Conference talks are not sales pitches – a preemptive rant
It is less than a week before the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, affectionately known as “CSUN” (as in, “see sun”) after the California State University, Northridge whose Center on Disabilities hosts the conference. I’ve taken this week as vacation and my talk still isn’t prepared. This is probably the least prepared I’ve ever been for a talk, so I’d better get on it. But first, I want to rant.
My first public speaking engagement (in the tech space) was 2004 at the 51st Annual Conference of the Society for Technical Communications. Over the last 12 years I’ve spoken in 7 countries and nearly 20 states. There’s a particular practice at conferences that I think is a bit deceptive, which is using a conference talk as a veiled attempt at a sales pitch. The way this works is this: a compellingly-titled talk is instead a 40-minute spiel revolving entirely around the product that’s made by the presenter’s company. The more closely that the talk’s topic relates to something the product does, the more likely that the talk is merely a sales pitch.
This practice is common among industry conferences, even in non-technical industries. But at CSUN, it just feels more wrong. In full disclosure: I’ve done this myself. I did it at the Open Web Camp, 2014. While I tried my best to avoid it, given the topic it was pretty inevitable that it be focused on Tenon. At the same time, I ended up feeling like I had tricked the audience into listening to me sell Tenon. If I ever end up doing another talk that is all about Tenon, I will clearly disclose that in the title or description.
My challenge to speakers at CSUN 2016
End the veiled sales pitches. End the deception. People spend $555 for the conference and around $300 a night for the hotel. Many people fly in from all over the world to attend, and some people pay for this out of their own pockets. CSUN attendees deserve better than to be treated like a room full of sales prospects. The attendees are there to learn and to exchange ideas, not be pitched. You can save that for social events and impromptu conversations in the hallways.
Putting my money where my mouth is
I have two talks, one is a co-presentation with Billy Gregory and another is a solo talk, titled “Extreme Accessibility”. I will not mention Tenon in either talk. I will not even wear a Tenon t-shirt while presenting. If I break this promise, I’ll buy everyone in the room a beer at Redfields bar. Want to talk to me about Tenon? Awesome. Catch me in the hallway, at a social event, or email me ahead of time to set something up.
For the attendees
If you find yourself in a session that’s really just a sales pitch? Walk out. The general session schedule is chock full of great talks. Find one where the speaker respects you enough not to spend the whole time doing a live infomercial.