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Buck Woody wrote a fantastic post this morning for speakers to think about. All too often I have seen some speakers at technical events adopt the prima donna stance, expecting gifts, special treatment, free food and drinks, and more. I do think that events should try to recognize speakers when they can, but for smaller events, gifts and dinner can be hard. Ultimately I want events to be sustainable, with 100 SQL Saturdays a year and there isn’t enough money to make them all lavish smorgasborghs of delight for those that present.

speakersThere was a bit of a discussion recently about cancellations and penalties for speakers at events. Cancellations happen, and sometimes are unavoidable, however they have a huge impact on organizers. There are any number of reasons for cancellation, some legitimate, some suspect, and since Andy Leonard likes elegant solutions, I have one:

If you cancel speaking at an event, the event bans you from speaking the next time they have the event. You get an appeal to the program committee to state your case, but their decision is final.

But Steve, my wife broke her arm and I had to leave early. Why can’t I speak next year?

I completely understand. If you have a family emergency, or you’re sick, cancel. Take care of you and yours. That’s understandable, no one can blame you, and you can appeal to the committee and state your care.

However do your penance. There’s no entitlement here for speaking. I believe in making the decisions that are ethically and morally just for each person, but then be man or woman enough to stand up for your decision, regardless of the consequences.

I cancelled on SQL Connections a couple years ago because my wife broke her arm as I was landing in Denver between events. I wasn’t speaking, but had committed to help cover the event for my company. They would have been justified in telling me they wouldn’t pay for me to attend anymore. And I would have accepted that as a result of my decision.

I cancelled on the Louisville SQL Saturday this past January, after I had submitted a session and been accepted. I gave them as much notice as I could, in this case I told them in Nov and they had two months. My reason: my middle son’s black belt test was the same day.

I am still apologizing to Malathi for my decision, and if she decides not to allow me to speak anymore, or any other SQL Saturdays cite that as a reason to not choose me, I accept the consequences.

We are adults, we are professionals, and if our other obligations intrude and override our commitment to speak, accept the consequences. It might suck, but it’s the adult thing to do.

Filed under: Blog Tagged: speaking, syndicated

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Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


Posted by ThomasLL on 21 October 2011

Thanks for the post Steve. I agree with your comments.

Speakers need to give as much of an advance notice as possible to help organizers plan.



Posted by Martin Catherall on 21 October 2011

A very timely article, for me anyway!

I've just had Auckland sql saturday 76 cancel /postpone on me - as I was due to do my first sql saturday presentaton there. And I'd bought my air ticket from Christchurch. Hopefully, I'll be able to get a refund or change the tickets to do a user group presentation up there. They've offered to try to help with the refund if I don't get it though, I guess this advice cuts both ways :)

Posted by GilaMonster on 23 October 2011

As long as there's some appeal or similar for unavoidable cancellations/noshows, things completely out of the speaker's control.

Case in point, in Sept one of the people who was scheduled to speak at the SA usergroup cancelled the day before. Reason: He was diagnosed with measles. He spoke in October instead. Certainly not going to hold that against him.

Posted by Steve Jones on 24 October 2011

I think that you should have some appeal and let the organizers decide. If something comes up, regardless of whether it's your fault, I think you have to accept the consequences.

Posted by Matt Guthrie on 24 October 2011

This is a much bigger issue than just speakers and schedule changes--it speaks to the personal responsibility vs. personal entitlement philosophies of human behavior. Choices have consequences, and the one who makes the choice should bear at least part of the consequence.

Posted by Steve Jones on 25 October 2011

Well said, Matt.

Posted by Pat on 25 October 2011

I realize the importance of a speaker sticking with his/her committment to an event, but there are some things that we simply have no control over.  Specifically, an act of God.  Why should anyone should be actively punished for something that they had absolutely no control over?  What if a regional airport is closed preventing travel?  Is the speaker still banned?

While I agree that some sort of control mechanism may be necessary, I feel that automatically banning a speaker may be a bit of overkill.  I feel that the decision to ban any speaker should be maded on a case by case basis.  Aren't we all supposed to be professionals?  

Posted by Steve Jones on 25 October 2011

@byrne I understand what your argument is, but there's no entitlement here. I see speakers traveling the day of events, and if they have travel issues, they take responsibility. Acts of God aren't your fault, but that doesn't excuse you from taking some responsibility. We all have to roll with the punches.

I noted that an appeal makes sense, but if you don't make it, your fault or not, I don't think you get a pass on not fulfilling your commitment. No speaker out there makes or breaks an event, and if they are banned for a year, is that really the end of their career? The end of the event? I think not.

Take responsibility if something fails. Maybe someone gives you a second chance, but I don't think you automatically deserve one.

Posted by pbyrne on 26 October 2011


You wrote: "Acts of God aren't your fault, but that doesn't excuse you from taking some responsibility."

With all due respect I think that you may have missed my point (or maybe I'm still missing yours).  Although I'm perfectly willing to take responsibility for problems that I may be a part of, I find it odd that I should be expected to take any responsibility for something that I had absolutely no part in.  If I opted out for personal reasons then I would expect to be held accountable.  I agree that a speaker should probably not travel to the event on the day of the event.  If they choose to do so, then they should probably be held accountable if their negligence prevents them from arriving for the event.

No it's not the end of a speaker's career if they are banned, and yes they have the right to appeal if they choose to do so, but why place an unnecessary obstacle in front of someone who was volunteering their time in the first place and probably already feels really bad about the situation?  I just think that if the organizers of the event(s) are not careful, they may send the wrong message.  While it should be considered a privilege to speak at an event, I don't think that the organizers of any quality event want to be perceived as a bunch of Pompous Asses.  I just think that having a blanket rule could very well send the wrong signal.

I know that if I volunteered for a presentation, invested a lot of personal time in the preparation, traveled on my dollar, and spent the night in an airport, I would be very upset if the organizer attempted to rub my nose in it.  I'd also probably be finished with that organizer and that event and would most likely find a more worthy cause to devote my time.

Maybe I've missed something or maybe this is a situation where we just need to agree to disagree.  Either way, all's cool!

Posted by Steve Jones on 26 October 2011

We may have to agree to disagree. No matter what happens, even an act of God, I think you take responsibility. I did call for an appeal that the speaker can make, but I think it's up to the speaker to do so. The "default" is that you're banned if you don't speak.

It's not about being pompous, but it's about honoring the commitment. If you can't, then you accept the consequences, or make an appeal, or don't speak again.

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