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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.
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elight commented Jul 13, 2012 via email

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@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.

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elight commented Jul 13, 2012

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

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elight commented Jul 13, 2012 via email

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@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.

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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...

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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.

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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....

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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.

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I support OCE

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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.

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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.

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I support the OCE 👍

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cowboy commented Oct 22, 2012

I support the OCE

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

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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,

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I support the OCE.

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I support the OCE.

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I support the OCE.

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j3itch commented May 15, 2016

i support the OCE

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I support the OCE.

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I support the OCE.

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I support the OCE.

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I support the OCE 👍

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darobin commented Jul 20, 2017

I support the OCE.

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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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