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Problems at BlogWorld 2009: part 1, speaker’s perspective

December 2, 2009

I attended BlogWorld in Las Vegas for my second year in a row. It is one of the premier social media conferences in the world.

This year, I went not only as an attendee, but also as a speaker. It was quite an honor, and I’m grateful for the privilege.

However, I faced some challenges in succeeding as a speaker, thanks to communication problems with the BlogWorld staff. I have been in contact with staff members for 7 months, but often, the replies were delayed or nonexistent. This led to scheduling and logistical problems that could have easily been avoided.

‘I’m a fan of BlogWorld and want to see this event succeed
in the future. But I also want future speakers and
attendees to be aware of problems.’

I don’t have an ax to grind. I’m a fan of BlogWorld and want to see this event succeed in the future. But I also want future speakers and attendees to be aware of problems that should factor into their decision to attend.

For speakers, it’s time and money that could be used elsewhere. (And while I was given a complimentary pass, I still had to pay for airfare, hotel and meals out of pocket, running several hundred dollars, not to mention time away from my new business.) For attendees, the full access pass alone can cost up to $1,195.

blogworld tweet

I specifically contacted Rick Calvert, chief executive officer and co-founder of BlogWorld, with my concerns during and after the event. I contacted him several times, by phone and e-mail. He did leave a voicemail, but then never followed up again. It has been more than 6 weeks since the event ended.

Needless to say, I’m disappointed. He and I have traded e-mails since BlogWorld 2008; I want him and the rest of the BlogWorld team to be aware of the problems sooner rather than later so that they can fix them for 2010. A social media conference should heed its own message about addressing consumer concerns early on. Only reluctantly do I go public at this point, even if it costs me future speaking engagements at BlogWorld.

In Part 2, I review problems with BlogWorld 2009 from an attendee perspective.

• • •

blogworld tweet

This e-mail went to Rick Calvert on Oct. 25, 2009:

Rick,

Sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect by phone. Let me go into detail about what concerned me at BlogWorld.

It will be lengthy, and will take some time on your part to read and digest. I am not angry or upset, but I want you to be aware of these issues to fix for next year, because I am a big fan of your hard work and the conference.

Part 1 has to do with my role as speaker.

As a first-time speaker at BlogWorld, I found the communication between me and BW representatives to be challenging. This year, I sent in 3 proposals. According to the site, speakers would receive notifications in June 2009. I received my notice on July 2, which is not too far off the mark, but makes it more difficult in making travel arrangements.

The email notifying me of my speaking engagement failed to list which topic I would present. It took several emails and calls to Jim Turner [BlogWorld social media director and conference director] to find out.

BW set an Aug. 15 deadline for slides. I found out from Jim by phone on Aug. 1.

I sent my slides in late, and never heard from anyone about them.

blogworld tweet

Jim also sent an email on Sept. 15 at 11:30 p.m. asking for the following, all within 72 hours:

It seems unreasonable to ask for these things on such short notice. But I worked on getting them in as soon as possible. Again, I sent it in after the deadline, and again, no acknowledgment of receipt was made.

Reference was made several times to a session moderator or track leader. I emailed Jim to ask him who it was and if that person needed additional info from me. I never received a response.

blogworld tweet

The final straw was during the presentation. Although the BW site listed my presentation as “Instant Startup: Your Very Own School for Blogging,” the printed guide listed that title but the WRONG program description. Apparently, whoever put together the guide used my description from my original speaking proposal for a completely different presentation, “Writing Killer Blog Posts.”

I wrote more about it on my site: http://bit.ly/speaking-tips.

Several people walked out before one attendee asked if I would be presenting on “Writing Killer Blog Posts.” Needless to say, the damage to my reputation had been done at that point.

blogworld tweet

To sum up:

  • Poor communication from BW in the last 5 months led to hurried work on my part to meet BW deadlines and a lack of critical info.
  • An error in the printed program confused attendees and caused damage to my reputation and BW’s reputation.

What can we do to make this right?

• • •

I share the rest of the e-mail to BlogWorld in Part 2.

• • •

If you’re a speaker considering applying to BlogWorld, or one who has been invited, consider the following questions:

  1. Will I be able to ask questions of BlogWorld staff that will be answered in a timely fashion?
  2. Will BlogWorld properly promote me and my topic? If not, what potential harm could come to your brand or reputation?
  3. Will the benefits of publicity and networking outweigh the costs of travel and preparation?
  4. Do I want my company associated with a social media conference that might treat its speakers as nothing more than a free resource?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2009 8:40 pm

    I’m a big fan of bwe as well. I’m not all that surprised at the lack of communication though, for a couple of reasons. 1. Seems to be common among conferences. Not all, but fairly common. 2. This conference is still fairly new, so some growing pains are to be expected. Still, I am surprised that the delays were so long, or non existent. I’ve known Rick and Jim and I’m sure they’ll welcome the constructive criticism here. Anything that improves the experience is good for everyone.

    Great article, look forward to part 2.

    • December 2, 2009 10:28 pm

      Thanks, Chrispian. I’m hoping that a transparent, public discussion will bring up solutions that can help everyone. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but I want social media to practice what it preaches.

  2. December 2, 2009 11:30 pm

    Wade, I really appreciate this post and its feedback. I can assure you all of these things have been discussed at length in our feedback sessions among the staff and the principals. I will not address each item directly, and will await part 2 before getting into too much detail in my response for now. I am not going to make excuses for the problems you list save one, it was due to my inexperience in the process and management of the speakers. I take full responsibility for most of the problems you experienced. I had no idea how a conference of this magnitude was put together from start to finish. I can assure you that the experience gained in the last show will change many procedures and processes that you speak of in 2010. For now I am going to answer your four questions.

    1. Yes.
    2. Yes. Time was a problem with promotion of speakers and the event itself and this is something we intend on doing much better. I think the opposite question is a response to the secondary question in number 2, “What benefits can come to your brand and reputation for speaking at ‘one of the premier social media conferences in the world.'”
    3. I put networking and attending events in the overall marketing budget for my company. I think this can be answered again by asking the question above in number 2 response.
    4. This is a good question and I am not sure how to respond. Blogging is a free resource and you post information and spend time here. You do this for business purposes to increase your exposure, your expertise, and your stature in your community. We had in excess of 350 speakers at our event. To pay each speaker and to provide expenses to each speaker would make it completely unaffordable to even the most deep pocket attendee. In fact we have had many complaints that our conference is already unaffordable to many. We could pay all of the speakers and provide them with limo rides to and from the airport and all the amenities, but it would be passed on to the attendee as a cost. I suppose the question to ask there is “Are you as an attendee willing to pay more for us to have the ability to pay our speakers?”

    I look forward to Part 2 Wade and this again is great feedback and looked at by everyone. I really hope you entertain the idea of speaking at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in 2010. Our call for applications is going to occur much earlier.

    • December 3, 2009 4:06 pm

      Jim,

      Thanks for taking time to respond.

      Whether it was inexperience or other factors, I believe open communication goes a long way toward keeping speakers and organizers working together for the best event possible. For a first-time BlogWorld speaker, I felt I was shouting into a vast empty space.

      I had anticipated a big boost by talking about a unique topic to a knowledgeable audience. Instead, I felt shortchanged, almost sabotaged, in dealing with someone else’s mistake. So while in theory it may be a big boost to a company, I found it to be, as my post labeled it, a speaker’s worst nightmare.

      If I’m the only one of more than 300 speakers to endure this situation, then that is fortunate for all involved. I would hate to think any other speaker faced this problem.

      As you suggest, it is likely impractical to compensate all 300 speakers. But maybe there are other ways speakers can be compensated. Have you asked them what would be of value to them? Perhaps some are more than willing to trade exposure for their speaking time.

      I believe speakers may be open to all sorts of compensation. But for myself, I am reaching the point where each potential event must be weighed more critically for ROI. And I believe events, like BlogWorld, must evolve and figure out innovative ways to put on an affordable yet valuable event for attendees, speakers and sponsors.

      I will add more in the coming days, but I wanted to give a thoughtful response to your informative comment.

      Thanks again.

  3. December 3, 2009 7:41 am

    As the one who queried Wade in his session whether he was going to speak on the topic the bwe brochure said he was going to speak about, I appreciate the tenor of the dialogue between Wade and Jim. It does somehow seem poetic that the attempted resolution play out on a blog. You both are leading by example.

    • December 3, 2009 4:06 pm

      Thanks, Jill. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to contribute.

  4. December 3, 2009 8:31 am

    Thank you for the post Wade and the constructive criticism.

    I take full responsibility for the lack of communication post-show. Honestly I was completely worn out and needed to unplug and sped some time with my family.

    This event is a labor of love for me and has taken nearly every waking moment of my life for the last four years, and it’s still a new and growing event, just like the new media industry overall. We have a pretty compact team; it’s me and my partner Dave Cynkin planning and promoting the event, Patti who takes loving care of all the young new media companies exhibiting, our friend and new Conference Director Jim Turner who has dedicated his professional life to new media with his company One By One Media, and basically insisted on helping us from day one (promoting, hosting BlogWorld Expo Radio and evangelizing to others about what this event and industry was becoming–thank you, Jim!), a part-time operations and management staff, and many friends lending a hand who we’re grateful for. We’ve been trying to keep pace with growth of BlogWorld and our industry and overall, it’s been a great success. In some ways however, such as organizing and communicating with roughly 350 speakers efficiently, we’re still in our infancy and have a ways to go before everything is as we’d like it to be (and as you rightfully expect it should be).

    Every young company experiences growing pains; staffing, organizing, planning, promoting, juggling finances, enlisting help and resources, etc. This year was especially tough because we really pushed hard to grow the conference despite the worst economic year in recent memory. At the same time, we became unexpectedly short-handed on our team and hadn’t filled gaps in time. Dave and I bought out our third partner who managed operations and needed a change from the always challenging (and frankly, pretty grueling) business life of a new venture, Patti had to take time away to support her family better, we acquired New Media Expo and financed that ourselves, and all the while Dave and I took on more job roles and simply didn’t sleep. It wasn’t what we’d intended, but we were committed to making a better and more comprehensive event than last year, regardless of what challenges came our way. Jim Turner bravely (or insanely, depending on how you look at it, lol) took on several new job roles including Conference Director. He was overwhelmed.

    I warned Jim how much work it would be, but knew he would have to experience it himself before he truly understood to scope. I still know it was the right decision because of Jim’s commitment to social media and to BlogWorld. As Jim has already said, I know he learned a ton this year and will have a much better handle on things for 2010. We also realized albeit too late this year, that the conference had just grown too big for one person to handle and brought Becky Carroll in to help Jim about a month before the show. That’s when you started getting those emails asking for materials. We have made plans to get Jim the help he needs much earlier for 2010.

    I don’t tell you all of this to offer excuses Wade, I am just being as transparent as I can possibly be. The communication timing and errors on our part were not because we didn’t care, but simply because we had been overwhelmed by a growing event at a time when we had less resources and people than needed to support it.

    All in all I think this year’s event was the best ever. The tweets, posts and podcasts people have posted since the event, including your post, support that. Thank you again for your kind words and constructive criticisms. I absolutely take it in the spirit you intended; to make us better.

    In some important ways, BlogWorld was a huge success this year, and in others we fell down. In this case, we made you feel less valued than you truly are, and for that I apologize. I will call you today and figure out how we can make amends, and look forward to listening to your thoughts good or bad.

    When you’re growing and want to make something great, the only way to improve is to measure, recognize mistakes, learn from them and take positive steps forward.

    Hopefully this comment is a start in improving our communication with you. 8)

    Sincerely,
    Rick

    • December 3, 2009 4:17 pm

      Rick,

      I appreciate your apology and your forthrightness. I wish both had come sooner, but I can certainly understand what it’s like to be under the gun for weeks and months on end, with no time to stop.

      My humble suggestion at this point is to tap into the vast number of attendees, speakers and sponsors and survey the hell outta them. Look for as much feedback as possible from overall satisfaction to staff support to friendliness to how comfortable the chairs were.

      It will not be cheap or easy. However, you stand to reap big rewards from the start by showing you care about the customers’ needs and complaints. From that information, you and the rest of the team will need to chart a course that will bring maximum benefit for the least amount of pain.

      I do look forward to talking with you more in the coming days. I know I am just one among many, and I hope hope hope that my experience was limited to just a handful of people.

      Thank you for taking time to respond.

  5. December 7, 2009 9:01 pm

    Great post, Wade. This is a great example of how to handle issues constructively and without malice and be able to (obviously) get the issues resolved. I am impressed.

    • December 8, 2009 9:37 am

      Thanks, Rachel. We’ll have to wait and see if the issues get resolved, but I do want people to weigh in with any problems and solutions they have.

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