Code of Ethics around free events

After running two sql saturdays and a third one coming up I have had exposure to a wide range of comments and experiences. Most of them, am glad to say, have been positive and encouraging. There are however, the few – among speakers, attendees and volunteers that are really irksome and indifferent. Buck Woody wrote a post a while ago about speaker responsibilities around conferences/events – following that i was inspired to write a few lines on my own thoughts in this area.

Attendees – Most attendees are appreciative of a free event and leave with positive feedback. Some are,though,completely oblivious to the amount of hard work it is. Some are baffled by why volunteers do so much of hard work for free and wonder if we have a life. Some simply don’t care to spend so much personal time on something work related. A lot of prospective attendees strongly believe their boss has pay for their time to attend, and/or saturdays and holidays are personal time that they will not consider spending at a technical event. Fair enough..but only if you think your boss is going to be the same guy (or company) for quite some time and you are happy entrusting your career in his hands.

Some guidelines for attendees:
1 Learning is for your benefit. It is proven enough that those who do self learning progress far more than those who don’t. People who know better have more choices and therefore are treated with more respect. Take initiative to go to free events and learn.Think before saying your boss does not support it, maybe he doesn’t but this is for you, not for him.
2 Show up if you register, or cancel if you can’t. You may be getting in way of someone who really wants to go and can’t because all seats are taken.
3 Care to fill out feedback forms for speakers – most speakers take your feedback very seriously.
4 Be considerate with criticism – a huge amount of work goes into organising events, and all of this is done by people like you who have families and full time jobs. Let them know what they can do better, but never forget that it is professional world class training for FREE.
5 If you are asked to pay for lunch – understand that it is probably because the event funds can be better used elsewhere. If you feel so strongly about it you are free to eat outside . I would not gripe about that 10$ when I get a great lunch and so much more in return.

Speakers – Most sql saturday speakers spend considerable amounts of their time and effort travelling and speaking, it is very hard to come up with criticism against them..but some general points not just for sql saturdays but for volunteer events in general:
1 Honor your commitments – there is no force to speak at any event, it is purely out of your own volition. Do think of factors such as travel time, expense and stress before committing to any event.
2 Please read emails asking for confirmation if you are selected and respond as early as you can.Many times it takes multiple emails/tweets/phone calls to confirm if you are fine with the date and selection.
3 Please be considerate if you have to cancel – try to let the organisers know as early as possible. And if it is possible to find a replacement offer to do so.
4 Please let audience know if you are filling in for somebody – i heard more than one comment from attendees when they went into a session that somebody was filling in, only to find the speaker poorly prepared and unsure of the subject. There are lots of ways to do a fill-in session and the audience will be lot more sympathetic if it is something you are doing in a hurry. I still remember Grant Fritchey’s session in SQL Rally where he filled in for someone – he made it real clear that he was doing so. The session was lively, fun, interactive and lots of learning came out of it.

Volunteers – Let us admit right away, volunteer work is hard. It takes away considerable time from personal life, and yes, it is thankless and frustrating when you read trivial comments and overt demands from some attendees. But volunteer work is also hugely rewarding because of the connections you make, the shared stories and the occasional emails from attendees who talk about what a blast the event was and how it helped them connect with so and so and find a job and so on.
1 Same as speakers, honor your commitment. Don’t  take on more than you can do if possible, although for some of us it is impossible 🙂 Try to spread work out and take care of yourself personally.
2 Be an initiator, not just a follower. It is easy to do task lists and let someone else do the thinking, but it is very burdensome for the person in charge to keep handing out task lists. Offer to take on parts of the event and do it yourself with feedback from others. Ask for a budget amount maybe, and be creative in what can be done with it. We had a volunteer who did an event booklet with hand drawings of venue and a graphically creative appearance. She also found us our first local sponsor all on her own. Another volunteer did event signs by hand. Two years ago when we were really short budget wise she started this all on her own and has been doing it since.Those are some examples of what i would think of as role model volunteering.
3 Let key organiser know and be considerate before cancelling – committed volunteers are hard to find and even harder to replace. Try to avoid last minute other commitments.
4 Above all, understand that it is a *lot* of work. Majority of my volunteers who did not show up were those who thought it was easy work like throwing garbage out after the party. There are definitely trivial tasks involved and does not hurt to ask for small roles, but to be a committed volunteer it takes a lot more than that. Don’t do it if you dont have a calling for it or cannot do so for some personal reason.

That is just a few thoughts for this time. Maybe this event will bring in more. Thanks for reading and do leave comments for me.

Inspired by:

4 thoughts on “Code of Ethics around free events

  1. Excellent post Mal, and the advice to attendees, about their careers, you are right on!

    I would add for Speakers, that they not expect the same “perks” event to event, as many events don’t get the amount of funds that others get. Also, I hear often that speakers never wear the shirts, even heard one recently threw two bags worth of event shirts away (or maybe donated). Speakers should let event organizers know if they do not want a shirt, it would save the organizers some money. At the Orlando SQLSats we actually do not order shirts for all speakers, we order only for those who respond that they would like one.


  2. Yeah, Next year we will do the same thing about shirts. A good shirt isn’t exactly cheap. It can run you anywhere from 20 to 50 bucks a shirt.

    Food. People don’t realize food is usually the number one expense for most events by a large amount. Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to go with the caterer that the venue has and the cost is pretty well fixed per head.

    Even though the event may charge 10 bucks it may cost much more per person to feed them. If you sign up for lunch and don’t pay we have two choices, not order the lunch for you, in which case you won’t get a lunch at the event. Or, over order and hope everyone who hasn’t paid shows and pays at the door. Like shirts, food has to be ordered in advance and is a sunk cost. Most events will donate the food that is left over so it doesn’t go to waste.

    Just some food for thought 🙂


  3. Wes,totally agree about the sunk costs on food.In our case,we hold an event at the school and we have to support student lunches for free. It became somewhat of an admin.nightmare to handle paid lunches, no lunches and free lunches so this time we just decided to give it to them for free.Our attendance has gone up 30%. I really like what you say on no lunch at all but that would take away participation from WIT and other lunch sessions. It is definitely worth exploring options though, thanks.


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