Joe is a fecking hypocrite!

nutmegA few months ago I wrote a post about the conference culture that seems to pervade several of my spheres of interest – namely government and social media. The post seemed to touch a nerve as it generated more comments than… well, any other post on the site, I think (especially once you factor in tweets and retweets).

The reaction was mixed. My point was that it seemed odd to charge upwards of $2,500 for a conference full of speakers who would largely give away their secrets for free at a meetup, unconference or even over coffee. Some agreed, some disagreed, and most came down somewhere in the middle.
At the time of writing, I was really unsure about the whole shebang. In the interim I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of people who commented (and several who didn’t) about the subject in more detail. And while I’d love to say that I came to some sort of definitive conclusion… I didn’t.

But, as is so often the case, the real world didn’t wait for me to make up my mind before throwing a wrench into things.

My current employer is a big believer in conferences. From what I’ve seen, the speakers we send out are pretty good, too. Good mix of theoretical and practical; case studies in context, as it were. So when a speaker had to drop out of an upcoming social media conference, the organizers asked if we could provide a replacement. Since I’m the social media guy at NLC, I was handed the gig. Within days, our president had to pull out of a post-conference workshop he was supposed to facilitate in Ottawa. Again, I got the call.

I sort of knew this was inevitable but now, with two speaking engagements staring me in the face in the next couple of weeks, I find myself doing a bit of soul searching. I’ve still got reservations about the amount of money the conference attendees have to shell out just to hear me and others talk but I’ve also come to the realization that, rightly or wrongly, there’s still a pervasive belief that the value of information is often defined, at least by some, by the amount it costs to access it.

The fact is these conferences are going to happen regardless. People are going to put their money down and attend these events and the best thing I can do, given my position and the reputation that NLC has cultivated in these circles, is to show up and bust my ass to deliver some value for that money. Draw on my experience and hopefully bring a slightly different viewpoint to things.

So, if you’re attending the social computing post-conference workshop at the ALI’s Social Media for Government in Ottawa this week, or if you’re going to be at the Executing Social Media conference put on by Acuity in Toronto next week and plan to hang in until 4:00 on day 2, I’ll be the guy prattling on at the front.

And while I can’t promise I’ll be entertaining, or funny, or insightful, I can promise this: I’m going to do my damndest to make sure you get your money’s worth. And if, by the end, you don’t think I have, let me know. We can meet for coffee and I’ll try to answer any questions I didn’t answer during my talk.

I’ll buy.

Creative Commons License photo credit: spanaut


  1. Don’t worry Joe – I promise to be entertaining, funny and insightful, oh and I asked the conference organizer to rejig the schedule, you are up right after me.

    See you tomorrow.

  2. I recently attended Government 2.0 LA. There were no fees to attend the conference. Sure, I had to pay my travel, but it was great that there was no fee for the conference itself.

    There were a few big speakers, but most of the conference was workshop/discussion format. I found that much more valuable than a bunch of talking heads, as I was able to bring forward challenges I was having with my clients, lead discussions on issues I was working on, and connect with a bunch of people who are doing interesting work.
    .-= Hey, you should check out Annie´s last blog ..Surprise! Gov 2.0 is about the people =-.

  3. Joe, thank you for presenting on our event. It is indeed a challenge. I am sure you will be great and bring great value to both events. Indeed we approached your company because we felt that our audience would appreciate your company’s experience in this field. These events are priced at various rates, and with some as high as you have mentioned and others at a far more reasonable rates. However, there is a cost for everything. In fact there are different schools of thoughts on this. If something is priced very high it is assumed to be of far greater value than something that is free. What we have done here is priced our events at a reasonable rate to ensure those that need this information can attend while also ensuring that we as a company can continue to provide these opportunities.
    I cannot speak for other companies, but I can speak from our company’s point of view and the feedback we have had on our past events. Overall our delegates and speakers have felt that they have obtained great value from attending our events. Thus our goal is to provide value to the delegate, the presenter, the venue we host the event and our company. As our events bring economic benefits to all of us including our delegates who are looking at strategies to stay current and competitive in today’s market place. It is the world that we all participate in which focuses on commerce. The hope is to participate in this world of commerce in a matter that is mutually beneficial to all. We are trying here at our end, and I hope that your experience at our event will be a positive one.

  4. Hi Bernadette,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I do understand that there are costs associated with presenting such events, from hard costs for logistics to the soft costs of time and human resources to pull it all together. I think, in general, the marketplace will come to decide where right balance is and I don’t doubt that your organization works to ensure value for money.

    As I said, my thoughts on this are quite mixed. There are certainly many people who would gladly share their thoughts and insights for free (as evidenced by the growing success of events like ChangeCamp) but, as you rightly point out, there is still the perception – in many circles – that value and cost have a relationship. Frankly, there are people who wouldn’t attend an event like Change Camp but may well be inclined to attend a paid conference. They need this information too.

    Again, thanks for your insightful commentary and, notwithstanding the mixed feelings I shared in this post, I am genuinely excited about the opportunity to present in Toronto next week. I’m grateful for the audience and I’m sure everyone – presenters and attendees – will walk away with new discoveries and insights.


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