Keeping Your Speaking Commitments

Many event organizers are way too polite to publicly admit that this problem exists as badly as it does.  But a problem has been showing up way to much recently.  The problem which I speak of is session speakers not showing up for their sessions, and the even bigger problem of speakers not showing up to an event at all.  Both of these happen on occasion, things happen.  But if they do happen, call someone, send an email, do something do try and let them know in advance that you aren’t going to be there.  Especially if you aren’t going to be going to the event at all.

If you aren’t going to be attending the event which you’ve been picked as a speaker for, you probably know that you aren’t going to be attending at least a few days in advance, at least the day before as that’s probably when your flight would have been.  You owe it to the event team and to the attendees to tell the event team that you aren’t going to be able to make it and that they should fill your spot with another speaker.

If you don’t tell the event team that you aren’t going to be there, you look like a putz.

In the last year there have been a lot of instances of speakers just not showing up for SQL Saturday events.  It has gotten bad enough that some of these speakers are starting to get a reputation as being people that won’t show up to present their session.  That means that these speakers have skipped their sessions several times, at least.  Just because a SQL Saturday is a free conference doesn’t mean that you can skip on your sessions.  Yes as a speaker you aren’t getting paid to attend, and it’s probably costing you money out of your pocket for airfare, hotel, rental car, etc.  But you knew that this was the case before you submitted, so just because it turned out to be more than you were expecting you need to either figure something out, or give the team as much notice as possible that you can’t make it.

If you have found yourself in this situation I implore you to stop submitting to the SQL Saturday’s unless you are 100% sure that you’ll be able to attend.  It isn’t fair to the event team that’s putting together the event to have to stress out over you not being there.  It isn’t fair to the event team that has to deal with upset attendees that the session that they wanted to attend isn’t happening (if you think that people don’t complain when a session at a free event doesn’t happen as scheduled you are very wrong).  And most importantly it isn’t fair to the session attendees who expected to see a session but aren’t able to because you didn’t show up.

If the event team knows in advance, even a day in advance that you aren’t going to be there they can find a replacement.  The speakers who are there will have all their other slide decks with them.  Odds are there’s another speaker there who can fill in.  If the session that you are scheduled to present doesn’t get presented then you are letting down the people who have cleared a day from their schedule to see you present that session.  You are letting down the event team who have trusted you to give the presentation.  If the event team didn’t trust you they would have given the spot to someone else.

A perfect example happened at SQL Saturday Nashville in 2012.  One of the speakers had to back out at the last minute due to a family emergency.  They told the organizers, and then organizers were able to find another speaker who had a session they could present on a similar topic.  The schedule didn’t need to be changed, the attendees weren’t upset.  Just instead of a woman presenting they got a man.  But they still got the information that they were looking for, and after all that is the most important thing when it comes to these events.

Sadly there isn’t really a great way to fix this, except for speakers to ensure that they present the sessions that they have committed to present.  As speakers if we don’t shape up about this the event organizers are going to start tracking this (I know that some events already do) which means that those speakers that don’t make it to their sessions aren’t going to get picked and it’ll probably end up being impossible to get off that list.  Which will lead to not being accepted for larger and bigger conferences.  As speakers if we don’t police ourselves and ensure that this doesn’t happen the people that run these events that we like speaking at will find a way to police us.  And I’m sure that it won’t be very fun.



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