Large conferences deal in ideas, create space to explore new notions, offer chances to experience serendipitous encounters and expose you to new products and services. I’m all for dialogue, connections and the opportunity to meet and listen to experts, network with colleagues and chat to vendors. However, some of these events are predatory in nature, do not meet their stated intentions, have profit as their major motivation and ultimately fleece the interested attendee that does not know better.
You may to have been invited to an impressive and relevant conference, filled with well-known national and international speakers addressing a range of pertinent topics. I’ve had numerous invitations each year. This rash of academic sounding conferences at expensive conference venues purport to assist and enable individuals and organisations connect to expertise and opinions in a particular field. Organizers, with little or no connection to academia or the particular industry , spam inboxes with invitations to attend the event. Office phones ring regularly with calls from “business development executives” enquiring whether we will be attending this occasion. Well meaning friends and colleagues kindly forward electronic brochures advertising a slew of plausibly entitled conference events.
I’ve been approached by such conference organisers, usually at very short notice, to speak at the aforementioned events. The ego in me is flattered by the invitation. This seems a “good deal”. The extrovert in me thrives in the “feel good” vibe, generated when similarly minded professionals gather together and connect. I’m not averse to trading my time and experience for a day in comfort, spontaneous interactions, good meals, and the opportunity to share tacit knowledge with other who I know and trust in my field.
The “good deal” offered by a good conference offers is being sullied by predator conference companies. They pose as experts, pretending to empower attendees. In reality they are akin to vultures, preying on the many that want to know more, but don’t know who to turn to, what questions to ask or know how to frame the unknowns. These conference companies have no recognised expertise and no mandate from an academic or professional body to run such a conference.
Within my field (education technology) I’ve developed at checklist to measure just how likely the conference is a predatory event. The 10 questions are not a blanket rule. Some events are legitimate and well-arranged events organised by people with a background in higher education and learning technology. I am grateful for their hard work. Conference attendees do need to be aware. There are a range of “dodgy” and opportunistic operators out there. Don’t feed their growth.
- Is there a conference chair? What connections do they have to academia, the ICT industry or education technology?
- Are the listed speakers reputable experts. Check their profile on Twitter and use Twitteraudit.com to see if their followers are real or fake.
- Do the advertised speakers actually appear on the programme? Contact a few and ask them whether they know about the event.
- If this is the 3rd, 4th or 5th event, use Google to locate previous years conference brochure. Does the programme from the previous year have the same speakers talking about the same topics?
- Does the PDF attached to the email have the initials or name of the sales team member who contacted you?
- Check on LinkedIn. Does the LinkedIn profile of the person sending out the conference invite have any connections to the field they are promoting?
- Does the organisation associated with the conference have a website and does the website mention the conference?
- Is the layout and design of the programme a little patchy, amateur or contradictory. Google the first paragraph. Has text been plagiarised?
- What indexing and storage service does the conference offer for the previous year’s presentations?
- Finally, are the terms and conditions associated with the conference a little prejudicial?
- Does the organiser reserves the right to change the venue?
- Does the organiser reserves the right to change speaker/facilitator?
- Does the organiser reserves the right to change program content?
- Does the organiser offer refunds, or do they offer a credit voucher?
- Is the conference fee realistic? Do you believe that you will get value for your money?
For ed techies (and other professionals), if you are going to attend a conference, then they need to be arranged by people within the field, addressed by folk who have a more critical/informed position on the subject and the results of the presentations shared freely afterwards with those who were not able to make it. Predatory conferences do not deliver the value they promise. They do not meet their stated intentions, have profit as their major motivation and ultimately fleece the interested attendee that does not know better. The benefits of attending (or agreeing to speak) these events are limited.