PreCon Sessions at the PASS Summit

My friend Andy Leonard posted yesterday about the process of getting selected for one of the coveted slots as a pre-con speaker, voicing concern about the process. I encourage your to read his post and the replies, in particular the one from Steve Jones.

We’ll start at the beginning. Pre-cons are $399 one day classes, presented the day before and the day after the main PASS Summit. It’s a great chance to derive a little more value out of the trip, and to be candid it’s also a revenue source for PASS. If it were up to me they would be cheaper and we’d seat more people to come out revenue neutral or better, but so far it’s not up to me. That said, it’s opt in – if you think a particular session is worth $399 (and I think it almost always is), then you find a way to pay for it. (Note: my plug for the week, if you register in Dec 2010 for the 2011 Summit, you could pay for a pre-con with the savings from the early bird registration).

Speakers at the main Summit don’t get paid directly, though they do get free admittance to the event which in turn represents a real cost to PASS, and I think that system has worked out well. Pre-cons though, the speakers are paid based on some percentage (I don’t know if I can share more?) of earnings. Again, that’s a fair system, with one possible exception – who gets to earn real dollars at the Summit and who works for free admittance only?

I don’t envy the team tasked with picking the speakers. They’ve got to pick people that they know can deliver training that paying customers will agree was worth $399. They’ve established some criteria which I think is a good start, but even with that I can see having dozens of applications that clear that bar, so how does the final decision get made? I don’t know. Maybe it’s name recognition, maybe it’s past performance, maybe it’s hot topics.

And that’s part of where we’re not doing enough. What do I think we need?

  • Publish the ratings of every pre-con submitted. If you want in the game, be prepared to have your scores made public.
  • A rotation system where the same people can’t present two years in a row. It’s healthy to have some new voices, and to make sure they have a chance to get in the game.
  • Publish the attendance counts and ratings from the ones that were accepted
  • Limit each person to submitting one pre-con for consideration (maybe we do this already?)
  • Consider polling the members to select pre-cons. Name recognition skews this some, but I like to think that merit wins eventually, and a forced one year up/one year down policy evens that out some.
  • Make sure that speakers selected are strong advocates of PASS (not saying they haven’t been, but this is one place I’d like to see it required)

The part that makes this conversation different than most – and why I know that Andy Leonard was reluctant to broach it – is that it’s about money. Money for PASS, money for the presenter. Nothing wrong with trying to convert a lot of hours of learning to spendable cash, but it does increase the pressure on all sides.

One of the things we’re looking at the for the “Spring Event” are lower cost pre-cons. Lower cost to be inline with the lower overall cost of the event, but also a chance to give speakers who need more experience/credentials a place to earn that experience, as well as another venue for speakers wanting to make money.

The other option, less capitalistic, is to stop paying speakers for the pre-con. I’d still want all the stuff I mentioned above in place, but taking the money out of the equation would reduce it to bragging rights, and that’s not trivial. Or change it to a lower fixed rate fee, something that would cover all travel expenses easily.

It’s the challenge that looms for many of us, how do we convert experience to money, and can we do it directly (pre-con), or indirectly, by show casing skills that will in turn lead to consulting/training engagements. I get that. At the same time, I think PASS events might be the one place where a profit motive isn’t a good fit. Would I do a pre-con for free? In a minute. It’s good experience, good exposure, fun to give back. Would I do it year after year? Maybe not, but that’s not bad either.

But back to the post by Andy L. Should he get a pre-con? Is he good enough to rank in the top x selected? I’ve seen Andy present and I think he’s very good, but I also know the competition is fierce at that level (and will only get more intense). I think right now the best thing we can do is make it more transparent, so that if he doesn’t get one this year he can see where he fell short, and spend the next year trying to boost his score in that area.

I won’t lobby for Andy to get a pre-con, but I will push for more disclosure and wider discussion of how this works, and how it might need to change for next year. To stretch the topic some, we’ve got to look at any PASS sanctioned event and make sure we’re being open, being fair, growing new talent, and leveraging the time/talent of those already well established.

One thought on “PreCon Sessions at the PASS Summit

  1. This is an interesting discussion. I had assumed the pre/post-cons where invitation only since the Spotlights are.

    I think, as Steve said, that the issue isn’t so much the process, but the lack of information about the process. It is something that PASS is getting better at. Last year rejections for “normal” sessions included a reason, not specific, but at least a general reason. Now with Andy blogging about the pre/post-con selection that is opening things up a bit as well.

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