Over the last year I have had the opportunity to attend a handful of large conferences and a few smaller ones. I also attend a couple different meetups regularly as well as organize one of my own . Sometimes the talks are fantastic, other times they are lackluster. Certainly some topics are more interesting, some presenters are more experienced, and that makes a difference. Ultimately though it doesn't matter how great the presenter or topic are if the attendees lack basic etiquette.
Some of the worst talks I've heard had nothing to do with the presenter. If the talks were recorded in solitude and I was able to listen to them as a podcast, by all rights they would have been great. Once you add the attendees to the mix things can turn south.
I was at a smaller conference recently and saw a particular talk on the schedule that piqued my interest. I showed up for the talk early and grabbed a seat toward the front. Another developer whom I know pulled up the seat next to me and we chatted as we waited for the talk to begin. Once the presenter took the stage however, I did as I was taught in Kindergarten; I turned off my mouth and turned on my ears.
A few of the others attending were apparently never taught that lesson as children. Their conversations continued, albeit quietly, as the presenter started their talk. I'm sure not many others attending could hear, but I was in close enough proximity to be distracted by it. As the talk continued someone sitting a few rows in front of me interrupted the presenter by blurting out something to the effect of "I've been using library X to solve that problem". Another attendee sitting nearby replied "You should really check out library Y". The two of them then continued to have a full volume discussion about X vs Y as the presenter and other attendees waited.
Having been a presenter myself I hate being interrupted while I'm giving a talk. Typically when presenting I am going from a well rehearsed script. I know what I want to say, and I know how much time I have to say it. Interjections or disruptions from attendees throw off my groove. It can make it hard to get back on track, or it can mean the content has to be cut short to stay on schedule.
Etiquette for Attendees
I propose this guideline:
- If you must to talk with your neighbor, please step outside to do so.
- If you have some insight to share, submit a proposal next time.
- If you want to show off how much you know, no one wants to hear it.
- If you have a question to ask, you may want to follow this guideline.
- If you totally disagree with the presenter, play Threes (on silent).
It ultimately boils down to respect. The presenter has put in a lot of time to research and prepare their talk. I once heard that a presenter puts in about an hour of preparation for every minute of presentation. Further more the other attendees have come to hear from the presenter, not from you. Be respectful of everyone, presenter and attendees alike, by refraining from engaging in anything that would be distracting. If this is too difficult perhaps you're not ready to be attending.
Note: This guideline for etiquette is not mutually exclusive from any code of conduct the event you're attending may have. Please observe that as well.
I love attending conferences and the like. Half the reason for attending is to network and socialize. My meetup typically has two 30 minute talks followed by an hour of socializing. Even with half the time committed to socializing I end up kicking people out so that I can clean up and still find stragglers lingering out in the parking lot an hour later. Let's please just keep the hallway track in the hallway so that those who came for the educational portion can get the most out of it.