Why I Don't Prefer Speaking at Remote Conferences

β˜•οΈ5 min read

I have spoken at a number of international conferences. In the wake of COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), this blog post outlines my thoughts on remote speaking engagements held over video-conferencing platforms.

I've got to start by saying – I love you.

You, the person reading this.

We may have never met. You may not even know who I am. Yet, it's true. I love and care for your well being. I want you to succeed. I want you to get the most out of life. I want to see you flourish. I want it to be as though the most perfect version of your life was brought down from Heaven (if you're so inclined) to Earth.

Conferences

I travel a lot. I speak at a lot of conferences all over the world about technology, management, health and other topics. At the time of writing, I have around 20 speaking engagements planned in about 16 different cities across the globe. I had every intention to speak at all of them until something so small that we can't even see started to disrupt the world and shut down travel, education, and economy.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">🧐 2019 in review, geographically.<br><br>🚩12 countries<br>🚢🏾 705km walked<br>🚲 675km bicycled<br>🚞 4,092km on trains/cars <br><br>Total travel distance: 62,007km, or<br>🌏 1.5x around the Earth<br><br>πŸ™πŸΎ Thankful every day for the gift that is my life. πŸ”₯❀️ <a href="https://t.co/7GSutezjAl">pic.twitter.com/7GSutezjAl</a></p>&mdash; tejas (@TejasKumar_) <a href="https://twitter.com/TejasKumar_/status/1214955885254103040?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Making hard calls, conference organizers are opting to do the right thing in order to prevent the spread of this novel coronavirus: from outright cancelling conferences for the foreseeable future, to moving to a remote model where speakers present via video conferencing.

So Tejas, would you speak at {{insert name of remote conference}}?

After asking around on Twitter to see what people generally think, there are a number of differing opinions on the matter. All valid, all good.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">As an org/speaker I just don’t feel the point of virtual events.<br>It kinda degrades the experience to a plain video, where you can’t meet the community itself. The stage, the excitement is different. The personal connection is not there.</p>&mdash; Szabolcs Szabolcsi-Toth (@_Nec) <a href="https://twitter.com/_Nec/status/1237834262625374208?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 11, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">50/50<br><br>πŸ‘ it would be waaaay easier on the mind and work (don&#39;t have to take days off from work + travel + stay in a different city)<br><br>πŸ‘ a lot more accessible, more + diverse set of people would see the talk<br><br>πŸ‘Ž won&#39;t be able to hang out with any of my friends or make new ones</p>&mdash; Sid (@siddharthkp) <a href="https://twitter.com/siddharthkp/status/1238100124741570560?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">From a speaker&#39;s perspective, I feel more comfortable speaking remotely or over a video stream (less pressure IMO compared to doing it in person).<br><br>But engagement is 10x harder :/ You can&#39;t do fun things like give out sticker to audience or have them participate in the same way</p>&mdash; Rusty Joe πŸ¦€ (@jsjoeio) <a href="https://twitter.com/jsjoeio/status/1237834710270668800?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 11, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

I think it's time to voice mine.

Given how I feel about you from the start of this post (spoiler alert: I love you), you must know – what motivates me to travel thousands of miles between πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί New South Wales and πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Utah – is really only love. It's not exposure, it's not money, it's not applause. It's love.

Conference talks are nice, sharing knowledge is definitely important, but my favorite thing about it all is the conversation. Particularly, the conversations that we're able to have behind the scenes, over coffee β˜•οΈ, or just hanging back at the venue; topics ranging from hope, webpack, pair programming, life, and TypeScript.

I really enjoyed hearing Deshi's story of how he grew up in third-culture circumstances as I did, or Jan's incredible story of how he turned himself into a cyborg for an optimal quality of life.

Whether you want to admit it or not, there's something of a human soul in and around these personal interactions that is somehow lost on video calls. I am here for this personal connection more than much else.

For this reason, I cannot, in good conscience, easily speak at remote events. To me, it seems like a short sell: my face on a screen for a few minutes sharing mere knowledge, and then abandoning the crowd or engaging in toneless textual conversation.

My hope is that in terms of implementation, organisers might get creative and crack the secret sauce on remote conferences, making things more personal and cultivating a real connection. This seems like quite the challenge. I've never seen the same type of human connection on a digital medium ever so far.

My Apologies

With all this said, I must apologize – in the wake of COVID-19, I am not willing to speak at a conference on a video-conferencing basis. This does not mean that I am not open to any remote speaking engagements over video-conferencing ever. I will evaluate each engagement on a case-by-case basis.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Conversations will not be cancelled.<br>Relationships will not be cancelled.<br>Love will not be cancelled.<br>Songs will not be cancelled.<br>Reading will not be cancelled.<br>Self-care will not be cancelled.<br>Hope will not be cancelled.<br><br>May we lean into the good stuff that remains.</p>&mdash; Jamie Tworkowski (@jamietworkowski) <a href="https://twitter.com/jamietworkowski/status/1238176161043230720?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

I really look forward to this pandemic being over and things going back to normal – where physical, real human faces, voices, stories, and experiences are able to be exchanged once again. I truly believe these interactions make all parties involved far richer than they were prior.

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Tejas has a special love for humans and code that sometimes finds its way onto this blog and other parts of the internet. Say hi on twitter!

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