the ticket price!
If they ask 1k$ maybe they have 700$ of costs on the ticket just for the amazing venue, food, video team, etc?

IF benefits :

  1. A part of it should be used for next year event if any.
  2. A part of it should be used by the organization that organized the event, for functional costs (phone bills, letters, administrative papers, etc).
  3. A part of it could be used for the organisation other activities (for example, Web-5 is non profit, and also organizes some week-end events (like git training sessions, webgl, etc) during the year, and we'd like to provide these week-end events to the public for free. These events needs fundings.
  4. Consider that, for most non profit confs, the events have been organized by people who have sweated blood to make it happen, and have received absolutely NO MONEY, not one penny for the year of hard work they spent making the event.
  5. IF the organization pays for your trip, food, hotel, for everything so that you can feel at ease, you are already priviledged. Event organiser, for most of them do not even enjoy that much. (Although they are taking risks with banks, sponsors etc if something fails).
  6. I believe that it should be up to the organization (if non profit one) to decide if it CAN retribute the speakers or not, and IF the speaker was good enough to deserve the extra sharing.

Just my point of view, but I really think this #5 rule is unrealistic and unfair. Some speakers tends to think they are big shots because they speak a lot, but some new guys can sometimes be just as informative and more entertaining. Attendee should not go to a conf for the big shots but for the contents. And if it is about content, it can be delivered by a lot of people. I'd rather give a chance to an unknown speaker which I know has great technical skills.

I agree on considering speaker's facts (do they have to take a leave to come and speak, or is it ok with their company), they should have everything ready for them so that they do not have to worry about trains, planes, hotel, food and drinks.
As hosts, Conference organizers should make it safe and comfy for the speakers, with great disponibility. If money is required, it should be stated before anything is decided, because a lot of small conference simply cannot afford to pay the speakers. Bigger events might be able to do so, and in this cases it should be negociated between speakers and organizers beforehand i guess....

Another sharing experience moment....

First, please don't shout on me but, as an attendee, I don't go to conferences only for the speakers or their presentations. I must even admit that seing some presentations was sometime for me a luxury options once my first goal meeting and talking to smart people (speakers included of course) was accomplished. Conferences also have this international "Barcamp like" aspect which can be, if not more, at least as important as the presentations. In this case, it make sense for the organizer to spend more money in potentially better venue or food or parties...

About #2 & #3, I'm not be a star ;-) so the only occasion I was proposed having some of my travel expense covered by the organiser was at Web-5 (thank @PEM-FR). I must say I never asked for it as my company covered it most of the time for me. At, I talked once in track B and had nothing covered (I even paid my ticket as an attendee)... I still loved being able to talk there... Should organizers all include the concept of non-officially selected speakers in a specific track to cover travel/lodging expense of only half of the speakers?

Another point, Wakanday / JS.everywhere is not organized by a non-profit organization but by a company. Still, even without following all the rules proposed by this paper, the cost was already bigger than what ticket price and sponsorship gave back. I see this work as a good set of guidelines we should all try to follow. But I hope that it won't be used as arguments to criticize the efforts of many organizers and discourage them. As organizers couldn't offer much without speakers, speakers would also have hard time if there would be only too few events available (at least the newcomers)... I think both sides want to deliver something great and works a lot for that.

I support OCE

avdi commented Jul 24, 2012

As a speaker, I can get behind all of this.

One addition, though I'm not sure how to phrase it:

Have someone around to help the speaker get set up and tell them when to start. When I'm gearing up for a talk, my mind is on my talk, nervously reviewing my words for the nth time. Please don't make me figure out your audio setup while I'm doing that. This probably isn't as big a deal for experienced speakers, but for a brand new speaker, having someone on stage with you to mic you up, check your projector connection, and give you either an introduction or a thumbs up when it's time to start talking is HUGE. It can make a massive difference in the amount of stress the speakers starts with, which translates directly into the quality of their talk.

avdi commented Jul 24, 2012

...having read over some of the other comments, I'll add that I do think these are all "nice to haves". Do I expect to have someone help me mic up? ...well, OK, yeah, I kinda do, because they are the conference's mics and I don't know how they work, But I'm not going to stomp off in a huff if I have to work it out on my own.

I think the question is, do you look at speakers as potential evangelists for your conference? When conferences have treated me well, I've gone out of my way to talk them up and tell people that they should totally attend next year. I didn't make a conscious, calculating decisions to do this; I just felt so grateful for the awesome experience that I couldn't help telling people about it.

I agree with others that a conference ought to seek first to delight its attendees. But after that, delighting speakers is not a bad idea. How you go about doing that may vary from conf to conf; the guidelines above seem like a good set of baseline suggestions, though.

I support the OCE 👍

cowboy commented Oct 22, 2012

I support the OCE

Could've sworn I did this already but... I support the OCE! 👍

anselmh commented Nov 29, 2012

To get more feedback I now am sharing the link here (please just ignore it if you feel it as spam, it isn't meant to be).

I want to get some feedback from attendees of conferences about video coverage and free distribution of it afterwards. It would be great if you can vote or just share to your audience.
If I get more than 1000 votes in summary I will anaylize and sum up the whole thing as chart and publish so you as a conference organizer can look into and decide what you want to do.

Now here is the link:
You can comment here or on the linked accounts in the link. This feedback will get into summary, too.

Thanks for sharing,

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE.

j3itch commented May 15, 2016

i support the OCE

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE.

I support the OCE 👍

darobin commented Jul 20, 2017

I support the OCE.

urig commented Jul 26, 2017

I support the OCE

I'd like to suggest to add to item 9 (Call for Speakers) that when a proposal is not accepted into a conference, the speaker should be notified by email.

Here's my suggested revision:

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