On unconferences and money

I haven’t written that much about unconferences and money – for the upcoming She’s Geeky Conference for women in technology, we were getting a some push back about the event costing $118 for two days at the regular registration price. This is from this post on the She’s Geeky Blog “It costs money? I thought this was an unconference.”

The camp movement has been a really inspiring one and in some ways quite utopian. “Just throw it together and it will happen”. Unconferences, just like conferences, require work in the form of time to put on and resources in the form of money to provide for them.

Events are not Free
I don’t believe in “free” events because if an event costs nothing to sign up for it costs nothing to not show to. In the past several “camps” that I was involved with facilitating have had upwards of 50% no-show rates. It is almost impossible to buy food and provision space if you don’t know how many people are coming to an event. The cost should be very reasonable and in paying a fee the attendee makes a contract with the organizer to actually attend. Via the transaction, the organizer makes a contract with the attendee to provide food, physical space and good organization/facilitation.

I like to think of unconferences as basically 10x cheaper then regular technology conferences and 10x better.

Why 10x cheaper?
Many Technology Conferences cost between $1000 and $2000 to attend. Yep this is a normal price range for a regular ticket at a conference.
* JavaOne – $2,590.00, conference+ | $1,795.00 regular conference
* RSA security conference – $3,995 conference+ | $2,195 regular conference
* Hot Chips Symposium on high performing chips – $815
* ETech – $1690 conference+ | $1390 regular conference
* Web 2.0 – $1745 conference+ |$1445 regular conference

One reason is that many of these these events are for-profit, they are trying to make money and lots of it off convening the event. Another reason is that a coffee break at these events can cost $15 per person to provide and a meal upwards of $60 per person per meal – yes, that bad conference food you ate at your last event cost the organizer that much. These events have costs associated with complimentary passes for speakers, press, analysts etc. These costs are born by the other attendees.

Why 10x Better?
The best part of many conferences are the coffee breaks – they are the interactions with the people. Why pay $1000s of dollars when the best parts are in the lobby? It kinda makes more sense to just make the “way of the lobby” be the way the whole conference works. Open Space Technology -the facilitated method that we use for She’s Geeky- was invented over 20 years ago. It supports the emergence of incredible peer to peer learning opportunities and vibrant discussions. You leave the day full of amazing new ideas and conversations with amazing women. It is totally worth the approximately $10 an hour of conference. I would be very surprised if you don’t come away with knowledge and contacts that are in the long run worth many more times that.

Why any cost at all?
The way of the lobby is not zero cost though – the venue costs multiple thousands of dollars and so does food for 200 women. We also have a coffee barista coming both days so you can have fresh espresso. There is a time cost to organizing and logistics that requires money for compensation.

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