I’ve been extremely lucky to have my sessions selected for speaking at PASS Summits for 4 of the last 5 years. One year all my topics (data modeling and database design) were deemed to be “off-topic” for the Summit crowd. The good news I still got to speak because each of the two founding organizations (Microsoft and CA) let me use one of their slots or co-presented with me on the topics of database architectures and designs.
One of the outcomes of speakers using their community slots to do sales from the podium is that this event now has a rule that your slide deck can have only one mention of your name and our company. Yes, because people were being overly focused on what they could get out of the crowd instead of sharing knowledge with attendees, the rest of the speakers and attendees have to feel pain.
I’m proposing that we allow speakers to put a form of their About Me slide at both the beginning and the end of a slide deck. Yup. Just one more slide.
The first About Me slide is to establish a the speaker’s credibility on the subject, plus to disclose any potential conflicts of interest the speaker might have. Speaker works for a vendor? Check. Speaker wrote a book on this? Check. Speaker is a data architect and not a DBA? Check.
Note that having a potential conflict of interest on a topic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a disclosure, not a confession. In the past, when InfoAdvisors partnered with vendors, that would be on my About Me slide for presentations about data modeling, because I had partner agreements with most of the data modeling tool vendors. We don’t have partner agreement any longer, but we do work with data modeling tool vendors.
When I speak in vendor-hosted slots, I’m careful to explain to attendees that they are in a paid speaking session and I disclose why I’m there and whether or not I was compensated to be there. In the Summit year I spoke in vendor slots, I wasn’t compensated other than to get a spot via means other than the program committee.
The second About Me slide, at the end of the deck, plays the role of "Okay, I just talked with you for an hour about something I’m passionate about. If you’d like to talk more about it, or if you have problems with my demos, or if you have a question you want to ask me, here’s how to reach me.
For me, this isn’t just the norm for all events, it’s etiquette as well.
Some speakers in the community have said “but all the attendees know who we are”. No, no they don’t. Celebrity is a bit overrated here.
Regulation is Born from Bad Behaviours
I think it’s odd our community has a rule that keeps us from doing the second slide. I know the rule came from speakers who were overly sales-y in their talks. That’s what makes me sad about the other discussions I blogged about yesterday. Bad behaviour by sales-focused speakers ruins the experience for attendees at the event and for years after.
Bad behaviour by sales-focused speakers ruins the experience for attendees at the event and for years after.
If we started collecting data from attendees about how promotional speakers were in their sessions, that would be a much better indicator of whether or not sales was happening from the podium. At EDW for the last several years, the attendee survey asks people:
“Was the speaker too "commercial?" i.e. did he/she seem to be selling their own product / services / book / etc.?”
It’s a simple Yes/No question. The measure is reported back to the speaker and the event organizers. The overall conference evaluation asks for the attendees to list the speakers who were overly sales focused during the event. I think that’s a great question to ask the community. This data is much more likely than the ban on mentioning your name more than once in an hour to indicate whether or not the speaker is there to sell you his or her stuff.
One of the reasons decks have to be submitted for review at Summit is so that dozens of volunteers can scour the slides for mentions of the speaker’s name or company. That isn’t really a value add for attendees, yet we do it because people have been overly focused on selling their products or services instead of the community. We’ve incurred a huge cost (in volunteer hours) to enforce this and some other less important things AND added months to gap between slide preparations and presentation time. This leads to pain for both the speakers and the audience.
Speakers break this rule all the time. Some get called out, some don’t. We basically have a rule that is unevenly enforced and silly. It’s time to change this rule.
It has been five years I’ve been asking for our community to change this rule. I believe I’ve followed it every time I’ve presented at Summit. There may be a time when the last slide from having given the presentation before has stayed in the deck, but I really want to follow the rules. So now after 5 years of emails and chats, I’ve blogged about my idea for win-win solution in hopes that other community folks will say “yes, I think that’s a good idea”.
Make it Right
We should be asking attendees of sessions and in the overall conference evaluation if a speaker spent too much time selling his blog, his books, his services or his products. We should allow two slides about the speaker in a slide deck. These two changes to our rules will benefit attendees and speakers. These changes are win-win.