Weirdness in the conference circuit

I have a busy next few months lined up, between conferences that I’m attending (such as next week’s Gartner BPM summit in San Diego — check back here then for live blogging) and ones where I’m speaking (such as the Shared Insights collaboration conference in May in Las Vegas). Regardless of my role at a conference, I blog pretty much everything that I see and hear, which the conference organizers like because it gives them a lot of coverage, as well as giving me (and all of you, of course) an historical record of the conference in a searchable format.

I also had an invitation to speak at the American Strategic Management Institute’s BPM summit in Miami next month, but as of today, I’ve been uninvited (although the current version of the brochure on their site still list me as a speaker). The entire interaction with ASMI (or The Performance Institute — the email addresses are from this domain, but I’m not sure of the relationship between the organizations) has been a bit odd. It all started back in November, when I had an unsolicited invitation from Matthew Sheaff of ASMI to speak at the upcoming conference, which was at that time scheduled for March 19-21. His first email to me went like this:

On behalf of The American Strategic Management Institute, I’d like to extend to you an invitation to participate in The 2007 Business Process Management Summit being held March 19-21, 2007. Your remarks would begin at 2:30 on the 19th and last about an hour. The topic of the session that we would be honored for you to present on is “Using Business Intelligence Methods to Forecast Enterprise Process Improvement.”

Weird — what sort of conference has specific session titles preassigned four months in advance, before they even have speakers? Typically, if someone is asking me to speak (unless it’s a last minute fill-in), they specify a track or broad subject area and ask me for an abstract of what I’d like to speak about, and we’d work something out from that which suits their conference and that I’ll enjoy presenting. In most cases, I’m not paid for speaking at conferences, so I like to talk about things that I’m passionate about, and that also happen to fit into the conference theme.

I responded back to Sheaff that I was interested (after all, it’s Miami in March, how bad can it be?) and asked for a few details, and he responded:

As with all speakers, we cover your airfare to and from the event, transportation from the airport to the hotel, your food, conference attendance and one night stay at the hotel.

Okay, pretty standard stuff so far. A few weeks ago, I got an email from the event planner, Caroline Bracher, about speaker logistics. It included the phrase “We allow up to $400 for roundtrip tickets, for your reference if making your arrangements through another venue“, which in conjunction with Sheaff’s earlier assurance that they cover all travel expenses, I interpreted to mean that if I use their travel agent, everything is covered, but if I book my own tickets, they’ll allow me to charge them back up to $400. I have every intention of letting their agent book it, since you really can’t get a flight for $400 from Toronto to Miami this time of year — we are in another country, after all, and a cold one.

Yesterday, I email their travel agent and give him my planned dates of travel. He makes a couple of tentative bookings, and emails me back:

I have made two reservations for and emailed it for you. If you fly on US the fare is 603.95, but if you the AA flights, the fare is 751.90. Please let me know which you prefer cause Performance Institute will cover up to $400.00.

Huh? Must be some misunderstanding, Sheaff’s original email to me clearly stated that my airfare was covered. I emailed back, copying Bracher on the email:

Sorry, I will not be covering any additional airfare — Caroline, that’s not the arrangement that I had with you, you were to cover my airfare and hotel. Please sort this out and get back to me.

Silence descended. No phone calls, no email. Then this morning, the following arrives from Sheaff:

Due to some spacing limitations that we have encountered at the conference hotel in Miami – we’ve had to consolidate our two track event into one. Unfortunately, due to that, we’ve had to cut out some sessions. With that we’ve decided not to run the session on Business Intelligence. I want to thank you for all your help during this process and I hope that we can have the opportunity to work with you in the future. Caroline Bracher, who is cc’d on this email, will be handling all the logistics for the change in the program. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Things like this just make me shake my head in wonder. The difference between my airfare and their limit was $203.95 (or 351.90, if I went for the non-stop option so as not to have to spend 2 entire days in airports to spend 1 hour speaking at a conference). They’re charging attendees $1,795 for the 2-day conference, which means that about 60% of a single attendee’s fee would pay for all of my travel expenses.

If you’ve already booked for this conference, you may want to request the revised schedule from them: if they really have reduced it to a single track, it may no longer have the sessions that you’re looking for, and you still have a couple of weeks to get a refund. If their last email to me is inaccurate and they’ve just replaced me as a speaker because I wanted them to uphold their part of our speaker’s agreement: well, you can make your own decision on that.

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