User Group Dependency on Conferences
Last week I saw Jim Nelson present his two Southwest Fox sessions, and one of Jody Meyer's sessions in Grand Rapids and Detroit. Yesterday I had the pleasure to listen to Cathy Pountney and Jody Meyer rehearse both of their sessions at Chicago Fox User/Developer Group (CFUDG). The two groups were also kind enough to listen to the real rough beginnings of my sessions too. I thought the three meetings were terrific and the hosts did a magnificent job.
Special thanks to Jody Meyer and Cathy Pountney for putting on the special August meeting in Grand Rapids last weekend and thanks to Bill Drew and Jeff Simon and the CFUDG gang for putting on the special meeting yesterday! And thanks to everyone who came out to listen.
These sessions are invaluable to speakers as they figure out what works and what does not work in front of a live audience. At least for me, I know I present differently in front of developers interested in learning than when I sit down in front of the dog in the office and run through my sessions.
Cathy finished her second session of the morning making it obvious to me she is serious about defending her #1 speaker status as she is already in top conference form. It was at that time someone made the comment (and I am paraphrasing here): "There is no need to waste your money on expensive conference fees and outrageous hotel costs when you see this quality of session during rehearsals."
Now I am sort of being kind on the paraphrasing, because what I really heard is: there is no need to support Southwest Fox or other conferences when speakers do the session rehearsals for almost free at user groups. Mind you the group who showed up made a generous donation for the food and covered some travel costs for the speakers, so the event was not free. Yet, the comment really rubbed me the wrong way. As an organizer who commits to 200-300 hours of volunteer time to put on Southwest Fox each year, and another 80-130 hours preparing sessions for the conference, I don't appreciate the sentiment that was expressed. It simply hurts.
There is something I believe is too important to be overlooked. It is something I have known for a long time and probably have not expressed out loud enough. Southwest Fox depends heavily on FoxPro user groups. We depend on them for marketing and we depend on them to provide venues for the speakers to rehearse their sessions. It is something the organizers of Southwest Fox have recognized from the very beginning. Two of the three organizers started and run local user groups and the third organizer presents at them regularly. We all understand how important these groups are for the community to share and learn together. One of the first things we figured out for Southwest Fox was the user group discount we offer and giving money back to the community to support the groups.
But this is not a one way dependency. FoxPro user groups depend on Southwest Fox and other FoxPro conferences. You see, the Chicago group has been blessed more than most groups because they draw lots of conference speakers to present to their group. CFUDG invites speakers to come and share. They proactively call speakers to visit. They are a terrific group to present to and are open to learning all kinds of new things. The Detroit Area Fox User Group, Grand Rapids Area Fox User Group, and LA Fox User Groups also have been blessed with regular meetings being filled with conference-level sessions. I know there are other Fox user groups around, but these groups really fill their schedules packed with presentation rehearsals.
So what exactly is the real dependency? Conferences need well prepared speakers to draw people to the conference, speakers need to rehearse, and user groups need speakers to draw people to meetings. So if the presenters are not rehearsing the conference suffers and people are not as likely to return next time. If there is no conference, speakers are not likely to spend 40-80 to prepare one session. User groups won't have conference-level sessions at their meetings and as a user group leader I know the "big name, conference level sessions" draw more than the core regulars to a meeting. It would be a downward spiral. I prefer the upward spiral where conferences exists and draw the best speakers and attendees, where user groups get more rehearsals, and the perpetual motion goes in the right direction. For conferences to exist, people must come. So now you understand why the comment felt like a dagger in my chest.
I know some people are unable to come to Southwest Fox because it conflicts with personal events, or live to far to travel at a reasonable cost, that the economy has affected some, or they have some project deadlines to meet. But to not come because you can see some of the sessions before the conference really doing yourself a disservice. You are missing most of the session you can benefit from seeing, not to mention the networking, the comradery, and talking to vendors who have some terrific products to demonstrate for you in person. Getting outside of the office and talking with other developers of like mind is an experience you will find extremely beneficial.
At the same time lots of people have asked me about 2010. Will there be a Southwest Fox 2010? I can only say maybe. We have not signed a contract at this time for a venue, and have not set any date. It all depends on how the community supports the conference.
So support your favorite conference (I hope Southwest Fox is high on your list) and support the speakers who are hard at work preparing to help you learn some really cool and useful stuff. There are upcoming rehearsals in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Lansing, LA, and Philly. I personally will see almost half the sessions before we arrive in Mesa and hope to see more at Southwest Fox and German DevCon.
This past week I saw six of the sessions and I already learned enough stuff where it is entirely worth the effort I put in to make Southwest Fox happen. I think you will find out the same thing when you attend our conference.