Should SharePoint Speakers' Content Increase in Value from Free Community Events to Larger Conferences?

by , Posted May 9, 2011 - 14:34

SharePoint Speakers: Your audience is watching. What will you deliver?

The evolution of SharePoint has taken root in many key phases. As a development platform, we are witnessing the growth and usage of many custom applications via the CodePlex community and solution providers. Organizations are harnessing the power of SharePoint to manage business processes and leverage data to improve their overall bottom line. SharePoint professionals have moved beyond regional presence and have become internationally known and respected for their talents, including a new crop of talented professionals that have leveraged the explosion of SharePoint Saturday events and Social Media to become household names.

There are well over 100 quality SharePoint events held each calendar year, ranging from Lunch and Learn brownbag sessions, User Groups, Code Camps, SharePoint Saturdays, and SharePoint Conferences such as SPTechCon, TechEd, Best Practices Conference, The Experts Conference, SharePoint Conference, and many more.

The question is:
Do speakers have an unwritten obligation to increase the value of their sessions delivered from a free event ranging to a conference where the audience is paying top dollar to attend?

Select SharePoint Saturday events are now taking on the feel of a conference based on quality of speakers and topics, Is it fair for an attendee to have an unwritten expectation level when attending community events?

Speaker’s Perspective
The majority of SharePoint professionals who volunteer to speak at community events and conferences are doing this on their own personal time. This means in addition to billable client work, meetings, and company requirements, they are putting together slides and demos to add value to the community.
In many cases, billable work leaves minimal time to work on slides, so speakers tend to deliver slides that are “good enough” and leverage their years of real-world experience to answer questions throughout the session.
On the other end of the SharePoint Speaker spectrum, there are independent consultants who take the time to prepare slides and supporting materials such as whitepapers and webcasts because speaking and community is a portion of their marketing strategy.

In theory, a technical demonstration is a proof of concept of an area of understanding that provides an added dimension to the content being presented.
Is it an unfair expectation for session attendees to expect a demonstration to work as proposed? We all know and understand that virtual machines can fail, and SharePoint can provide an error that is not fixable during the presentation time alloted.
Does the audience have the right to expect a backup to the demo in the form of:
*screenshots of the solution that the speaker is demonstrating
*recorded screen capture of the solution functioning as proposed

Virtual Machines/Demo Environments
If your virtual machine hasn’t crashed, hiccupped, blue screened, or simply failed to start, you have more speaking to do :-)
Let’s face it, there is an element of Murphy’s Law that applies to using Virtual Machines when delivering presentations. One solid strategy is to screen capture the actual demo under ideal conditions and playback the demo during your presentation.
If you upload your presentation to a video sharing site, you can embed this presentation
into zooming presentation editor Prezi and of course, the tried and true method of PowerPoint.
Solid testing up to 30-45 minutes prior to beginning the session is another method to get the most of the virtual demo environment. Another point-of-consideration is your demo environment itself. For my SharePoint 2010 demos, I’ve switched from Sun VirtualBox to CloudShare, which allows me access to a fully configured on-demand SharePoint 2010 environment accessible via the cloud or VM (as a backup) using their Fast Upload technology. For me, it provides me more time to focus on the details of making the demo better instead of actually building the demo environment.

The slideshow is the staple of SharePoint presentations across the board. When discussing increasing value of slides, making slides available for on-demand viewing after the conference has quickly become the de facto standard.
Here are a few other ways:
* List reference material and helpful SharePoint blogs that helped you ramp up to deliver the presentation
* Create a Slide Augmentation Document. This is a document where you expand your views from the bulleted list that dominate most slidedecks into a paragraph or two containing your views on that particular slide or concept.
* Post your slides online. There are a number of proven ways to do this. SlideShare is a go-to location for many SharePoint conferences and professionals who want to share their work. SlideShare’s most under-utilized feature is video. Record your slide and upload your slide including your voice as audio to provide a narrative explanation with your presentation. Your personal blog may be another location to link your slides accompanied with your thoughts on speaking at the conference. is another great location to host documents.

One SharePoint Speaker’s Approach
I posed this question to Fabian Williams during a recent SharePoint luncheon with the DC Metro SharePoint community and he mentioned that during his sessions if a proposed technical demo does not go as planned, he switches into “Troubleshooting Mode”. The value of Troubleshooting Mode is this portion of the presentation delivers real-world scenarios for attendees who would deploy the solution that Fabian is proposing.

If you are a speaker, what are your thoughts on ways to increase value or do you feel it is necessary to increase value at all?

For conference attendees, are you satisfied with the sessions you are attending? If not, what can be added or improved to bring the level up to where you feel it needs to be?

Written by: Shadeed Eleazer
Photo Credit: Stijnbokhove under the Creative Commons License.

Post By Shadeed Eleazer (56 Posts)


Related posts:

  1. 2 Uncommon Ways to Increase Your Value as a SharePoint Professional
  2. Have We Seen The End of Local SharePoint Events?
  3. SHARE Conference Announces Call for Speakers
  4. Dux Sy Delivers Presentation Workshop for FedSpug
  5. SharePoint Saturday DC (2012) Recap

2348 total views, 2 today

  • Wes Hackett

    Hi Shadeed,

    You raise some interesting points in this article. During the last 18 months I’ve personally presented at one user group, two SharePoint Saturday’s and the European Best Practices conference. Three free events and one paid.

    As you highlight, speaking at an event free or paid is normally done on a volunatary basis. The preperation of slides, demos and supporting material are activities extra to the day job. So do people deserve different quality based on the free/paid style of event? Personally I don’t think it’s about quality of presentation. Most presenters will not look at quality of actual presentation more likely the complexity of research required to create it. The organisers of the paid events normally insist on unique content. If you check the agenda of this years BPCUK then you’ll see many new topics not covered anywhere else.

    As a presenter you always look to bring value to the community from your presentation regardless of topic. Some topics are always more interesting than others. The ‘value’ really comes from the community interest. It’s really kudos to the organisers of the event who work very hard to get speakers and topics organised into the event to provide interest. There is also more scope to repeat presentations between free events such as user groups in different areas.

    The follow up blog with the slides and any demo support materials are always key to help attendees post event.



    • admin

      Wes – I personally believe that every Speaker wants to put their best foot forward and deliver a winning presentation.
      In order to become a known SharePoint Speaker, you must sacrifice your personal time and finances to travel and deliver sessions.
      What I would like to see more of are Speakers who understand the scale and magnitude of community events vs. paid conferences
      and prepare from that perspective.
      At a very basic level, If an attendee is paying to see us speak, we should always look for ways to give them their money’s worth.
      I agree, there are a few SharePoint conferences including BPCUK that insist on Speakers providing unique content
      or at least want to know when your sessions were last delivered and to what audience. Thanks for your comment.

  • fabian williams

    Shadeed, fantastic write up, i feel that this shoudl be a series, alot of good point that should really be a discussion

    • admin

      A series? That is an idea to consider. I think that we as a community consisting of speakers, vendors, attendees, and organizers
      should start to take a closer look at how we’re doing things and make improvements consistently.

  • Deanna McNeil

    You ask an interesting question in the title and I thought I would share my two cents. It stands to reason that the first thing any speaker must consider when choosing opportunities is, “how this will affect my brand (or reputation)”.

    The gift of local events is that a speaker has a chance to reach folks who might not have the opportunity otherwise. In a setting such as Washington DC, that gap isn’t as apparent as smaller regions where events like SharePoint Saturday first emerged.

    As with any effort, it is only appropriate that the audience be as gracious and appreciative as possible to encourage a speaker who has taken the time to share.

    • admin

      Thank you for sharing your opinion, Deanna. I agree with you. The audience should be appreciate and respect the Speaker during their
      presentation time as a common courtesy, but as attendees, they also have the right to expect a certain level of quality assurance,
      in the form of the Speaker being prepared to deliver their best effort. With this post, I want for each Speaker to consider that in their own way.

      Do we truly have local events anymore? I can’t recall the last community event I’ve attended where the majority of the Speakers were based
      locally in that same region.

      • Dan Usher

        I would say that the last SharePoint Saturday DC: Federal was mostly composed of speakers that were local. There were a few speakers that flew in from out of town, but for the most part since the core of the topics were around Federal Government and SharePoint implementations the speakers were from that “region.”

        • Shadeed Eleazer

          If I’m not mistaken, the DC Federal event was the first SharePoint Saturday that offered a focused theme. There was definitely a large DC Metro presence at that event. It’s one of the main examples that I will cite in an upcoming post on local events in the SharePoint community.

  • Deanna McNeil

    What an interesting observation Shadeed regarding local events. That may be worth exploring more!

    • admin

      Deanna, I’m going to go into detail on the ‘death’ of local SharePoint events, why it happened, and what we could and should do about it in the next post.

  • Mark Miller, @EUSP

    > “They have the right to expect a certain level of quality assurance, in the form of the Speaker being prepared to deliver their best effort. ”

    Expections for SharePoint Saturdays and regional events should be different than those for a paid, highly visible conference.

    A problem now occurring is that SharePoint Saturday and other regional events, originally created to allow locals to participate as speakers and gain recognition in their local area, is being overridden by the chance to hear nationally recognized speakers at these free events. My concern is not so much with top quality presentations, but that a majority of the slots remain available for locals who want to present new ideas and aren’t known on the speaking circuit.

    I would like to see more concentration on helping new speakers become a part of the community. Will there be some rough edges? Absolutely. Will the content be top quality? Probably not, the first couple time out, but that’s how we all started.

    Just my 2 cents. — Mark

    • admin

      Mark -

      You raise great points.
      Conferences and community events should definitely be the catalyst towards more or less value for the speaker selected to deliver a session at these events.
      It is also the responsibility of the Organizers to demand greater value for their attendees. This can be achieved by clearly stating a set of requirements for being selected for the event in question.

      I’m going to quote part of your comment in my next post about The Death of Local Events in the SharePoint community. -Shadeed

  • Eric Riz

    Great article and forum to discuss this topic, which is rarely mentioned or asked. As a speaker in the SharePoint community, I’m always flattered to be speaking whether at a paid (conference) or free (SharePoint Saturday) event. From a value add and effort perspective, I put in equal effort into my preparation because, regardless of the event, it’s my job to share information with the audience and my enthusiasm for the product. In the end, I am representing my company, my brand, and my name in the community; so putting forth anything less than 100% effort is not an option for me.

    All things being equal, there is a correlation to be made between value and time. Typically a presentation time-slot at a conference is 75 minutes, whereas a SharePoint Saturday slot may only be 50 minutes, which is really closer to 40 minutes of presentation time in order to answer questions, etc. Depending on the topic I’m presenting, I will logically have to spend more time preparing for a longer presentation – but the value being offered remains the same.


    • Shadeed Eleazer

      Thanks for your feedback, Eric. It’s good that you pledge to deliver 100% effort in your sessions. I respect your approach.
      The question is: Is there a need to increase the value add as a Speaker if you’re delivering a session at a User Group vs. a paid, highly visible conference?
      Speaking in general terms, all speakers put in the required effort/energy since it is a voluntary extracurricular activity to become an established SharePoint community speaker.
      My point is that the value, defined as: quality and timeliness of content, functional tech demonstration, take-home material, and follow-up can be improved greatly across the board for our speakers.
      As I’ve read through the comments for this article and reflected on the topic, I’ve come to realize that conference organizers play a major role in accepting the content that Speakers deliver. I will discuss this in a blog post. Thank you for your comment, it has inspired a whole new post here on SharePoint Careers – Shadeed

  • Dan Usher

    Having spoken at National events as well as Community events, I think it’s fair to say that the audience of the session determines the quality and value of the session as well as taking into account the ability of the speaker to gauge that expertise level in the room and quickly and tailor their session on the fly.

    If it’s a highly technical session and there are individuals attending the session without any technical background then they’re not going to get much out of it and probably won’t find much value in the session – I’ve seen this before at paid events as well as free events.

    Is there a feeling that there should be a difference in the quality? Sure there is a feeling, but is there an actual difference in the sessions – perhaps and as Christian mentioned as well as others, to attract an audience for paid events they might try to have speakers engage the audience with something that they can’t find anywhere else.

  •!tag-sharepoint Brian Seitz

    There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that unpaid means lower quality or the inverse paid event is higher quality. What I’ve experienced as an attendee, speaker, trainer, and thought leader for several companies has been that quality is judged differently by different audiences and is not a function of paid or unpaid. There is however an expectation that a “paid” speaker is inspirational, visionary and charismatic.

    When tradeshows ran every other week at big conference halls I remember people talking about if they got two real take-a-ways from a conference they thought it was successful. Two out of sixteen sessions, Not a great ROI for time invested. But there again communicating ideas is hard, more so that throwing hard good products on the table.

    Presenting at AIAA, IBM Guide/Share, and Autofact breakout sessions; content was of key importance and viewed as the quality metric. These were paid events but the speakers were not. SharePoint Saturdays appear to have that same quality metric. Paid keynotes for CIPF, Solidworks and for various Mfg. Associations the production value of the visuals and the vision painted was more important than the technical content depth. They expected to be entertained as well as informed which is really heard if you’re the lunch speaker.

    The various “free” SharePoint Events –no event is ever free, it cost both speaker, sponsor and audience time and money to attend—I support now on my own time and my company’s pocket, audiences expect a balance between content and production values. What I see different in SharePoint Saturday events rather than “Best Practices”, etc. is that Speaker “Brand Names” are less of a concern. When an event becomes “paid” organizers focus and I’m not saying this is a bad thing, on obtaining Brand Name speakers to draw larger crowds which make the event either breakeven or profitable. The side benefit for the community is that it, the event legitimizes the domain. Is the quality any better, content-wise maybe not, production values yes of course that’s how Brand Names became Brand Names.

    So the question becomes what is meant by quality? Content, Communication Skills and/or a balance of both that meets the expectations of the stakeholders.

  • Ruven Gotz

    As someone who speaks at a number of paid and unpaid events, I cannot ever see myself offering anything less than my best effort in any situation.

    I think the difference is not on the delivery side (everyone should try their best for their audience), but rather, on the expectation side: If I were an attendee of a free event, I should be willing to tolerate a level of variability in speaker skill and experience level. If I am attending a paid event, I would expect the organizers to find the highest quality speakers available.

    As Mark says, there have to be venues for less experienced speakers to deliver their message, develop their speaking skills and showcase their capabilities. I think SPS organizers usually try to find a mix of new and recognized speakers. (It has become harder and harder for new speakers to ‘break in’ lately, as the pool of experienced speakers has increased greatly over the past couple of years.)

    Finally: Paid events are usually more careful about identifying vendor focused sessions. Most vendor-speakers that I know ensure that they are delivering useful content without focusing on their own product except at the start or end of the presentation. However, I have seen occasional free events where a talk is a pretty blatant sales pitch. Events that are run by volunteers, using their spare time should not be held to the same standard to ensure that these types of things are tightly controlled.

    • Jennifer

      I tend to agree with a lot of the comments already posted. I think that when I present it is really just an expression of me, so my presentations tend to be the same for both paid and non-paid events. And I like others above consider it an honor to get to present at different locations. There are often times that I will deliver the same sessions to free events, but that is mostly based off of demand. I find that the audience is typically very different and in most cases they want to get a chance to hear locally what they cant always get away to hear. So no, I definately don’t prepare new sessions for each conference I speak at.

      As a speaker for a paid conference, when I agree to speak I am agreeing to abide by the rules in place by the organizer (slide templates, formats, due dates, topics). Typically for free events that is much more relaxed.

      I think the biggest thing is to pay attention to the audience and deliver what they are looking for, while working with the organizers to make sure you understand what is expected. Just like most things, if everyone works together it turns out for the good.

  • Veronique Palmer

    Speaking as a conference organizer, speaker, conference attendee and small business owner – I definitely understand the challenges from All ends of the spectrum.

    Personally – I believe the general standard of presenting and slidedecks at SharePoint conferences / SPS’s globally to be Shockingly low. I want to cringe with embarrassment sometimes. I can count on less than one hand the number of “professional” SharePoint speakers who have spent time researching PowerPoint / presenting best practices. And in fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of 4.

    Nothing irritates me more than sitting in session after session looking at slides with pages and pages of text crammed into each slide and the speaker is reading off the screen and mumbling. Especially when I have paid a Fortune to attend these conferences. Our exchange rate makes travel extremely expensive – so when I get to a conference, the least I expect is the people I have paid to see have actually bothered to do some research on how to present. Yes, you may be a subject matter expert – that does not make you a good speaker. It’s a skill that has to be learnt. It’s happened at every single conference I’ve been to. I hate to think what business clients are thinking.

    I agree 100% with Mark that at SPS’s there will be some amateurs in the ranks, because it is a way to get new speakers on board. They need to start somewhere yes and are helped by the more experienced speakers. All fine. But there are no amateurs at the big conferences (and I include the large, established SPS’s here too), so for me there is no excuse in that arena.

    Should we up our game? Hell yes! People pay a lot of money to come hear us speak. Has everyone forgotten that? Surely, it is our duty to ensure we have done the very best we can to give them the right information presented in the best possible manner?

    And yes, the event organizers are also to blame here too. As a SharePoint event organizer – I go through every single slide for every single speaker before they get published. And I’m just one person, so I don’t want to hear excuses. Where there are teams doing this? I don’t need to understand the technical content, I will never question that – but when it comes to PowerPoint best practices, I am not compromising. At my last event, I sent Every single slide back for changes – every one. My reputation as an organizer is on the line, so I expect you to give your very best or don’t bother to waste my audience’s time. Try! At least.

    And look, don’t tell me about being busy, or billable. I work for myself with very big clients. I work insanely long hours under immense pressure all the time – I get it. But whether or not a conference is paying me to speak, I spend on average 100 hours per session preparing – every time. I may not always get it right, but I’m going to die trying. And one day I will be as good as Dux.

    It comes down to personal brand, absolutely Christian. When you are standing in front of an audience with your slides, you can’t point fingers at anyone. It’s all you. So what message are you giving the audience and broader community.

    There is just no excuse. There are thousands of resources available to you to learn best practices. There is a SharePoint Speakers group in LinkedIn where we all share our resources so we can all improve.

    So should we increase value? I think that at EVERY conference you should be increasing value.

    Ok, I’ll finish ranting and raving now. Sorry, I am just so passionate about this subject, it really gets my blood rushing. :-) I’m not digging at anyone in this thread, I’m just venting my frustrations at this to the industry in general! :-)

    • Shadeed Eleazer

      Personally – I believe the general standard of presenting and slidedecks at SharePoint conferences / SPS’s globally to be Shockingly low. I want to cringe with embarrassment sometimes. I can count on less than one hand the number of “professional” SharePoint speakers who have spent time researching PowerPoint / presenting best practices. And in fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of 4.

      Nothing irritates me more than sitting in session after session looking at slides with pages and pages of text crammed into each slide and the speaker is reading off the screen and mumbling. Especially when I have paid a Fortune to attend these conferences. Our exchange rate makes travel extremely expensive – so when I get to a conference, the least I expect is the people I have paid to see have actually bothered to do some research on how to present. Yes, you may be a subject matter expert – that does not make you a good speaker. It’s a skill that has to be learnt. It’s happened at every single conference I’ve been to. I hate to think what business clients are thinking.

      I agree with the fact that the quality of sessions and presentation style and delivery need to improve. More attention needs to be given to quality assurance for presentations as well.
      What I’d like for our SharePoint Speakers to understand is a typical SharePoint Saturday (or any event) is no longer a regional event but attendees are now traveling from various countries and events are taking on an international feel and presence. Having the technical know-how is a must-have for Speakers, but we must also look into the speaking and presentation skills that embody the make-up of a great speaker.

      There are a few Speakers in our community that are so polished that I learn from the content delivered *and* I pick up cues on how to deliver presentations more effectively. These individuals are the standard that we should all shoot for and I will cover them in detail to provide a ‘roadmap’ that other Speakers can aspire to in a future blog post here on SharePoint Careers :)

  • Jeremy Thake

    To add to the other comments here…there is no way I’m going to give anything but 100% no matter where I present: a lunchtime brown bag, user group, SharePoint Saturday, or National Conference.

    I think that people should have expectations that paid for conferences will have more experienced presentators who have spoken at least a few times to 50+ crowds (User Groups, SharePoint Saturdays).
    I agree with Mark Miller, that the User Groups and SharePoint Saturdays are a great chance for new speakers to get some experience under their belt. I think there needs to be a balance at these free events between experienced/unexperienced presentators to ensure that people attend though.

    In terms of quality, I think if you have feedback for a presentor, give it to them. I’m really don’t want to see a slide deck with 20 lines of text on one slide. Or for you to be reading off your slide deck. Or for you to finish 30 minutes early etc. People don’t know unless they’re giving feedback. I’m continuously learning and developing my skills.

    One thing I would recommend to everyone is to go on a professional presentation course to sharpen your skills. I was fortunate enough to be on one due to #EvangelOz funding by Microsoft in Australia and learnt so much! I’m also sharing what I learnt with other presentaters too based on this.

  • Marc Anderson

    All interesting comments above. I, like Eric Riz mentions, first of all feel honored to even be asked to speak at *any* conference.

    The free vs. paid thing leaves me a little oogy. I think anyone who comes to hear me speak deserves the best I can do, as many others have said. The other way to ask the original question is whether we should ratchet it *down* for the “free” events? Of course not.

    Keep in mind that while the attendees are paying to be at a “paid” conference, the speakers are often getting little more than a stipend. Their travel costs may be covered by the conference, but may not be. So there are two sides to the economics here.

    If the conferences want to have truly unique, never seen before content, then they are going to need to think about paying for it. It takes far more time than any small stipend is going to cover to come up with a compelling 40-75 minute presentation. Getting a few hundred bucks to speak is never going to pay for the tens or more hours required to build even a few good slides or a demo. There are no sour grapes here — I love speaking at conferences, and get plenty of intangible reward for it — but work is work. (If your employer is paying you to develop materials and speak at conferences, then great for you! I think that this is the minority case, except in when it comes to vendors of software and services who use the engagements as marketing opportunities.)

    As for slides, quite a while ago I pitched the idea of using them at all. I prefer to have a few good demos to show (which evolve from conference to conference, so actually *are* unique in some ways) based on actual things I have built for my clients. To me, they are the starting point for a conversation with the audience. Some audiences simply want to sit there and watch the demos, and other audiences become willing and active participants in the session. I greatly prefer the latter, because just like in any good learning experience, the questions and answers are where the greatest value is. (I went to Exeter, where almost all classes were taught around an oval table following the Harkness Plan, and were more discussions than they were ever lectures. That’s my ideal model for a “presentation”.) So I need to be prepared to talk for the full session for the former type of audience, but I always hope for the latter.

    Good speakers lead good sessions, but a good audience means that there will be far more value for everyone involved, including the conference organizers.


    • Shadeed Eleazer

      Great viewpoint, Marc.
      My whole intent with posing the question of should we raise the bar of quality at free vs. paid events was to highlight the fact that the audience and industry are maturing and thus expectations have risen as a result. Our Speakers (as a whole) need to be aware of this and meet those expectations with the best content and delivery they are capable of.
      Quality assurance, attention to detail, and preparation should be a given for *any* event (free/paid/impromptu) where a Speaker is delivering a session to an audience. I do not believe that our Speakers lack the effort that it takes to deliver solid presentations. I do believe that our Speakers need to tap into presentation and public speaking resources and develop a greater awareness for who the audience is and what they expect.
      Changes I’d like to see implemented across-the-board are for the ‘major’ conferences to request white papers on the topic being delivered as a value-add to Attendees, community events that demand entirely new sessions be submitted, contingency plans for failed demos/VMs, and technical review of content by event organizers prior to the event. I will look deeper into the Harkness Plan as well. Thanks for sharing that resource.

  • Debbie Ireland

    I agree with most comments here. Speakers need to make efforts to provide the same quality at paid and free events. They are judged by fellow speakers, delegates, people evaluating content for other events, and any speaking event is a personal marketing exercise in everyone should be personally aiming for their best. I know, as an event organizer I get feedback from lots of avenues regardless if whether the event is paid or not,…it is all experience and exposure.

    There is a lot of time and effort that goes into presenting and I think this is appreciated by any audience.. By providing so many free events perhaps we have spoilt all those attending. Expectations are high, and I think they should be…why would they attend otherwise,

    It is critical to have good speakers, but speakers also need time, as Mark said, to develop over time…..user groups and free events give people this opportunity…speakers can make or break conferences, I do agree, I also think We all need the time and space to grow.

    While I hear your frustration Veronique, I am not sure review of slide decks is the answer either….often speakers change right up to last minute, and to me the live demo,s ( or videos of demos) and interaction and other things, are what makes a good session, not just the slides…A lot of it needs to come down to recommendations from others and having seen that presenter present.

    And of course evals from delegates :) my two cents

  • Dessie Lunsford

    Speaking purely as an attendee and not a presenter, I’ve been to several events/conferences (both free and paid) and I’m honestly not sure if there really is much of a difference at all (even the online conferences I’ve been to offer up the same content as the in-person)…and I’m not sure why.

    As someone who’s been actively working with SharePoint for quite some time now (started back when SPS2003 first launched), the only purpose I can find for attending any further events would be for the networking opportunities – getting to know the local devs, meeting a few mvp’s, or even meeting a fan (got my first one at the SharePoint Conference in Seattle last year – I’ve only ever blogged, never been a presenter, so meeting someone who learned something from my online ramblings was a real treat). The content presented at them just doesn’t do anything for me…I’ve seen and heard the exact same sessions, covering the exact same material (not even by the same presenters either), for a couple years with nothing significant added in.

    For me, what I’d honestly like to see is a shift from the “Overview” or “Concept Introduction” sessions that seem so prevelant at these events, to something more “Real World”. Instead, I’d like to see some of the presenters solve a real problem live – engage the audience, discuss a problem, use the tools SP offers and come up with a solution (show us why you’re a professional – anyone can read from a slidedeck). Or even better yet, how about a problem scope that covers all tracks offered at the event, and at each session, you get another piece to the puzzle (admins, business pro’s, devs, end-users…cover the full scope of all tracks offered, but identify and solve the problem throughout the course of the day). Feasible or not, it’d be one heck of a day for the attendees…imagine, being given a problem to solve in the first session, then working through a series of other sessions covering different aspects of the business (and problem) to figure out what is needed, then finally arriving at the solutiuon itself and putting it into practice (free or paid event, the attendees would certainly get some value). The same basic material I’m seeing covered over and over again is nothing that hasn’t been blogged-to-death about already…let’s see something real being taught, instead of just being “covered”.

    I guess my main point is that too many speakers get “comfortable” with a specific topic, or don’t want to take the time to work on something new, and I do understand time constraints and the fact that you’re not really getting paid to present to the community in the first place, but there needs to be some value to the people coming to hear you speak. I live not too far from Seattle, and the number of events we get here in the NorthWest are extremely slim (I’ve commented about that to Mark Miller in the past)…nowhere near the amount you find in other regions, so when something is held here, I do everything I can to try and be able to attend…but if it’s just going to be a rehash of the exact same presentations or topics from the last event held here (even a year prior), what’s the point in even attending (paid or not)? Where’s the value?

    Sorry to sound like I’m just griping on this stuff, but because of past experience with the different events I’ve attended, it’s going to be extremely difficult for me to convice my bosses to spend any money at all to send me to another “paid” event unless I can assure them that there’s value to be had over the free one’s…and currently, I don’t have any argument that will convince them.

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  • Suzanna Leason

    I agree with everything Jim A said.

  • Julissa Rabago

    Excellent article and easy to understand explanation. How do I go about getting permission to post part of the article in my upcoming newsletter? Giving proper credit to you the author and link to the site would not be a problem.

    • Shadeed Eleazer

      I’m the author. You have permission to post part of the article and links in your upcoming newsletter. If you need a quote from me on any part of the article just send me an email at and I’ll provide that for you. Thanks.

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  • Christian Buckley

    I don’t necessarily see a difference in the quality of presentations between paid and free event — as a regular speaker, I want to provide the same level of professionalism, quality content, and value for any event at which I present. From that standpoint, I am managing my company and personal brand, and I want to be consistent. Having said that, I do try to change up some of my topics depending on the venue, “trying out” some new topics and content at the free events. But I don’t view this as lowering the quality, but trying to adjust to meet the audience needs.

    On the flip side, it is the responsibility of the event hosts to ensure that the quality of content is meeting their goals/needs. I agree with the idea of using the free events to help expand the community, but ultimately it is up to the hosts to find the right topics and personalities to build an engaging agenda. For example, I give a lot of credit to the SPTechCon team for constantly shuffling their topics, not accepting the same sessions at every event just because a speaker is well-known. With a saturated market of SP events, hosts need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant/interesting.

  • Andrew

    It comes down to the logistics. Free events are typically local with little funding. The organizers should pick the “best” speakers available from the pool which may be highly local – now what “best” means is up in the air and whether it applies to entertainment, content, or some combination of all of the above, I’ll defer to the organizers in a particular market.

    In a paid conference, I would expect the organizers to be able to select from a larger pool of resources, and would expect a commensurate increase in overall quality for the conference…..I wouldn’t expect the same speaker to be increasing/decreasing their quality from a free conference to a paid conference though.

    The other disconnect is between organizer and audience definition of “quality.” That’s perhaps more of a conundrum. My take has always been to focus on being entertaining, drive interest, and add an interactive dialog during the presentation – then follow up with step by step instructions in the form of blog posts or white papers.

    I couldn’t imagine presenting without a blog to support me. In fact, usually, I’ll hash out the presentation in the form of a series of blog posts….