There has been a rigorous and healthy discussion about the future of COMMON on the Internet in the past couple weeks, in light of the fact that the COMMON board of directors recently announced it would have to make some cutbacks.
By far the cutback people are talking about most is the reduction of compensation to volunteer speakers — whether that be in the form of a free registration, paying for travel and hotel, or other expenses. Jon Paris and Susan Gantner wrote on the topic, which garnered a host of comments touching on the speaking issue.
“I don’t think COMMON realizes how much they are milking the speakers to date,” wrote Aaron Bartell, an IT consultant for System i. “Not only do we get little compensation, but it is lost wages that I am just as concerned about. For example, for the five sessions I gave at COMMON I probably spent a total of 5 to 6hrs per session.”
Bartell added that he also doesn’t have “much use for the ‘COMMON Credits,’ that cover my registration costs because I don’t have a lot of time to attend other sessions.”
Scott Klement, an IT manager and COMMON speaker, had a point to add:
At this conference, there were approx 130 speakers, and (this is a guess, I don’t have any real numbers) perhaps 600 attendees. That’s just speakers, not counting the myriad of other volunteers. Consider that ratio! COMMON definitely needs to trim the fat — they need to reduce spending on volunteers. But they need to do that by reducing the number of sessions, and by limiting the number of volunteer positions.
Cut quantity, but do not sacrifice quality.
I think Klement hits on a good point here. It’s clear that COMMON needs to reduce the number of sessions, but is its approach to doing that the right one? With this kind of cutting, the only people that might be able to speak at future COMMON conferences will be mostly vendors. Now, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have vendor speakers. But to have only vendors speaking is not good. End users don’t go to COMMON to get sales pitches all day, every day. They go to learn.
So there are a few things I think COMMON could do to keep costs down but still make it a valuable experience for users:
- There should be limited vendor-led sessions that focus on products.
- Vendor sessions that include an end user case study should get better priority. Over and above that, vendor-led sessions that also include the end user as a speaker should get first priority. Vendors should be expected to pay for the end user’s travel expenses, if necessary.
- COMMON should pay for the travel and expenses of key end users — in particular, end users that are receiving awards from COMMON that year, and maybe end users that were award finalists as well. And those end users should lead sessions.
Any other ideas?