We’ve been running conferences for the Web industry for a long time now. Since 2004 to be precise.
In that time we’ve seen what was barely a trickle of events become a river, across the whole world, often specialising into specific niches. Bringing tremendous benefits for our industry in many ways.
And very often, certainly in recent years and at considerable expense, these conferences have recorded presentations, and put these videos online, most commonly YouTube. A boon for developers and designers around the world.
But. And there’s a big but.
Conferences are hard. You’ll see events, even high profile ones, come and go. Organisers burn out. Very few organisers create a sustainable financial basis for their events – most of them are built on monumental, admirable, highly stressful volunteer efforts, and the risk organisers take that they’ll cover their event costs.
Do videos really benefit these organisers? From our perspective, we’ve had hundreds of thousands of views of videos from our conferences on YouTube (which even if we’d turned on advertising would have generated very little money) and yet we’d be hard pressed to demonstrate this brings any benefit in terms of future attendance at our events.
And presenting is hard. A solid presentation is dozens or hundreds of hours work, built on top of thousands of hours spent developing expertise. No one is close to adequately compensated for these efforts. Which is why even speakers in high demand almost always do the same presentation numerous times. Just as most events exist because of the significant volunteer efforts of their organisers, they also exist because speakers volunteer their time and expertise.
Do videos benefit speakers? Sure there’s a bit of exposure (you know what they say about exposure and putting food on the table) – you can send potential conference organisers to your presentation (though this days many conferences have anonymous calls for presentations, minimising their value from that perspective). But the benefits, in return for the enormous efforts and expertise, are nebulous at best.
It is easier to argue that industry professionals benefit (as do as the people who employ them, lots of free world class education!)
But this benefit may be more illusory than first appears. With little financial incentive to prepare new talks with any great frequency, how much of their expertise is left untapped? And as organisers will typically want a number of more established speakers to draw attention to their event (who are most likely to be delivering a presentation they’re already presented before) the opportunities for new speakers, with new perspectives and presentations to find an audience, and then be recorded, are more limited.
This has troubled me for years (in addition to organising conferences I’ve spoken not infrequently, and also attend conferences). Surely there must be a better way? A way in which speakers and organisers can be better compensated, with the flow-on benefits of unlocking more of the expertise of existing speakers, opening up opportunities for new speakers, and providing incentive and compensation for organisers who provide the platform for recordings to take place. A true win-win-win.
Not only have I been thinking a lot about this, we’ve been working on what we feel is a solution here at Web Directions. Stay tuned as we’ll be letting you know more about this in the very near future. We’re pretty excited to show you what we’ve been working on.