25 Jul 2013

452511_crybabyThis week’s award for more ungrateful behaviour goes to Greg Young, who seems to think that being a speaker at an event makes him special. The story is that Greg went to TechEd North America as a speaker, with multiple talks to present. His wife joined him on the day of his first talk, but the organisers wouldn't let her into his talk (to take photos of him) for free. He then cancelled all his talks at TechED NA and also cancelled his talk at TechEd Europe, in response to the on the ground staff not accommodating him.

All that is right

I FULLY agree with him that the TechEd NA people on the ground could've & should've been handled it way better (I would've just let his wife in) and his suggestions on how they could've done it better (find his wife and take to the speakers room/Starbucks for example) are totally correct.

As he said in his post, this was the last in a bad experience for him as a speaker:

  • Problems with flights (costs & times)
  • Booking for other events that didn't take into account flights etc...

And so on, and you know what? HE IS RIGHT, that was a bad experience, which no one (speaker, delegate or staff) should have to deal with. It seems that TechED NA was badly organised and I believe he is correct in his view that it is caused by it having many parts working independently and those parts not having authority to make things happen without 900 billion meters of red tape. His first three points of issues are spot on and ALL conferences should learn from him.

All that is wrong

If I agree so much with him, why do I have an issue with his behaviour? It is four points:

  1. Greg says "Speakers are not commodities, they are people who are giving much to help the conference" - I am sorry Greg, but speakers are commodities. We are there to help the conference succeed & serve the audience. Nothing is more important than serving the audience & cancelling your talk shows that you think your situation is more important than that. And if you not willing to do that, tough - you will be replaced... just like a commodity.
  2. Speaking at an event like TechED NA, plus talking on Channel 9 is an honour & should be approached as such. There are hundreds if not thousands that would put up with a lot more bad experiences to have that opportunity. Wasting it is a slap in the face to the many people that could've & would've done the talk.
  3. Being a speaker is about planning - talks that fail are mostly due to lack of planning. Greg has a responsibility to ensure his planning, which includes where his family will be during his talk, is done ahead of time with the right people & not with the people on the ground at the last minute. Planning is a corner stone to professional speaking. I am sure someone involved knew his wife was coming (they booked her flights) but that doesn’t mean everyone involved knew (a conference like this is massive, with hundreds of moving parts). I can also see the staff making the assumption that his wife joined him in the city but wouldn’t attend the conference. At the end of the day it is his responsibility to plan with the right people ahead of time to make sure everything works out.
  4. Now, the most important point of this entire post: Let's assume his only choice was to cancel that talk, as he had to do what is right for his wife and go and tell her (leaving her alone for 2 hours would be rough). I would not see that cancelled talk as an issue, and I would not have written this. The single biggest reason I believe his behaviour is award winningly bad is he cancelled the rest of his talks too! There is no reason other to do that, than to stamp his authority and view of being special. He has even cancelled his talk at a different Microsoft conference?! Who is that hurting? The people that are measured for the success & the staff of TechEd NA & Europe are different! That behaviour is unprofessional and deserving of an award. Cancel the one talk, sort things out with the wife & then go and serve the audience - that is what he should’ve done.

Final Thoughts

I speak at Microsoft events all the time but I have never spoken at TechEd NA. I have never met Greg and only know him from a few tweets, his amazing CodeBetter posts and this story and I think he must be amazingly bright if he gets the chance to speak at TechEd. I am not suggesting otherwise, I am talking about his behaviour in this situation. I am not even suggesting this is his normal behaviour, it may just be him grumpy & irrational from the jetlag & lack of sleep he mentions at the start of the blog post, but in that case rather admit you were wrong & don’t post a blog post like that.

Comments

Pat's picture

Seriously. Being a speaker isn't so much of an honor that I would allow anyone to be an ass to my spouse. I have to live with my spouse and make sure she is treated with respect. A conference - who cares....

These people treated him with indifference. He realized that the next conference was likely to be a repeat of the first. He also realized that others were treated the same way.

He made a principled stand about respect.

Robert MacLean's picture

"Being a speaker isn't so much of an honor that I would allow anyone to be an ass to my spouse. I have to live with my spouse and make sure she is treated with respect. A conference - who cares...." - I do not disagree with you on that point.

"He realized that the next conference was likely to be a repeat of the first." - In my post, I said I understand cancelling one talk & based on this view, I could see cancelling all talks at TechEd NA. However the Channel 9 interview is different people & TechEd Europe is VASTLY different people in every step. There is NO way to project the flaws at one event to another like that, just because they share a companies name.

"He made a principled stand about respect." - I can understand that too, but once again it was the staff at TechEd NA that disrespected HIM. No one from TechEd Europe has done that. I also think he could've done it better than just cancelling all his talks. Cancel the one, then move from the people on the ground to the main organisers and deal with them ahead of his other talks. If he still feels disrespected, then cancel the rest for the event. He could've done that, but chose not to. My gut says he made a snap judgement & that choice, to me, is wrong.

Visitor's picture

If TechEd can't treat their luminaries with respect then what does it say about their process?

For somebody like Greg Young that regularly navigates his way through corporate speak and tie it beautifully to a technical architecture, I'm sure he is much more grounded can smell bullshit a lot earlier than most folk.

Robert MacLean's picture

I agree with you in regards to respect (I even said so in the post) and as I said, I do believe Greg is brilliant. I disagree that speakers are luminaries, as it is the audience that matters FIRST, then speakers etc...

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