There has been alot of chatter in the PHP community lately about conferences, speakers and specifically the fact that many speakers at conferences seem to be doing last-minute preparations for their presentations instead of being professional and ready well in advance.
Most recently this came out because a number of speakers for ConFoo (A PHP/Python/Ruby/Java conference in Montreal) were tweeting about working on their slides the days/nights before their talks. Some people starting taking offense at this and calling it unprofessional
First of all, I want to point out a simple fact that while yes, a SELECT FEW presenters are the types that only start making slides the night before a talk. The majority of people (myself included) who are presenting, have made our slides at least weeks in advance (if not earlier). However, we continue to tweak them up until the minute we present. We want them to be perfect, and so we keep reviewing them and modifying them. In fact, I’ve been known to change my slidedeck in response to other discussions happening at the conference, or due to information that was passed on in the Keynote.
In those rare other cases, those speakers are ones that know their topic intimately and are simply planning on having a conversation about the topic with the attendees. In those cases, the slides are less important in the first place.
But let’s put that aside for a moment, because I want to focus on something actually completely different.
The mention of the word: “unprofessional”. Speakers at PHP conferences are, by definition, unprofessional. The PHP ‘conference circuit’ if you will, is one that has grown up in a different manner than other conference circuits that I’ve been familiarized with in the past (Java, Adobe, ‘Web’, etc).
In most of these other areas, the speakers are PAID to attend. Some of the speakers in fact make their living (or a good portion of it) via being paid to present at conferences. They will get a significant payment for being there, as well as expenses being covered.
On the flip side, in the PHP conference circuit, every speaker there, in fact, is PAYING for the right to attend that conference and be a part of it. (Or, if they are lucky, their companies are covering their expenses) Sure, most of the conferences do their best to offset the expenses that the speakers will accumulate, but that’s it. The standard package involves a free conference pass, a night or two hotel per presentation, and airfare being covered. (Though some conferences, like OSCon, cover much less).
There are still so many expenses that a speaker will have. Transportation from airport to conference venue. Parking at their home airport. Meals that are not otherwise provided (usually only lunch is). Extraneous flight expenses (checked bags, etc).
All of this is being paid by the speaker (or their company) for the privilege of speaking at the conference. This is a net negative, not even breaking even, let alone being a paid speaker who would be taking their position as a ‘professional’, being paid to do a job. Heck, let’s not even take into account the direct loss of productivity that the companies take by allowing the speakers to attend (though other great benefits are gained by doing so)
In the end, my point is this. I feel that given the nature of all of these conferences. That the organizers and attendees need to understand the situation and treat the speakers not as a ‘professional speaker that they paid good money to see’. But as what they really are. Far more akin to an Open Source Developer, who is donating their time for the better good and education of the masses.
That is until at least, the situation overall changes. Where conference organizers are able to pay a respectable payment/stipend for the amount of time actually spent by a speaker in preparation and execution of a session. Also where attendees are willing to pay a conference fee that accordingly will cover those speaker payments. It would not be nearly so inexpensive as conferences now are.